Monday, March 21, 2011

Africa and the dawn of collective unconscious

View of Africa from space by NASA.

What do ancient African deities and modern psychoanalysis have in common? In a recent talk at the Carlos Museum, Emory psychologist Marshall Duke cited revelations by Jung when he traveled to Africa in 1928. Emory’s ThoughtWork provides this summary of Duke’s comments:

"Freud and Jung were very close to one another. It’s said that when they first met each other they spoke without stopping for twelve or thirteen hours. They respected one another for a period of time, but interestingly, they broke with one another based upon Freud’s rejection of religion and Jung’s belief that religion was inherently important in human behavior. They drifted apart because each one believed the other would never change. And they were right ...

"Jung differed from Freud in terms of his belief in what he called the collective unconscious. Jung felt there was something more than the personal experiences of an individual’s life that were stored in the unconscious mind. Jung in fact believed that there were memories and images and roles that were passed along from generation to generation to all people, that everyone shared certain capacities and beliefs.

Image, left, from the Carlos exhibit "Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion."

"When Jung was very young, he believed, as many kids do, that mysterious things happened in his life. He believed that his mother, after falling asleep, moved through the house as a spirit, and was a bit frightened by this. In order to deal with it, it’s reported that he took a ruler from his pencil case and carved a small mannequin, a small figure, out of the ruler and he put it in his pencil case and kept it under his bed. Over time, he gathered small stones and painted them particular colors in different configurations and put them into his box as a way of protecting himself. He just sort of came up with this.

"In 1928, he traveled to Africa and visited Kenya. He came upon people who had small mannequins and little stones and all sorts of things like this. Reportedly, he said to himself, 'My God, how did I know about this without ever learning about it?' This is where his concept of the collective unconscious supposedly began."

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