Collective unconscious

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The collective unconscious is a term coined by Carl Gustav Jung for an unconscious psychological "basic structure" of the human being and a basic concept of analytical psychology .

Definition of the concept

CG Jung defined the collective unconscious as the supra-personal area of ​​the unconscious: It is the "part of the psyche that can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious in that it does not owe its existence to personal experience and is therefore not a personal acquisition". The empirical basis on which he inductively formulated the concept of the collective unconscious consisted essentially of dreams and motifs from cultural history (religions, myths , fairy tales ) in an intercultural comparison, which suggested a similar psychological basis for all people. In the face of allegations that he was getting stuck in assertions with his concepts, Jung referred to his source-based way of working and wrote: Although the “charge of mysticism has often been raised against my view, I must emphasize once again that the concept of the collective unconscious is neither speculative nor is a philosophical, rather an empirical matter ”.

Relation to Sigmund Freud's understanding of the unconscious

That the psyche of the human being does not only consist of contents and structures that the human being is aware of is a basic assumption of all depth psychological theories, as it was mainly by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961), but also by Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939), Alfred Adler (1870–1937) and other psychology pioneers of the first decades of the 20th century. This content is - also following philosophers like Carl Gustav Carus (1789–1869) and Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906) - referred to as “ the unconscious ”.

The concept of the “collective unconscious” as the main area of ​​the unconscious is a specialty of CG Jung's psychology. He wrote in 1935 to distinguish his view of the unconscious of psychoanalysis to Freud :

“At first the concept of the unconscious [in Freud] was limited to describing the state of repressed or forgotten content. With Freud, the unconscious, although it  already appears - at least metaphorically - as an acting subject, is essentially nothing other than the place where these forgotten and repressed contents are collected and only because of this it has a practical meaning. "

In a later edition (1954) Jung added that Freud had also developed his theory further: “Freud differentiated the basic view indicated here in later works: he called the instinct psychic ' it ', and his 'super-ego' describes this to the individual in part conscious, partly unconscious (repressed) collective consciousness. ”From Jung's point of view, however, the collective unconscious contains basic forms of psychological development as well as a creative aspect aimed at individuation and wholeness , which goes beyond Freud's theory of repression and his assumption of an“ archaic inheritance ”in the human Psyche go out. Freud had come closer to Jung's theory development in particular in 1938 when he wrote: “In addition, the dream brings to light content that can neither come from the dreamer's mature life nor from the forgotten childhood of the dreamer. We are compelled to regard them as part of the archaic inheritance that the child brings into the world through the experience of the ancestors before any personal experience. ”However, Jung gave the collective unconscious a much wider meaning than Freud and he wrote, this can be seen as a “second psychic system, of a collective, non-personal character” in humans. (See also Jung's relationship with Freud ).

Collective unconscious, evolution and spirit

With regard to the psyche, Jung showed a similar evolutionary thinking in his earlier works as biology shows with regard to the human body: “The unconscious, viewed as the historical background of the psyche, contains in concentrated form the whole sequence of engrams , which have been for an immeasurably long time caused the current psychological structure ”. Therefore, the collective unconscious shows the similarities between the human psyches in contrast to the individual characteristics of the same. On the one hand, Jung apparently identified the “inherited possibilities of psychological functioning in general” with the “inherited brain structure”, but at the same time he also repeatedly expressed spiritual-scientific views on the collective unconscious (e.g.): “As far as I grasp the essence of the collective unconscious, appears it to me as an omnipresent continuum, an unexpanded presence. ”If at one point“ something happens that touches or affects the collective unconscious, it has happened everywhere ”. Jung was most likely influenced in these ideas by the physicist Wolfgang Pauli , with whom he had been in close contact for decades.


Jung's concept of the collective unconscious is inseparable from his theory of archetypes : “The concept of the archetype, which is an inevitable correlate to the idea of ​​the collective unconscious, indicates the existence of certain forms in the psyche that are omnipresent and widespread. “According to Jung, archetypal psychological patterns cause basic motifs of human ideas that acted on the individual psyche from the collective areas of the psyche. They developed a significant, involuntary emotional force ( numinosum ), which is often stronger than the conscious will of humans.

The archetypes appear to the consciousness as typical, frequently observed behavioral motifs and symbolic ideas that also manifest themselves in society as cultural narratives, objects and / or rituals . The motifs of various fairy tales , myths and their appearance in art and in dreams across different epochs , languages and cultures were introduced by Jung as an empirical basis for his theory of archetypes. With his conception of the collective unconscious, Jung also further developed theoretical elements of national psychology and ethnology of the 19th and early 20th centuries. a. to the work of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857–1939); see also the concept of collective consciousness .

Collective consciousness and collective memory in Campbell, Durkheim and Halbwachs

Joseph Campbell discovered the cultural narrative principle of the hero's journey , which about the collective consciousness with Émile Durkheim equivalent (1858-1917). According to Durkheim, it is anchored in the individual psyches for its objectification. The collective consciousness does not exist independently from the sum of all individual forms of consciousness.

Maurice Halbwachs (1877–1945) developed another approach to unconscious collective structures with his theory of collective memory . This is more oriented towards the concrete historical situation of individual social groups and societies . According to Halbwachs, the need for memory and historical awareness is to be understood as a reaction to the disappearance of traditions and realities of life.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. CG Jung, GW 9/1 , § 88
  2. CG Jung, GW 9/1 : § 88.
  3. The following Jung sources and quotations are taken from the compilation of quotations by Nikola Patzel: Symbols in Landbau . Oekom Verlag, Munich 2015, p. 73:
    • For the appearance of alchemical motifs in dreams of people who do not know them, see Carl Gustav Jung in the foreword to Mysterium Coniunctionis . 1954, p. 11.
    • Jung on "forms that appear spontaneously and more or less universally, independent of tradition, in myths, fairy tales, fantasies, dreams, visions and delusions": GW 11 , § 5.
    • About the collective unconscious as “an innate disposition to parallel conceptual formations, or […] universal, identical structures of the psyche […]. They correspond to the biological concept of the 'pattern of behavior' ”( GW 5 , § 224).
    • These “structural elements of the human soul” correspond to a “collective spiritual basic layer” of the human being (Jung GW 9/1 , § 262).
  4. CG Jung, GW 9/1 , § 92 cf. Section 149 ibid.
  5. ^ Carl Gustav Jung, GW 9/1 , §2.
  6. Cf. on "archaic remains": CG Jung: GW 18/1 , §468, 521, 523 and CG Jung: GW 18/2 , §1261, 1272.
  7. Sigmund Freud, GW 17, p. 89. Originally published in 1938 in “von Traum und Traumdeutung”.
  8. ^ Carl Gustav Jung, GW 9/1, §92.
  9. Carl Gustav Jung: Psychological types . In: Collected Works 6 . Walter-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1995, paperback, special edition, ISBN 3-530-40081-5 , § 281 (Jung discusses the psychological contrast in Carl Spitteler : Prometheus and Epimetheus [1881]).
  10. Carl Gustav Jung: Psychological types . In: Collected Works 6 . Walter-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1995, paperback, special edition, ISBN 3-530-40081-5 , § 762.
  11. CG Jung, GW 6 , par. 842.
  12. CG Jung in a letter of January 4, 1929 to Albert Oeri . In: "Briefe", Vol. I, p. 84.
  13. ^ Carl Gustav Jung, GW 9/1, § 89.
  14. ^ Carl Gustav Jung, The symbolic life . Collected Works. Walter-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1995, paperback, special edition, volume 18/1, ISBN 3-530-40095-5 , §§ 80 f., 92 f., 138, 190, 195, 218, 221 f., 231, 250 , 262, 271, 299, 324, 353 f., 358, 366, 368, 385, 402, 406 f., 409, 512, 521-559, 563, 578, 589, 595, 830.
  15. Lucien Lévy-Bruhl : Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures [1910]. 9e édition. Les Presses universitaires de France., Paris 1951, p. 27,
  16. ^ Karl-Heinz Hillmann : Dictionary of Sociology (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 410). 4th, revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-520-41004-4 , pp. 98, 421 f., 423 f. (Stw. Consciousness, collective consciousness and collective unconscious ).
  17. ^ Maurice Halbwachs: La mémoire collective . Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, [1939] 1950 (introduction: Mary Douglas); German: Maurice Halbwachs: The collective memory . Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 1985