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What is The Collective Unconscious?

The idea of the collective unconscious was originally proposed by the psychologist Carl Jung to explain psychological traits shared by all people. He theorized that the collective unconscious appears as recognizable patterns and symbols that occur in science, art, religion, dreams and mythology.

The collective unconscious refers to the part of our unconscious which is common to all human beings. It contains archetypes, which are forms or symbols that are commonly manifested by people in all cultures and at all times along the scale of human evolution. Archetypes are said to exist prior to experience, and in this sense they are instinctual. Images of the sun found in ancient architecture, modern art, pottery and other media offer just one example of an archetype. The sun image holds the same meaning today as it did fourteen thousand years ago, it represents life, growth and renewal, regardless of cultural differences or time, the archetype remains stable in it’s meaning to human existence.

Less mystical proponents of the Jungian model hold that the collective unconscious can be adequately explained as arising in each individual from shared instinct, common experience, and shared culture. The natural process of generalization in the human mind combines these common traits and experiences into a mostly identical pattern of the unconscious.

Jung’s archetypes referred to the spiritual forms which are the pre-existent prototypes of the things within the material universe. Interpreting this idea psychologically, Jung stated that these archetypes were the conceptual matrixes or patterns behind all our religious and mythological concepts, and indeed, our thinking processes in general.

Everyone has their own personal unconscious, their own personal identity. The collective unconscious in contrast is universal. It cannot be built up like one’s personal memory; rather, it predates the individual. It is the repository of all religious, spiritual, and mythological symbols and experiences.

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