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This book emerges from equal measures of pessimism and optimism over the future of Analytical Psychology, the “Zurich School” of psychoanalysis that C. G. Jung started a century ago and that I have practiced more than three decades. On the one hand, pessimism: psychoanalysis was a major cultural force in the twentieth century but has waned significantly in recent decades. Its standing as a “science” — once loudly proclaimed but always somewhat questionable — has become precarious with recent advances in brain research.[1] Worse, within the world of psychoanalysis, Jung has generally been marginalized as a “mystic” who dispensed with science in favor of dubious superstitions. Despite such good reasons for pessimism, however, I am also optimistic. Recent developments in evolutionary biology show that the basic tenets of Analytical Psychology are amazingly “consilient” with the most recent scientific theories and the evidence that supports them. The word consilience has recently been given prominence by Harvard sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, to mean that when facts and theories from different disciplines all point in the same direction, they implicitly support one another and jointly contribute to their mutual likelihood of being proven correct. They “create a common groundwork of explanation” (E. O. Wilson, 1998: 8).[2]

Consilience convinces us by its cable-like argument We follow a bundle of evidence strands, all supporting one another so that gaps here and there in some of the strands do no damage to the argument (Lewis-Williams, 2002: 102). Much of archaeology, paleontology, evolutionary biology and neurobiology have no choice but to draw their conclusions on the basis of cabling or consilience, and this is precisely the sort of reasoning Jung employed in developing his theory of the archetypes. Jung dreamed of unifying the biological and human sciences at a time when a cabling of those disciplines had little empirical justification. And he did so with amazing prescience. Therefore, the time has come to tell the story of the remarkable consilience between Jung’s archetypal psychology and a biology founded on Darwinian principles and augmented by the science of genetics — what biologists today call the “modern synthesis.”[3]

But this is only half of the story. Jung was also relentless in challenging the limitations of science, especially its refusal to admit phenomena that are undeniably real, such as life, intentionality and consciousness. From his university years onward, Jung argued that science had to explore its “border zones,” especially the phenomena of parapsychology. Later in life he collaborated with one of the founders of quantum mechanics, Wolfgang Pauli, to formulate synchronicity as a cosmic principle. Although the doctrine of synchronicity is not accepted by contemporary scientists, Jung’s argument for it is consilient with the scientific thinking that solved earlier problems involving “action at a distance,” namely magnetism and gravity.

Specialists and Dilettantes

Among the three or four hundred books and articles outside the field of Analytical Psychology that I have read in preparation for this study, only E. O. Wilson’s Consilience and the articles of a diverse group of scholars that call themselves Biogenetic Structuralists[4] mention Jung’s doctrine of the archetypes as a possible contribution to the synthesis of knowledge. Wilson adds that archetypal theory has never been sufficiently developed (E. O. Wilson, 1998: 85). Among Jungian analysts, only the British psychiatrist Anthony Stevens has publicly recognized the problem: “Concepts introduced by Jung more than a half century ago anticipate with uncanny accuracy those now gaining currency in the behavioral sciences generally” (Stevens, 1983: 27). Stevens notes that no theory of psychology can today “command more than esoteric interest if it fails to take account of biology, physics, and neurophysiology” (Ibid., 32). Jungians, however, have been reluctant to investigate such things, remaining satisfied to be “mesmerized by archetypal symbols” (Ibid., 29).

In the end Stevens has been too much a specialist in psychiatry, to (a) explore the broad consilience between Jung and the modern biological synthesis and (b) use this knowledge to begin rethinking the doctrine of the archetypes.[5] The job requires a shameless dilettante, hard-working and curious, someone who has a yen for facts and theories and the patience to sift through mountains of them. Jung viewed himself as a dilettante of this type, “constantly borrow[ing] knowledge from others.”[6]

As the author of this study, I put myself forward as such a dilettante. No one can master all of the fields of study involved, but the right sort of dilettante might hope to sketch out the confluence of those fields, leaving it to specialists to follow some of the leads into new territory. My own qualifications for surveying diverse fields of science are limited. In 1963, I earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology and later taught high school chemistry. In 1973, I earned a doctorate in religious studies and taught philosophy and religion at the university level. More recently I have taught Jung’s Collected Works nearly every semester for more than twenty years and published several articles on the history, development and import of his thought.

Jung’s Dream of a Fundamental Science[7]

Jung’s scientific ambitions manifested as soon as he finished his medical degree and accepted an appointment to the Zurich mental asylum, Burghoelzli, where he apprenticed himself to Alexander von Muralt and began studying cross-sections of the brains of schizophrenics under a microscope. However, when von Muralt confessed that for him brain dissection was “just a sport” (Shamdasani, 2003: 45f), Jung turned to the Word Association Experiment, where he first made a name for himself by establishing the empirical foundations of neurotic dissociation. He found that emotionally charged words organize themselves into “complexes” or subpersonalities.

In this effort, Jung was working in the middle ground between the French dissociation school of Pierre Janet and Freud’s brand new school of psychoanalysis (cf. Haule, 1984). It led to a six-year-long association between Jung and Freud, in which Jung strove to accept the sexual doctrine of psychoanalysis. The end of that period was heralded for Jung by a dream of a house in which each floor, moving from attic to sub-basement, came from an earlier period of history than the last. He found a pair of skulls in a pit under the basement floor. He discusses this dream a half century later, shortly before his death in 1961:

The dream is in fact a short summary of my life — the life of my mind. I grew up in a house two hundred years old, our furniture consisted mostly of pieces about a hundred years old, and mentally my greatest adventure had been the study of Kant and Schopenhauer. The great news of the day was the work of Charles Darwin. Shortly before this I had been living in a still medieval world with my parents, where the world and man were still presided over by divine omnipotence and providence. . . .

I was fascinated by the bones of fossil man, particularly by the much discussed Neanderthalensis and the still more controversial skull of Dubois’ Pithecanthropus. As a matter of fact, these were my real associations to the dream. But I did not dare mention the subject of skulls, skeletons, or corpses to Freud, because I had learned that this theme was not popular with him[8] (CW18: ¶485f).[9]

For Jung the dream was a clear description of the layered psyche of his later theories. From the year of the dream, 1909, onwards, Jung looked to phylogeny, the evolution of the species, as a basis for understanding the development of the human individual. In the fall of 1913, he wrote a letter to Smith Ely Jelliffe and William Alanson White, the founders of the brand new American journal, Psychoanalytic Review: “We need not only the work of medical psychologists, but also that of philologists, historians, archaeologists, mythologists, folklore students, ethnologists, philosophers, theologians, pedagogues, and biologists” (Letters 1: 29f). In 1932, the publisher of Rhein Verlag invited Jung to edit a new journal, to be called Weltanschauung, in which Jung and his editors were to “fish out from the ocean of specialist science all the facts and knowledge that are of general interest and make them available to the educated public” (Ibid., 106f).

Although Weltanschauung never got off the ground, a more limited but related project did, the annual Eranos Conference to which specialists from a variety of disciplines (unfortunately, few from the sciences) met for a week and discussed one another’s papers. Meetings began in 1933 and survived for decades after Jung’s death at the villa of its benefactress, Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, near Ascona in Switzerland (Bair, 2003: 412ff). Almost simultaneously, Jung established a lectureship at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute, in Zurich, where “psychology should be taught in its biological, ethnological, medical, philosophical, culture-historical, and religious aspects” (Shamdasani, 2003: 15).

In the 1930’s, while all these “universalizing” activities were going on, Jung stopped calling his school “Analytical Psychology” and began to call it “Complex Psychology”: “Complex psychology means the psychology of 'complexities’ i.e. of complex psychical systems in contradistinction from relatively elementary factors” (Ibid., 14). In this statement, as was often the case, Jung was working in the spirit of William James, whose model of self and reality has been described as “fields within fields within fields” (Barnard, 1998: 199).

A Look Back at Twentieth Century Social Science

By 1900 little had been established that might have formed a scientific foundation for psychology. Neurology had not yet discovered the nature and function of the neuron. Evolution as a theory was not in doubt, but how it worked still awaited the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants.[10] The scientific study of animal behavior (ethology) had to wait for Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen in the 1930’s. Meanwhile, a century of French experiments in hypnosis had shown that the psyche has both conscious and unconscious portions, and that splits between them are variable and possibly related to traumatic events. Upon this poorly defined foundation, Freud intuited a way forward, inventing a theory of psychotherapy that was compelling, controversial, and vaguely scientific-looking, although rather isolated from the scientific main stream. Harvard psychologist, J. Allan Hobson, summarizes the situation this way:

It was owing to the initially slow growth of neurobiology that psychoanalysis diverged from the experimental tradition. And it is owing to the currently explosive growth of the brain sciences that a reunification of psychoanalysis and experimental psychology may now be contemplated in a new, integrated field called cognitive neuroscience (J. A. Hobson, 1988: 24).

Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, itself, required almost a century of debate before rough agreement was reached. Darwin had had the kernel of the theory for a good two decades without publishing a word of it, while he compulsively accumulated data to support it. He was finally forced to “rush” his ideas into print when Alfred Russell Wallace hit upon the same theory. The Origin of Species was published in 1859 without a mechanism to explain how natural selection works. Today it is common to define natural selection in opposition to the theory of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) — for instance the notion giraffes gradually “acquired” a long neck by stretching it a little further in each generation. But Darwin did not clearly reject Lamarckism, even arguing that “information flows from the organism to its reproductive cells and from them to the next generation” (Badcock, 2000: 38-40). Only with the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel was it realized that the units of inheritance are relatively unchangeable entities (genes). The “modern synthesis” of genetics and natural selection was forged between 1918 and 1932 (Plotkin, 1998: 27). The final piece of the puzzle was supplied in 1953 — nearly 100 years after Darwin’s initial publication — when James Watson and Francis Crick established the structure of DNA, and the science of “molecular biology” began.

Thus the foundation that Jung was looking for was finally established when Jung was seventy-eight. Complaints that some of his statements about the inheritance of the archetypes have a Lamarckian flavor, therefore, appear to be unfair in view of the fact that no one was clear on the meaning of natural selection until long after the theory of the archetypes had been promulgated.

Through most of the twentieth century, Jung’s primary opponent was the “Standard Social Science Model.”[11] The SSSM assumed that biology had a negligible effect upon human behavior. Although animals were moved by inherited instincts, human behavior was determined by culture, alone. Our human mind, the SSSM supposed, frees us from the determinism of matter, but shackles us with cultural determinism. At birth our mind is a “blank slate” (tabula rasa),[12] waiting to be written upon by culture. Behaviorists measured cultural inputs (stimuli) and outputs (behaviors) and ignored the mind itself. They thought of it as a “black box,” the investigation of whose unfathomable innards would simply be a distraction from inputs and outputs that could be measured. They aspired to a science as clean and hard as physics to free themselves from the stickiness and complexity of biology.

While the Standard Social Science Model, insists upon a nature/nurture dichotomy, contemporary evolutionary psychology has found that nature and nurture are interdependent. We inherit the neural and anatomical structures that make our experience what it is and give it a species-specific shape. But these inherited structures can only be used in the particular cultural context into which an individual is born.[13] The structure itself is “empty,” and each human culture “fills” it with its own specific adaptations. In the words of Konrad Lorenz, “Nurture has nature; . . . nurture has evolved and has historical antecedents as cause” (Plotkin, 1998: 60). Similarly, the archetype is “a biological entity . . . acting . . . in a manner very similar to the innate releasing mechanism much later postulated by ethologist, Niko Tinbergen” (Stevens, 1983: 39). The maturation of the Darwinian paradigm has restored the continuity of humanity’s place within the Animal Kingdom.

In 1973, while the SSSM still dominated the scene, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky set the tone for future studies: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Richerson & Boyd, 2005: 237). Today, evolution is the braid in the “cabling” of arguments in biology and the social sciences. During the reign of the SSSM, Jung’s theory of the archetypes seemed to diverge from the general course of Western science. Now that evolutionary theory has matured, however, the existence of archetypal patterns is no longer outside the purview of science. All living beings depend on them, and every human archetype has evolved from pre-human precursors. We are not set apart from nature; we are part of it.

The Task Ahead

Evolutionary psychology was founded in the 1980’s by people who saw that psychology was “in trouble.” Because, “No general theory of how the mind works was on the horizon,” they realized they would have to “make psychology consistent with the other sciences by founding it on evolution” (Aunger, 2002: 35). Now it is not only possible but essential, that we finally take up the work Jung dreamed of doing and find the connections between archaeology, primatology, neurology and the rest. A truly Darwinian science of the mind and of culture is beginning to assemble and must have a decisive impact on how we conceptualize the archetypes.

Not Jung, but Robin Fox, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, said: “What we are equipped with is innate propensities that require environmental input for their realization” (Fox, 1989: 45). Fox insists that no account of the human condition can be taken seriously if it ignores the five million years of natural selection that have made us what we are (Ibid., 207). He lists more than twenty human patterns that would be sure to manifest if some new Adam and Eve were allowed to propagate in a universe parallel to ours. These would be archetypal realities, passed on through DNA, and expressed in distinctive neuronal tracts in their brains. Such behavioral patterns would surely include customs and laws regarding property, incest, marriage, kinship, and social status; myths and legends; beliefs about the supernatural; gambling, adultery, homicide, schizophrenia, and the therapies to deal with them (Ibid., 22).

Jung said pretty much the same things eighty years ago. He did not do the research, and he did not know many who agreed with him. He just had a damn good hunch. In the end, however, science works with its hunches, tests hypotheses, discarding some and refining others. Hunches always lead the way, while testing and refinement keep them viable. A theory of archetypes risks becoming nothing more than a “folk theory of psychology”[14] if its consilience with the other fields in the grand Darwinian synthesis is not tended to.

A “folk psychology” lives outside the mainstream of cultural and intellectual discussion and devotes itself to private, “interior” experience. Often it prides itself on speaking an almost secret language. Historian of psychology and lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Eugene Taylor, has made a strong argument that folk psychology is exactly what Analytical Psychology is: that, in America, it belongs to a long “shadow” tradition going back as far as the Great Awakening in the early eighteenth century, and including Quakers, Swedenborgians, Christian Science, and Esalen. By “folk psychology,” Taylor means “a mythic and visionary language of immediate experience . . . usually some form of depth psychology” whose “function is the evolution and transformation of personality” . . . encompassing themes “of deepest, highest, and ultimate concern . . .” (E. Taylor, 1999: 15).

Analytical Psychology runs the risk not only of becoming a “folk psychology” but a “mystery religion” as well. There is nothing derogatory in what I mean by a mystery religion. During the Hellenistic period and the early Roman Empire, underground religions kept alive a vast reservoir of wisdom about morality, consciousness changing and the spiritual life. Many Jungian analysts believe they are doing the same thing today, and are very likely not deluding themselves. But adherents of a mystery religion cut themselves off from the mainstream cultural dialogue and agree to speak a different language. They may even delight in the numinosity of that language, and they may be right to do so; for such words and metaphors may harbor a great wisdom.

It seems that Jung foresaw this dilemma seventy years ago when he was trying to “fish out from the ocean of specialist science all the facts and knowledge that are of general interest and make them available to the educated public.” He tried repeatedly to contribute to the cultural conversation, to found a Complex Psychology that belonged under the evolutionary tent, talking the language and using the metaphors that the wider world uses. As the twenty-first century begins, the time for Complex Psychology has finally arrived.

Archetypal hypotheses may someday become testable; if so, the tests will likely be performed in the laboratories or digs of other academic specialties that work under the umbrella of evolutionary science. “Complex Psychology” will go right on “borrowing knowledge from others.” It is the aim of this book to sketch a borrowing program, to bring together a large number of discoveries from several Darwinian specialties and see what they tell us about Jung’s ideas.

The Borrowing Program

Part I of this book attends primarily to archetype as a species-specific behavior pattern. We review Jung’s definitions (Chapter 2) and examine language behavior as a model archetype (Chapter 3) The evolutionary roots of language are traced into our primate heritage (Chapter 4), and we discuss two forms of symbolic communication that make our species unique, language and art, in Chapter 5.

Part II examines the relationship between psyche and brain. Chapter 6 provisionally accepts the mainstream opinion that psyche and brain are two aspects of the same reality — where psyche is the subjective dimension, the lived brain, and the brain itself is the objective “substrate.” In Chapters 7, 8 and 9 we shall see that neurobiology supports Jung’s theory of the distinction between ego and self and the compensatory role of dreams, and in Chapters 10 and 11 that it actually explains his theory of the feeling-toned complexes. Chapter 12 deals with the neurobiology of psychotherapy, while Chapters 13 and 14 describe the relationship between archetypes, altered states of consciousness and psychological transformation.

Part III takes up Jung’s idea that the human psyche itself has been “evolving” over the course of our species’ history. Chapter 15 reviews Jung’s claims about the history of consciousness, and Chapters 16-20 describe our emergence from our primate roots and the ways we have used our consciousness from the Paleolithic era to the present. We end with the problem Jung identified as the crisis of modernity: the split in our Western psyche between an underdeveloped capacity for altered states of consciousness and a highly developed capacity for technological thinking. Chapter 21 summarizes the results of this study.


[1] There have been neurological studies that aim to support fundamental Freudian positions (cf. Solms & Turnbull, 2002), though I am not sure they are any more convincing than Dollard & Miller (1950) were a half century ago, when they tried to reconcile Freud with behaviorism.

[2] The word consilience was coined by the English philosopher of science, William Whewell (1794-1866), who called consilience the best sort of inductive conclusion on account of its “simplicity, generality, unification, and deductive strength” (Audi, 1999).

[3] As many biologists today recognize, the modern synthesis is also not the final word. Its main failing is that, a century and a half after the publication of The Origin of Species, there is still no agreement on the question of how novelty arises in evolution. This issue will be discussed in Volume 2.

[4] For example, Charles D. Laughlin, Jr., John McManus, & Eugene G. d’Aquili. Brain, Symbol, and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Human Consciousness (1990).

[5] Stevens has been satisfied with the support of his first analyst, the biologist Irene Champernowne, who told him “Archetypes are biological entities . . . archetypes evolved through natural selection” (Stevens, 1983: 17).

[6] The octogenarian Jung, said: “I am the most cursed dilettante that has lived. I wanted to achieve something in my science and then I was plunged into this stream of lava, and then had to classify everything. That’s why I say dilettantism: I live from borrowings, I constantly borrow knowledge from others” (Shamdasani, 2003: 22; citing the “protocols” of interviews and written material that Aniela Jaffe used to produce Jung’s “autobiography,” MDR).

[7] My argument in this section is heavily indebted to Sonu Shamdasani (2003).

[8] In fact, Freud fainted on two occasions when Jung brought up such matters. He said (not without cogency) they symbolized Jung’s unconscious wish to “kill the father.”

[9] References to Jung’s Collected Works will be given as volume number (CW18) followed by the paragraph number of the passage.

[10] Johan (Gregor) Mendel (1822-84), an Augustinian monk in Brno, who published the results of his pure-bred and cross-bred pea-plants in the 1860’s. “His greatest conceptual innovation was to regard heritable factors determining characters as atomistic and material particles which neither fused nor blended with one another” (Thain & Hickman, 2000). These “atomistic” particles that neither fuse nor blend are essentially what we mean today, when we speak of genes.

[11] Credit for this phrase belongs to psychologist Leda Cosmides and her anthropologist husband, John Tooby, who established the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1994 (Horgan, 1999: 170).

[12] The notion of tabula rasa, which Jung never failed to ridicule, originated with the philosopher, John Locke in the mid-seventeenth century, as a deliberate rejection of Plato’s notion that we have innate ideas (Plotkin, 1998: 172).

[13] “There is nothing in the logic of development to justify the idea that traits can be divided into genetically versus environmentally controlled sets or arranged along a spectrum that reflects the influence of genes versus environment” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992: 83).

[14] A theory of heredity without genetic data, says molecular anthropologist Jonathan Marks, is “not a scientific theory of heredity, but a folk theory of heredity” (Marks, 2002: 91).

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