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Carl Jung has long ago proposed a rather controversial notion of collective unconsciousness [1, 2, 3],

a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain. It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which arises from the experience of the individual.

While the complete original formulation of the idea may be interpreted as unfalsifiable and hence unscientific, suppose that we try to redefine it to some more modest idea, e.g. a set of inheritable subconscious memories, impulses and reactions present in populations/groups, with some expected degree of variation.

Now, it has been shown that memories reside in specific brain cells [4]. What is also known is the direct impact of environment (which - as far as I understand it - also includes our thoughts, feelings and expectations) on gene expression and epigenetic inheritance. In the light of these insights, could the notion of collective unconsciousness be revitalized and interpreted in some non-trivial way that could be used to better understand the way we dream, feel, identify with characters in stories etc.?

In other words, do new discoveries in neurobiology, evolutionary biology and epigenetics shed any new light on Jung's writings (e.g. timescale for such structures to adapt between generations etc.) and perhaps confirm some of his ideas? If not, could experiments be performed that would provide some new insights? Or is the idea so trivial at its core that basic evolution is enough to explain it in its entirety?

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps this question is more suited for Cognitive Science. $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    Oct 9 '14 at 1:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Superbest I would agree to an extent, but I think that the epigenetic/evolutionary aspect is better handled here. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Oct 9 '14 at 7:30
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    $\begingroup$ Peripherally related: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/1116/… $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Oct 9 '14 at 7:33
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Jung's premise is rather plausible: consciousness evolved rather than appeared suddenly, and therefore carries "pre-conscious" elements common to humans as a species. However, Jung goes very far in his interpretation of what may be hidden in subconscious, bordering on open mysticism - predicting accidents, wars, etc. I doubt there may be any evidence for that.

Among the more plausible of Jung's arguments are his comparative studies of the similarities between fairy-tales, legends and other folcloric features between cultures. This however does not necessarily prove that these existed in subconscious - they could evolve as a part of different human cultures encountering similar problems, e.g., dealing with incest (Edip), reaching sexual maturity (Beauty and the beast), etc. - which was already Freud's view. Essentially, Jung attributes to collective subconscious many of the things that Freud attributes to superego, that is to the cultural influences.

Less far reaching claims are made by modern theoretical linguistics, since all the existing languages are shown to obey similar generative grammar, see my post about the subject. While I am not aware of any conclusive results for this view from neuroscience, the evidence collected by linguists is rather strong.

References

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I believe it does. From looking at collective unconscious as a whole it states to say it’s “inherited beliefs and behaviors of ancient ancestors. As it’s been proven the collective unconscious is related to the subconscious. When you think about epigenetics it’s connected to the junk dna, which is 90% of gene regulation they thought to be unuseful, years down the have been proven wrong. Junk dna can be the subconscious of genes so now to put these understandings together, you have inherited (genes) beliefs and behaviors (subconscious mind) collective (genes) unconscious (mind)

A perfect example of this manifestation: imagine an individual in a ancient culture that experience pagan sexual rituals then down the ancestral line in our disposition you have certain events like pride or even home events like house parties this experience causes certain genes to be turn on and off leading to mental activity similar-to those involved in a archaic world.

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    $\begingroup$ Most of this answer reads as nonsense opinion to me that's unrelated to the question asked, but at least it shares that with Jung and Freud. In any event, we expect answers here to be cited and referenced when going beyond basic textbook knowledge. What can you cite to support what you write here? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 23 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerVadim I disagree and I think they remain a bit of an embarrassment to psychology, whatever influence on therapy they've had. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 23 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause First, let us not confuse psychology with neuroscience. Secondly, apart from their most controversial claims (controversial mainly to laymen) Freud, Jung and their followers are pretty much the basis of modern psychology, to the extent that their most revolutionary claims are considered so obvious, tha they are not even credited to them. $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerVadim Guessing we'll have to agree to disagree then. I think Freud and Jung belong with Aristotle and Plato - we can respect their insight and historical role while recognizing that their approaches are extremely flawed. The difference is that Freud and Jung came far far later, once scientific philosophy had advanced quite a bit further, and that their flawed ideas are so embedded in the way the lay audience talks about psychology that it's hard to convince students and the lay public to think another way. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 23 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause again, I see no problem witj Aristotle, Plato or other ancient Greeks, who are at the source of modern philosophy, math and scientific method. Neither do I see problem with Darwin, whose theories were mere conjectures and are no less different from modern views than the psychology from Freudian views. Important thing to keep in mind is the limitations and applicability of the scientific method. $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 17:17

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