I was reading about Jung’s distinction between the personal and impersonal (collective) unconscious. The prior comes from personal experiences in one’s lifetime and the latter could be the consequence of a group of individuals, a nation, or possible all of mankind. “These contents… are products of innate forms and instincts.” A newborn does not have access to any personal memory however his brain is inherited from its ancestors which is “the deposit of psychic functioning of the whole human race”. Material which moves from the collective unconscious to the conscious of an individual (or is revealed through an ecstatic/psychotic episode) can be of a mythical/archetypical nature. This occurs in dreams or “in schizophrenia, where mythological images often pour out in astonishing variety. Insane people frequently produce combinations of ideas and symbols that could never be accounted for by experiences in their own individual lives, but only by the history of the human mind.”

I began to wonder if there is any evidence for this from the evolutionary psychology perspective. Our ‘reptilian’ or ‘lower’ brain controls life functions such as breathing, heart rate and the fight or flight mechanism. It is the smallest and oldest region of the evolving human brain and is like the entire brain of present-day reptiles. Its primary concern is survival, physical maintenance, hoarding and dominance.

As our brain has evolved is it possible that the collective unconscious and the newer regions of the brain have become a more complex correlate to the basic instincts of the older regions of the brain? Studies have proved that weak magnetic frequencies over the temporal lobe can induce spiritual experiences (see the work of the cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Michael A. Persinger). Also, the parietal lobes almost shut down during the peak experience of meditation which contributes to the sense of loss of time and spiritual oneness. It goes without saying that the pineal gland and Rick Strassman’s also play a crucial role in this scheme.

There are links between our increasingly complex world and our brain, psychological disorders and the collective unconscious, our older brain and instinctual behavior, as well as our newer brain and experiences which we call ‘spiritual’. The benefit of instinctual behavior from an evolutionary standpoint seems clear but what role could these ‘spiritual experiences’ have? Are these experiences inherently ‘spiritual’ or are we using this word simply to describe experiences and methods of information processing which we have not been able to scientifically grasp yet?

Personally, I have trouble viewing spiritual experiences or the surfacing of material from the collective unconscious as simply glitches in the brain, a side-effect of the hectic and often self-contradictory world we live in. Every human has the capability of having such an experience one way or another, so it would be inconsistent with the evolutionary paradigm if such ability was detrimental to the species. Even though my own interpretation is biased, I like to highlight the contrasting attributes of the old and new brain while comparing it to the progress of humankind over the past several thousand years. It seems to me that the potentially negative values of the older brain (dominance and hoarding), even though rampant in today’s world, is becoming outdated and the values of our new brain. To me these newer values seem to be emerging more frequently especially in the trend of the suppressed feminine. Hardly a significant sample but during one period in the beginning of the twentieth century Jung worked with eight mediums, six were female, two were male, and soon after one of the men turned out to be a fraud. In a male dominated world, I see part of the struggle as a consequence of the preoccupation with reptilian values and the fear of the so called ‘subversive’ feminine values.

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