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Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology, and was originally coined by Carl Jung. While Freud did not distinguish between an "individual psychology" and a "collective psychology", Jung strayed away from the master distinguishing the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious, which would be particular to each human being. The collective unconscious refers to that part of a person's unconscious which is common to all human beings. It contains archetypes, which are forms or symbols that are manifested by all people in all cultures.

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 substratum of the unconscious.

For example, the archetype of "the great mother" would be expected to be very nearly the same in all people, since all infants share inherent expectation of having an attentive caretaker (human instinct); every surviving infant must either have had a mother, or a surrogate (common experience); and nearly every child is indoctrinated with society's idea of what a mother should be (shared culture). The amalgam of all these effects could be the source of the shared figure, or archetype, which appears very nearly the same in most persons' dreams.

Regardless of whether the individual's connection to the collective unconscious arises from mundane or mystical means, the term collective unconscious describes an important commonality that is observed to exist between different individuals' dreams. It was simply formulated by Jung as a model.

In his earlier writings, Jung called this aspect of the psyche the collective unconscious; later, he changed the term to the objective psyche. The objective psyche may be considered objective for two reasons: it is common to everyone; and it has a better sense of the self ideal than the ego or conscious self does, and thus directs the self, via archetypes, dreams, intuition, and making mistakes on purpose, to self-actualization.


In the Definitions chapter of Jung's seminal work "Psychological Types", under the definition of "Collective" Jung references "representations collectives" coined by Levy-Bruhl in his 1910 book "How Natives Think" as being what he describes as the collective unconscious. The question then becomes whether Jung originally came up with this, or translated it (as a term) from cultural anthropology and synthesized its meaning with his understanding.

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • The Development of Personality
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  • The Symbolic Quest. Edward C. Whitmont. Princeton University Press, 1969.
  • Gallo, Ernest. "Synchronicity and the Archetypes," Skeptical Inquirer, vol.18, No. 4, Summer 1994.

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