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What is the collective unconscious? In contrast to the personal unconscious mind, which contains elements which are unique to each person's experience, the collective unconscious holds the elements which are common to all of creation (i.e., humans, other living creatures, and non-living entities). Although Jung is credited with the "discovery" of the collective unconscious, previous writers in philosophy and religion had offered similar ideas about a common source from which we all draw; for example, the Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin described a "noosphere" which is "composed of particles of human consciousness ... formed by the inner experiences of mankind." In my theory of archetypal fields, the collective unconscious has the following features:
The collective unconscious is a foundation of our human unity. Many belief-systems say that there is a "oneness" of humanity: (1) Eastern religions claim that the foundation for this oneness is in our undifferentiated spiritual essence; (2) Christians say that the foundation is in our common sibling relationship under a parent-like god; (3) Jungian psychology says that the basis for kinship lies in the collective unconscious. Through our connection to this transcendental collective unconscious, we are linked with all other people, and with everyone's ancestors and everyone's future descendants. With this commonality in human society, we understand one another's feelings and behaviors, because those people are responding in familiar ways to the same archetypes which we know; without the collective unconscious -- if such a scenario can be imagined -- humans might not be able to communicate at all from our separate, individual worlds.
We each contribute to the collective unconscious. Our thoughts, emotions, and deeds are fed into this repository, to permanently enrich humanity's communal heritage; for example, our association with the Teacher archetype will affect all future "teachers." This phenomenon occurs because our archetypal elements (e.g., thoughts, images, energy tones, and actions) remain in our archetypal field which corresponds to the Teacher archetype. A similar idea is expressed in the concept of "the hundredth monkey" (as described by Ken Keyes and other writers), and "morphogenetic fields" (as described by Rupert Sheldrake).
There are sub-categories of the collective unconscious. While the collective unconscious is shared by all of creation, there is a "group unconscious" for every group of people (e.g., family, culture, sub-culture, ethnic group, religion, etc.); we might also find a group unconscious for non-human groups, e.g., animal species and inanimate objects (e.g., stars, minerals, etc. -- if we believe that inanimate objects have any type of consciousness). We can discern this "group unconscious" in the shared myths, symbols, legends, heroes, behaviors, beliefs, assumptions, fears, and other undercurrents of a group; those things are constellations of thoughts, images, energy tones, and actions.