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The Genetic Self


Concepts from the relatively new science of ethology (the study of behavior patterns in organisms living in their natural environments) have only quite recently been applied to human psychology, most popularly by Desmond Morris. Just as with animals, it has become clear that infants become attached to their mothers, and mothers to their infants, not so much through learning as by instinct. Mothers and infants have no need to learn to love one another: they are innately programmed to do so from birth; this is the most basic of many such direct expressions of the genetic heritage of our species. It was Carl Jung who first recognized that there exist in human beings certain psychic and behavioral archetypes that, while achieving unique expression in each individual, are at the same time universally present in all members of our race, as the hidden foundation of the conscious mind and therefore at the root of behavior.

Archetypes are biological entities, present (in related forms) throughout the animal kingdom. Like all biological entities, archetypes have evolved through natural selection, possibly an amount of genetic manipulation, and also through an 'intelligent' process of formative creation. Thus, the mental events experienced by every individual are determined not only by his personal history, but by the collective history of the species as a whole (biologically encoded in the collective unconscious), reaching back into the primordial mists of evolutionary time.

When any particular organized system ceases to exist, as when an atom splits, a snowflake melts, an animal dies, its organizing field disappears from that place: the information itself continues as a non-material region extending in space and continuing in time and influencing matter and energy therein, but this information field is not itself of matter, energy, space or time. Each kind of natural system (material, social or mental) has its own kind of memory or field: they are potential organizing patterns of influence, and can appear again in other times and places, whenever and wherever the physical conditions are appropriate.

Such purposive organizing principles work through the medium of DNA in living cells in the same way that machines are designed, manufactured and then operated. So when we talk about genetic inheritance of traits, this is the process of access to formative information, shared by sets and sub-sets of equivalent life-forms, i.e. relating to universal, planetary, racial, society, family, parental and personal patterns. The actual DNA is only a basic crystallization of these differences, and its more subtle role is as the manifesting interface between the organism and the many and varied information field influences (in the same way that the brain links coarse nervous energies to subtle spiritual energies, as the intermediary for the influence of the Higher Self.

The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche that does not owe its existence to personal experience. While the personal unconscious is made up of experiences that have at one time been conscious but that have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness: they are innate patterns of potential actions. The system of a baby is already tuned-in to prepare him for a world where there is water, light, air, salt, carbohydrates, etc. Likewise parents, wife, children, birth, and death are inborn in him as virtual images, as psychic aptitudes. These categories have by nature a collective character: they are images of wife, parents and children in general - they are in a sense the deposits of all our ancestral experiences.

All cultures, whatever their geographical location or historical era, display a large number of social traits that are characteristic of the specifically human genetic pattern, as it has evolved and been passed down from what was originally perhaps a small grouping in a single location. These have been independently catalogued by anthropologists. No human culture is known that lacked laws about the ownership, inheritance and disposal of property; procedures for settling disputes; rules governing courtship, marriage, adultery and the adornment of women; taboos relating to food and incest; ceremonies of initiation for young men; associations of men that exclude women; gambling; athletic sports; co-operative labour; trade; the manufacture of tools and weapons; rules of etiquette prescribing forms of greeting, modes of address, use of personal names, visiting, feasting, hospitality, gift-giving, and the performance of funeral rites; status differentiation on the basis of hierarchical social structure,; superstition; belief in the supernatural; religious rituals; soul concepts; myths and legends; dancing; homicide; suicide; homosexuality; mental illness; faith healing; dream interpretation; medicine, surgery; obstetrics; and astronomy. The list could go on.

Whereas Freud had assumed that most of our mental equipment was acquired individually in the course of growing up, Jung asserted that all the essential psychic characteristics that distinguish us as human beings are determined by genetics and are with us from birth. For Jung, the essential role of human experience is to develop what is already there - to actualize the potential that is latent or dormant in the very substance of the personality. Archetypes, then, are neuro-psychic programs, evolved and transmitted genetically, programmed to make available the behavioral and psychic repertoires of our species, in response to whatever environmental circumstances we may encounter. The archetype as such is not the images, ideas, feelings and specific behaviors that it gives rise to, when it is activated; it is the form, not the content. The innate predisposition must exist first, then personal experience may or may not actualize its potential; it is unconscious (though may be felt as a subjective need, enacted symbolically in dreams) until it is lived out in consciousness.

Take, for example, the contra-sexual archetype. Everybody carries qualities of the opposite sex, not only in the physical sense of contra-sexual genes, hormones and anatomical vestiges, but also in the psychological realm of attitudes, feelings and ideas. The feminine archetype in man is termed the Anima and the masculine archetype in woman is the Animus. By these archetypes, each person can determine the essential 'otherness' of the opposite sex - they recognize it because they have it in them. When a man experiences passionate attraction to a woman it is because she seems to embody his Anima, and she appears to him more beautiful, more spiritually matched, than any other woman around - sometimes to the bewilderment of others who fail to understand what he sees in her. This is the phenomenon of archetypal projection - but only those who have had the experience of falling hopelessly in love can know what it is like. It is not something one chooses to do: it happens to us, whether we like it or not. Inherent in every archetype is the notion of unfulfillment: an inner awareness of need. Man needs woman, either as mother or mate, if he is to fulfill himself.

“Tracing the evolution of patterns of behavior, it seems equally that we are innately territorial, inclined to mate for life, potentially co-operative with allies and hostile to foes, prone to congregate in hierarchically organized communities, and so on...”
Built on the innate human blueprint or program, learning (imprinting) develops at the start of life between mother and child, through positive feedback, and the potential of their respective archetypes is realized. Thus responses in the child to the mother's presence (such as staring, smiling, babbling, waggling its legs and laughing) release parental feelings in the mother together with maternal behavior, which is both appropriate and adjusted to the baby's needs (such as caresses, kisses, tender words, eye-to-eye contacts, smiles, songs and tickling games!) The universal occurrence of such responses leaves in no doubt that they are innate and that they have evolved as a result of their survival value for the species.

Tracing the evolution of patterns of behavior, it seems equally that we are innately territorial, inclined to mate for life, potentially co-operative with allies and hostile to foes, prone to congregate in hierarchically organized communities, and so on, much in the same way as other mammalian and primate species. Previously, a major obstacle to the acceptance of this view had been the difficulty of imagining by what possible means the detailed instructions, or 'program', required for the organization and expression of instinctive behavior patterns could be encoded in the genome (the genetic constitution of the individual) and then made available for use in the appropriate circumstances. The conceptual problem no longer exists since the understanding of the incredible potential of computer programming (the DNA acting as machine-code). The data transmission (of information and instructions) involves more than genetic medium however, as we shall examine later.

When asked what it is that motivates her and her infant to become attached to one another, most mothers will reply that it is 'love', and that its evident need, enthusiasm and jealousy for her, develops that love. The relationship is perfused with love - for many a woman such moments are the happiest fulfillment of her life. Love is the subjective experience underlying all mother-infant interactions, prompting their origin, moulding their nature and complexity, and sustaining the bond, even when no interactions occur and both partners are separated in space and time. This is the mysterious experience that two lovers, whatever their age or sex, manage to share with each other, bringing deep subjective reward, and this quality above all others, illustrates the 'spiritual' element of experience, which cannot be confined to the innate behavioral patterns and context within which it is expressed.

The moment the mother-child dyad is formed, Eros is constellated; we love life in as much as love was present in our first great affair. It is out of love that ego-consciousness, self-hood and personal identity grow. Knowledge of the world and security in the world are based on loving relatedness, to which the innate behavioral systems contribute the links.

The mother-child bond is forged through a mutual archetypal constellation proceeding at an unconscious level: each participant constitutes the perceptual field responsible for evoking the archetype in the other. Initially there is a full participation mystique between the child and its mother - a joint consciousness - out of which the child's differentiated experience of Self gradually emerges, as the bio-survival program takes hold.

All those attributes that will later make up the psychology of a unique individual are prefigured in the Self, and the ego (the necessary precondition of the perception of one's own personal identity) is no exception. The total archetypal system - what Jung termed the 'Self' - has programmed within it the complete scenario for individual life. But who lives this life? The Self has an inbuilt program (accompanying development of the cortex of the brain) by which the 'ego' develops from within, to become a witness and a personal face to the world.

But what activates the archetypal programs? External circumstances will trigger an archetype into arousal (different archetypes being available at different stages of the human life cycle) but the decision to actualize it (i.e. to manifest its potential and transcend it to a higher level of archetype) and the energy that stimulates the brain to paratelic involvement, comes from the Higher Self, the awareness of awareness, the unmoved mover, the experiencer, the lover, which is the true inheritor of this genetic entity that is the Self.

The newborn baby is the Self, bearing within it the seeds of attributes that will later develop through the stages of maturation (including the first four programs and the potential for more). With maturation the ego develops a subjectively experienced independence from the Self - indeed it may consider that it is the 'Self' and that the body and its somewhat inexplicable feelings are separate from it - a subjective disconnection that has been described earlier as the 'body-mind split'. But in reality (at least unconsciously) the ego remains intimately related to the Self - this is the Ego-Self axis.

This diagram represents the development of the Ego-Self axis (the perpendicular line). At first the ego exists only in potentia as a component of the Self. As development proceeds from this first bio-survival program, through the emotional-territorial, semantic and then socio-sexual programs, the ego gradually differentiates out from the Self, connected by the Ego-Self axis - the vital link that sustains the integrity of the personality. The fifth element illustrates a mind-body split, where the ego has lost touch with its physical roots and the axis disintegrates.

In a sense, the Self is to the ego what the parent is to the child; it also resembles the relationship envisaged by the great world religions as existing between God and man; for the ego is the Self's representative in external reality, and the Self is the Higher Self's vehicle on earth.

The newborn child makes no distinction between 'inside' and 'outside', between his mother and himself. Consciousness has not yet appeared to disrupt bliss with conflict. As growth of the ego-Self axis proceeds however, the original undifferentiated unity is left behind 'in paradise' and the world is increasingly encountered as a realm of tensions. The Self, as central coordinating nucleus of the total psyche, instigates and homeostatically controls the emergence of the developing ego, and on this process the whole future integrity of the personality stands or falls. That it should not go wrong largely depends on the presence and appropriate responsiveness of the mother, as the stable foundation for the normal development of the ego-Self axis: it is the primal relationship, the basis of the bio-survival program, the spinal column of future individuality and autonomy. Gradually, with the emergence of the child's ego-consciousness, the mother's functions of cherishing, nourishing and protecting lose their anonymous features and 'personify' as the attributes of 'Mum'. From this secure attachment base, the child begins to explore, to investigate his surroundings, and then of course the influence of his father comes to bear.


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