• Instinct and the Unconscious by C.G. Jung

    Instinct and the Unconscious

    C.G. Jung

    The theme of this symposium concerns a problem that is of great importance for biology as well as for psychology and philosophy. But if we are to discuss the relation between instinct and the unconscious, it is essential that we start out with a clear definition of our terms.

    With regard to the definition of instinct, I would like to stress the significance of the "all-or-none" reaction formulated by Rivers; indeed, it seems to me that this peculiarity of instinctive activity is of special importance for the psychological side of the problem. I must naturally confine myself to this aspect of the question, because I do not feel competent to treat the problem of instinct under its biological aspect. But when I attempt to give a psychological definition of instinctive activity, I find I cannot rely solely on Rivers' criterion of the "all-or-none" reaction, and for the following reason: Rivers defines this reaction as a process that shows no gradation of intensity in respect of the circumstances which provoke it. It is a reaction that takes place with its own specific intensity under all circumstances and is not proportional to the precipitating stimulus. But when we examine the psychological processes of consciousness in order to determine whether there are any whose intensity is out of all proportion to the stimulus, we can easily find a great many of them in everybody, for instance disproportionate affects, impressions, exaggerated impulses, intentions that go too far, and others of the kind. It follows that all these processes cannot possibly be classed as instinctive processes, and we must therefore look round for another criterion.

    We use the word "instinct" very frequently in ordinary speech. We speak of "instinctive actions," meaning by that a mode of behaviour of which neither the motive nor the aim is fully conscious and which is prompted only by obscure inner necessity. This peculiarity has already been stressed by an older English writer, Thomas Reid, who says: "By instinct, I mean a natural impulse to certain actions, without having any end in view, without deliberation and without any conception of what we do." Thus instinctive action is characterized by an unconsciousness of the psychological motive behind it, in contrast to the strictly conscious processes which are distinguished by the conscious continuity of their motives. Instinctive action appears to be a more or less abrupt psychic occurrence, a sort of interruption of the continuity of consciousness. On this account, it is felt as an inner necessity-which is, in fact, the definition of instinct given by Kant.

    Accordingly, instinctive activity would have to be included among the specifically unconscious processes, which are accessible to consciousness only through their results. But were we to rest content with this conception of instinct, we should soon discover its insufficiency: it merely marks off instinct from the conscious processes and characterizes it as unconscious. If, on the other hand, we survey the unconscious processes as a whole, we find it impossible to class them all as instinctive, even though no differentiation is made between them in ordinary speech. If you suddenly meet a snake and get a violent fright, you can legitimately call this impulse instinctive because it is no different from the instinctive fear of snakes in monkeys. It is just the uniformity of the phenomenon and the regularity of its recurrence which are the most characteristic qualities of instinctive action. As Lloyd Morgan aptly remarks, it would be as uninteresting to bet on an instinctive reaction as on the rising of the sun tomorrow. On the other hand, it may also happen that someone is regularly seized with fright whenever he meets a perfectly harmless hen. Although the mechanism of fright in this case is just as much an unconscious impulse as the instinct, we must nevertheless distinguish between the two processes. In the former case the fear of snakes is a purposive process of general occurrence; the latter, when habitual, is a phobia and not an instinct, since it occurs only in isolation and is not a general peculiarity. There are many other unconscious compulsions of this kind-for instance, obsessive thoughts, musical obsessions, sudden ideas and moods, impulsive affects, depressions, anxiety states, etc. These phenomena are met with in normal as well as abnormal individuals. In so far as they occur only in isolation and are not repeated regularly they must be distinguished from instinctive processes, even though their psychological mechanism seems to correspond to that of an instinct. They may even be characterized by the all-or-none reaction" as can easily be observed in pathological cases. In psychopathology there are many such cases where a given stimulus is followed by a definite and relatively disproportionate reaction comparable to an instinctive reaction.

    All these processes must be distinguished from instinctive ones. Only those unconscious processes which are inherited, and occur uniformly and regularly, can be called instinctive. At the same time they must show the mark of compelling necessity, a reflex character of the kind pointed out by Herbert Spencer. Such a process differs from a mere sensory-motor reflex only because it is more complicated. William James therefore calls instinct, not unjustly, "a mere excito-motor impulse, due to the pre-existence of a certain 'reflex-arc' in the nerve-centres." Instincts share with reflexes their uniformity and regularity as well as the unconsciousness of their motivations.

    The question of where instincts come from and how they were acquired is extraordinarily complicated. The fact that they are invariably inherited does nothing to explain their origin; it merely shifts the problem back to our ancestors. The view is widely held that instincts originated in individual, and then general, acts of will that were frequently repeated. This explanation is plausible in so far as we can observe every day how certain laboriously learnt activities gradually become automatic through constant practice. But if we consider the marvelous instincts to be found in the animal world, we must admit that the element of learning is sometimes totally absent. In certain cases it is impossible to conceive how any learning and practice could ever have come about. Let us take as an example the incredibly refined instinct of propagation in the yucca moth (Pronuba yuccasella). The flowers of the yucca plant open for one night only. The moth takes the pollen from one of the flowers and kneads it into a little pellet. Then it visits a second flower, cuts open the pistil, lays its eggs between the ovules and then stuffs the pellet into the funnel-shaped opening of the pistil. Only once in its life does the moth carry out this complicated operation.

    Such cases are difficult to explain on the hypothesis of learning and practice. Hence other ways of explanation, deriving from Bergson's philosophy, have recently been put forward, laying stress on the factor of intuition. Intuition is an unconscious process in that its result is the irruption into consciousness of an unconscious content, a sudden idea or "hunch." 6 It resembles a process of perception, but unlike the conscious activity of the senses and introspection the perception is unconscious. That is why we speak of intuition as an "instinctive" act of comprehension. It is a process analogous to instinct, with the difference that whereas instinct is a purposive impulse to carry out some highly complicated action, intuition is the unconscious, purposive apprehension of a highly complicated situation. In a sense, therefore, intuition is the reverse of instinct, neither more nor less wonderful than it. But we should never forget that what we call complicated or even wonderful is not at all wonderful for Nature, but quite ordinary. We always tend to project into things our own difficulties of understanding and to call them complicated, when in reality they are very simple and know nothing of our intellectual problems.

    A discussion of the problem of instinct without reference to the concept of the unconscious would be incomplete, because it is just the instinctive processes which make the supplementary concept of the unconscious necessary. I define the unconscious as the totality of all psychic phenomena that lack the quality of consciousness. These psychic contents might fittingly be called "subliminal," on the assumption that every psychic content must possess a certain energy value in order to become conscious at all. The lower the value of a conscious content falls, the more easily it disappears below the threshold. From this it follows that the unconscious is the receptacle of all lost memories and of all contents that are still too weak to become conscious. These contents are products of an unconscious associative activity which also gives rise to dreams. Besides these we must include all more or less intentional repressions of painful thoughts and feelings. I call the sum of all these contents the "personal unconscious." But, over and above that, we also find in the unconscious qualities that are not individually acquired but are inherited, e.g., instincts as impulses to carry out actions from necessity, without conscious motivation. In this "deeper" stratum we also find the a priori, inborn forms of "intuition," namely the archetypes of perception and apprehension, which are the necessary a priori determinants of all psychic processes. Just as his instincts compel man to a specifically human mode of existence, so the archetypes force his ways of perception and apprehension into specifically human patterns. The instincts and the archetypes together form the "collective unconscious." I call it "collective" because, unlike the personal unconscious, it is not made up of individual and more or less unique contents but of those which are universal and of regular occurrence. Instinct is an essentially collective, i.e., universal and regularly occurring phenomenon which has nothing to do with individuality. Archetypes have this quality in common with the instincts and are likewise collective phenomena.

    In my view the question of instinct cannot be dealt with psychologically without considering the archetypes, because at bottom they determine one another. It is, however, extremely difficult to discuss this problem, as opinions about the role of instinct in human psychology are extraordinarily divided. Thus William James is of the opinion that man is swarming with instincts, while others restrict them to a very few processes barely distinguishable from reflexes, namely to certain movements executed by the infant, to particular reactions of its arms and legs, of the larynx, the use of the right hand, and the formation of syllabized sounds. In my opinion, this restriction goes too far, though it is very characteristic of human psychology in general. Above all, we should always remember that in discussing human instincts we are speaking of ourselves and, therefore, are doubtless prejudiced.

    We are in a far better position to observe instincts in animals or in primitives than in ourselves. This is due to the fact that we have grown accustomed to scrutinizing our own actions and to seeking rational explanations for them. But it is by no means certain that our explanations will hold water, indeed it is highly unlikely. No superhuman intellect is needed to see through the shallowness of many of our rationalizations and to detect the real motive, the compelling instinct behind them. As a result of our artificial rationalizations it may seem to us that we were actuated not by instinct but by conscious motives. Naturally I do not mean to say that by careful training man has not succeeded in partially converting his instincts into acts of the will. Instinct has been domesticated, but the basic motive still remains instinct. There is no doubt that we have succeeded in enveloping a large number of instincts in rational explanations to the point where we can no longer recognize the original motive behind so many veils. In this way it seems as though we possessed practically no instincts any more. But if we apply the Rivers criterion of the disproportionate all-or-none reaction to human behaviour, we find innumerable cases where exaggerated reactions occur. Exaggeration, indeed, is a universal human peculiarity, although everybody carefully tries to explain his reactions in terms of rational motives. There is never any lack of good arguments, but the fact of exaggeration remains. And why is it that a man does not do or say, give or take, just as much as is needed, or reasonable, or justifiable in a given situation, but frequently so much more or less? Precisely because an unconscious process is released in him that runs its course without the aid of reason and therefore falls short of, or exceeds, the degree of rational motivation. This phenomenon is so uniform and so regular that we can only call it instinctive, though no one in this situation likes to admit the instinctive nature of his behaviour. I am therefore inclined to believe that human behaviour is influenced by instinct to a far higher degree than is generally supposed, and that we are prone to a great many falsifications of judgment in this respect, again as a result of an instinctive exaggeration of the rationalistic standpoint.

    Instincts are typical modes of action, and wherever we meet with uniform and regularly recurring modes of action and reaction we are dealing with instinct, no matter whether it is associated with a conscious motive or not.

    Just as it may be asked whether man possesses many instincts or only a few, so we must also raise the still unbroached question of whether he possesses many or few primordial forms, or archetypes, of psychic reaction. Here we are faced with the same difficulty I mentioned above: we are so accustomed to operating with conventional and self-evident concepts that we are no longer conscious of the extent to which they are based on archetypal modes of perception. Like the instincts, the primordial images have been obscured by the extraordinary differentiation of our thinking. Just as certain biological views attribute only a few instincts to man, so the theory of cognition reduces the archetypes to a few, logically limited categories of understanding.

    In Plato, however, an extraordinarily high value is set on the archetypes as metaphysical ideas, as "paradigms" or models, while real things are held to be only the copies of these model ideas. Medieval philosophy, from the time of St. Augustine from whom I have borrowed the idea of the archetype 8-down to Malebranche and Bacon, still stands on a Platonic footing in this respect. But in scholasticism we find the notion that archetypes are natural images engraved on the human mind. helping it to form its judgments. Thus Herbert of Cherbury says: "Natural instincts are expressions of those faculties which are found in every normal man, through which the Common Notions touching the internal conformity of things, such as the cause, means and purpose of things, the good, bad, beautiful, pleasing, etc .... are brought into conformity independently of discursive thought."

    From Descartes and Malebranche onward, the metaphysical value of the "idea" or archetype steadily deteriorated. It became a "thought," an internal condition of cognition, as clearly formulated by Spinoza: "By 'idea' I understand a conception of the mind which the mind forms by reason of its being a thinking thing." 10 Finally Kant reduced the archetypes to a limited number of categories of understanding. Schopenhauer carried the process of simplification still further, while at the same time endowing the archetypes with an almost Platonic significance.

    In this all-too-summary sketch we can see once again that same psychological process at work which disguises the instincts under the cloak of rational motivations and transforms the archetypes into rational concepts. It is hardly possible to recognize the archetype under this guise. And yet the way in which man inwardly pictures the world is still, despite all differences of detail, as uniform and as regular as his instinctive actions. Just as we have been compelled to postulate the concept of an instinct determining or regulating our conscious actions, so, in order to account for the uniformity and regularity of our perceptions, we must h~ve recourse to the correlated concept of a factor determining the mode of apprehension. It is this factor which I call the archetype or primordial image. The primordial image might suitably be described as the instinct's perception of itself, or as the self-portrait of the instinct, in exactly the same way as consciousness is an inward perception of the objective life-process. Just as conscious apprehension gives our actions form and direction, so unconscious apprehension through the archetype determines the form and direction of instinct. If we call instinct "refined," then the "intuition" which brings the instinct into play, in other words the apprehension by means of the archetype, must be something incredibly precise. Thus the yucca moth must carry within it an image, as it were, of the situation that "triggers off" its instinct. This image enables it to "recognize" the yucca flower and its structure.

    The criterion of the all-or-none reaction proposed by Rivers has helped us to discover the operation of instinct everywhere in human psychology, and it may be that the concept of the primordial image will perform a similar service with regard to acts of intuitive apprehension. Intuitional activity can be observed most easily among primitives. There we constantly meet with certain typical images and motifs which are the foundations of their mythologies. These images are autochthonous and occur with great regularity; everywhere we find the idea of a magic power or substance, of spirits and their doings, of heroes and gods and their legends. In the great religions of the world we see the perfection of those images and at the same time their progressive incrustation with rational forms. They even appear in the exact sciences, as the foundation of certain indispensable auxiliary concepts such as energy, ether, and the atom. In philosophy, Bergson affords an example of the revival of a primordial image with his conception of "duree creatrice," which can be found in Proclus and, in its original form, in Heraclitus.

    Analytical psychology is daily concerned, in the normal and sick alike, with disturbances of conscious apprehension caused by the admixture of archetypal images. The exaggerated actions due to the interference of instinct are caused by intuitive modes of apprehension actuated by archetypes and all too likely to lead to over-intense and often distorted impressions.

    Archetypes are typical modes of apprehension, and wherever we meet with uniform and regularly recurring modes of apprehension and wherever we meet with uniform and regularly recurring modes of apprehension we are dealing with an archetype) no matter whether its mythological character is recognized or not.

    The collective unconscious consists of the sum of the instincts and their correlates, the archetypes. Just as everybody possesses instincts, so he also possesses a stock of archetypal images. The most striking proof of this is the psychopathology of mental disturbances that are characterized by an irruption of the collective unconscious. Such is the case in schizophrenia; here we can often observe the emergence of archaic impulses in conjunction with unmistakable mythological images.

    In my view it is impossible to say which comes first-apprehension of the situation, or the impulse to act. It seems to me that both are aspects of the same vital activity, which we have to think of as two distinct processes simply for the purpose of better understanding.