From Apes to Astronauts
We are capable to building amazing structures that rise above the clouds and retain their opposing size after thousands of years. Capable of incredible feats of technology and with them discover distant worlds and soon to embark in interplanetary voyages. Our greatest achievements come from our constant share of knowledge from generation to generation. Either by books, word of mouth, apprenticeship or drawings, this process of sharing lessons learned is with us since the beginning.
Pretty impressive legacy right?
Furthermore, we still have within us another even longer legacy of knowledge, handed down for millions of years. Our body. For millions of years nature carved the mechanisms that we today see in all living creatures. Our body is quite smart as it can adapt itself to different conditions, it has the ability to defend itself again threats and learn from those lessons. It’s pretty useful not to worry all the time if I’m breathing, my heart is beating or if I’m digesting my lunch. These functions are part of a system, the Autonomic Nervous Systems. Some of these functions can be controlled consciously such as holding your breath for a few minutes, and others happen on an unconscious level, like blood pressure. What is interesting is that although these functions cannot be influenced by us at command, it doesn’t mean they cannot be affected. There are countless studies connecting the increase of heart rate and blood pressure with long periods of stress. When a person experiences stressful mental conditions, the physical body starts to suffer. Body posture changes to a closed, almost fearing look reflective of the mind’s state.
It seems that the mind is the key here. Or the ring.
If we can control our emotions, thoughts and feelings we can have an impact the whole body. Unfortunately, it is not that simple, unlike the body, the mind is arguably just a series of electric impulses and chemical reactions which we perceive and label as love or a nice memory. Despite it being a scientific explanation, it doesn’t help us to understand certain behaviors how to treat a mental problem.
Enter psychology, the study of the mind and behavior.
Within psychology there are different approaches to understand the mechanisms of the mind but today I want to dive into another school of thought, psychoanalysis. This theory of the mind seeks to understand the unconscious and how irrational forces influence actions and thoughts. By bringing certain unconscious thoughts to awareness, the person can begin a process of improvement and acceptance. It’s impossible to mention psychoanalysis without talking about Sigmund Freud, the “father” of this school of thought. Freud contributed with many ideas like the Freudian slip, where an error in speech reveals a conflict with the unconscious or dream interpretation where a dream is analyzed to reveal a meaning to the mind of the dreamer. Freud’s work on the structural model of the mind is very interesting. He slipt the mind in three entities, the ID, the ego and the superego. In his view the ID represented the unconscious pleasure seeking childlike component of the mind. The superego represents the moral component, the compass of the right and wrong and the ego is the conscious component that finds a balance between the ID and superego. For Freud the psychological afflictions happen because of this conflict between ID and superego. The ego cannot find a balance between short term pleasure and long term goals imposed by society, so it creates defense mechanisms.
The job of the psychoanalyst is to bring these defense mechanisms to light and in a way dissolve them.
The Freudian Alternative
One of the biggest criticisms to this theory is the constant obsession on the sexual. For Freud the ID is driven by the libido, an aggressive and pleasure seeking force. Concepts like the penis envy, where women experience anxiety for not having a penis (some psychoanalysts proposed the womb envy complex as a counter theory/criticism) or the psycho sexual stages of childhood drove many in the field away from Freud’s theory. One of them was Carl Jung. Jung was also a psychoanalyst who worked for many years under the guidance of Sigmund Freud. At some point, Freud called Jung his crown prince and successor, which didn’t stop Jung from disagreeing with him.
Jung believed that the unconscious as seen by Freud was incomplete and too negative. For him, the libido or the sexual drive of the ID wasn’t solely responsible for the personality. After analyzing many patients, Jung started to formulate that a deeper level of the unconscious could exist. A level common to all humans that resulted from the evolution of the mind during its evolution. He called this the collective unconscious and with it Jung could explain why we see the same symbols and meanings in different societies and religions during human history. This new realm is populated by archetypes, a way to classify groups of ideas that arise from the unconscious.
For example, one of Jung’s archetypes is the wise old man. This idea is connected with a wise, kind, older father figure who offers guidance and acts as a mentor. It shows up in almost all cultures, not necessarily in that specific form, but shares the same traits. An archetype is then a tendency to experience things in a certain way, a tendency shared by all humans alike. As Jung said, these archetypes have no form in our mind, there isn’t a “wise old man” figure, that’s the form it takes when it manifests in the outside world. Archetypes are like black holes, we cannot see them directly, we can only see their influence. In the same way, archetypes can be detected by their influence in mythology and history. There are many of these archetypes, one can dedicate an entire life studying them and their influence.
In later videos I want to study some of them in specific, namely the king, the warrior, the magician and the lover.
But now let’s come back to reality
By now you might be thinking how all of this can help you on your self-improvement journey. Let me ask you something. Just looking at today, how many actions did you do unconsciously? How many useless videos did you watch? These concepts bring to awareness the idea of the unconscious. If we understand how it works or at least how to make sense of it, we will be in some way liberated.
Like Jung said: “Men’s task is to become conscious of the content that press upward from the unconscious.”
Bad habits like procrastination and addictions all have root in this part of our mind, which we now understand that is a byproduct of the human condition. As our heritage, we should embrace and nurture it and maybe we might be able to create a strong and empowering structure.
We are beautifully complex don’t you agree?