Epigenesis is a biological concept meaning the development of an organism under the joint influence of heredity and environment. Jung is clear that archetypes are part of our genetic makeup.
“. . .While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.”
I do wonder about one item in this quotation;
“. . .have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.”
, because given our current knowledge of genetics, anything we acquire via “heredity,” is individually acquired. But this post is more about archetypal dynamics. Anthony Stevens, in “Archetype Revisited,” explains the basic nature of archetypal dynamics:
“The findings of the two new disciplines, evolutionary psychology and evolutionary psychiatry, in no way contradict or supercede Jung’s original insights into the nature and influence of the archetypes which make up the human collective unconscious: on the contrary, they corroborate and amplify them. They confirm that human experience and human behavior are the complex product of environmental and hereditary forces. The environment activates the archetype which mediates the experience and the behavior. Archetypes are intermediate between genes and experience: they are the organizing schemata by which the innate becomes personal. As James Hillman (1975) put it, the essential quality of Jung’s whole approach is that it is ‘archetypal’: the archetype is ‘the ontologically fundamental of Jung’s concepts’.”
Stevens then introduces his readers to the science of ethology which is the study of behavior patterns in organisms living in their natural environment. But the purpose of this post is to simply lay the basis for the interaction between the archetype and the environment. We humans are “pattern” recognizing beings, archetypes are the method by which patterns are recognized.