The Collective Unconscious

A Reservoir of Qualia that Connects Us All

Joshua Hehe
8 min readSep 8, 2021


(Image Source: Lightspring/Shutterstock)

In the year 1916, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung coined the term “collective unconscious”. He used it to refer to a hypothetical set of shared mental concepts that are thought to exist below the level of the conscious mind, somewhere deep within us, in a reservoir of qualia that connects us all. Simply put, according to Jung, there is a part of everyone’s mind that contains memories and impulses of which they are not aware. Moreover, the strange thing is that, according to Jung’s theory, we all somehow seem to share that same part of the mind. With that being said, in an effort to not put too many words in his mouth, going straight to the source on this, the collective unconscious is rather eloquently described in “The Significance of Constitution and Heredity in Psychology” (published in 1929), in which Jung stated that:

in dreams, fantasies, and other exceptional states of mind the most far-fetched mythological motifs and symbols can appear autochthonously at any time, often, apparently, as the result of particular influences, traditions, and excitations working on the individual, but more often without any sign of them. These “primordial images” or “archetypes,” as I have called them, belong to the basic stock of the unconscious psyche and cannot be explained as personal acquisitions. Together they make up that psychic stratum which has been called the collective unconscious.

Of course, the primary source on the subject came out three decades later in 1959. That’s when Jung finally published The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, just two years before he died in 1961.

Nonetheless, the point is that according to Jung and his followers, there is a collective unconscious that is populated by a number of different things, such as instincts and archetypes — which are basically just recurrent symbols and themes that serve as the basic building blocks of consciousness, specifically as they relate to humanity. To put it another way, the collective unconscious is expressed through a certain set of human universals — known as archetypes. Jung ultimately traced the notion back to the writings of Philo of Alexandria (a Jewish philosopher), Iranaeus (a Greek bishop), and the Corpus Hermeticum (a collection of texts about alchemy, astrology…