Goodwyn, E: Integrating genome and psyche: toward a theory of the Self’s ancestral memory


Erik Goodwyn


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Throughout his career, Jung felt the psyche had “ancestral layers” that contained elements of an individual’s cultural and biological history, and clinical experience has shown that this idea can be a powerful aid to psychological healing and emotional well-being. It is the aim of this paper to ask whether or not this idea is more than simply a useful theoretical construct and to assess whether or not progress in evolutionary neuroscience and genetics can inform and refine Jungian thought. In the early 2000s, several attempts were made along these lines, and it was concluded that the genome was "too impoverished" to encode symbolic information. These formulations, however, were plagued by a number of serious misunderstandings about how genetics works. Unfortunately the idea has nonetheless persisted. In this paper, we will correct these errors and find that, when combined with newer research in evolutionary neurogenetics, we find a genome that is not impoverished, but containing the capacity to encode a huge amount of symbolic information. Furthermore, the psychological content mediated by the genome can be seen to contain traces of our evolutionary history from the very beginnings of chordate life up through our reptile and mammal ancestors, to the hominins, and even into one's cultural history and even (through epigenetic transfer) the last few generations of one's ancestors. Not impoverished, but densely rich with our biological heritage, the genome appears to encode a kind of "ancestral memory" of the Self that consists of an array of constraints and biases on emotion, perception and cognition, many of which are reviewed to provide concrete examples.

Presenter Bio:

Erik Goodwyn, MD, holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics, a master’s in anatomy and neurobiology, and a medical degree from the University of Cincinnati. Currently the director of psychotherapy training at the University of Louisville in the Department of Psychiatry, Dr. Goodwyn is the author of The Neurobiology of the Gods, Healing Symbols in Psychotherapy, and Understanding Dreams and Other Spontaneous Images . An officer in the US Air Force for seven years, he has researched and written about the dreams of soldiers in combat zones, as well as authored articles combining archetypal theory with cognitive anthropology and evolutionary psychology. He is also the co-editor in chief of the International Journal of Jungian Studies and has presented and attended panels at Jungian conferences at many locations in the United States and Europe.

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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