The best books on C.J. Jung and the evolution of culture

Thomas T. Lawson Author Of Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind
By Thomas T. Lawson

Who am I?

A certain idea kept cropping up in my reading, triggered perhaps by Richard Dawkins's conception in The Selfish Gene, of the “meme.” It seemed that the meme had a life of its own. Then I came across Richerson’s and Boyd’s Not by Genes Alone, and they laid it out: cultures evolve. And they evolve independently of the genes—free of genetic constraints in an idea or thought to contribute to its own survival. That is up to the multitude of people who happen to come across it. I now have a new book readying for publication: How Cognition, Language, Myth, and Culture Came Together To Make Us What We Are.

I wrote...

Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind

By Thomas T. Lawson,

Book cover of Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind

What is my book about?

Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind is a review and an explanation of Jung's thought set in an evolutionary context. Jung explored the human psyche throughout his long life. His writings, of astonishing scope and depth, elaborate on imagery that can be found in rituals, myths, and fables worldwide as well as in the dreams, visions, and fantasies of his patients and himself. Jung pursued common threads of meaning to the point of becoming deeply versed in the esoterica of Eastern mysticism, Gnosticism, and alchemy. Taken collectively, Jung's works develop a coherent theory about how the psyche is constructed. The author demonstrates that Jung's concept of a collective unconscious structured by archetypes meshes well with accepted views of evolution and can be squared with the most rigorous science of today. 

The books I picked & why

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Memories, Dreams, Reflections

By Clara Winston, C.G. Jung, Aniela Jaffe, Richard Winston

Book cover of Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Why this book?

C. J. Jung stood large on the world scene. Freud, much his senior and a household name when they met, was at first a father figure, Freud thought of Jung as natural heir to his psychoanalytic method, Jung’s ultimate rejection of its central tenets led in the end to their break.

Jung’s analysis was sought by distinguished people all over the world. During W. W. II the CIA had him develop a psychological profile of Hitler.

Jung’s Collected Works consists of 19 volumes. A less daunting way to get acquainted with him is through the famous MDR, (Memories, Dreams, Reflections) dictated late in life. The book focuses entirely on Jung’s interior life—his thoughts, his influences, his visions, and Ideations. It was in these that Jung saw his life’s meaning.

Primitive Mythology

By Joseph Campbell,

Book cover of Primitive Mythology

Why this book?

Campbell, to me, is the dean of writers on myth. I met him once, through a professor at Hollins University who, at her graduation, had awarded Anna, my wife-to-be, the first three volumes of The Hero of a Thousand Faces, as a prize in English Literature (the fourth, Creative Mythology, was yet to be published).

After we met, I learned that Campbell had edited the Penguin Portable Jung – and it is that book that set me on a course of study and writing on myth and literature that I have pursued ever since.

As a final note, Campbell also co-authored A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, a book that many years later led me into James Joyce’s masterwork, Finnegans Wake – to me, the apotheosis of mythic literature.

The Origins and History of Consciousness

By Erich Neumann,

Book cover of The Origins and History of Consciousness

Why this book?

Of seminal importance to an understanding of the world is the conception of a collective unconscious grounded in inheritable archetypes. These evolve: how could it be otherwise—everything in nature evolves. And that means that our consciousness, too, evolves. Its evolution is, in a sense, teleological: from the less conscious to the more consciousness. This is to say that the evolution of the archetypes permits the increasing distillation of consciousness from the vastness of the collective unconscious. I believe that language, which is indivisible from consciousness, did not begin to materialize until about 10,000 BC. I may have been virtually alone in this view, but computerized models of evolutionary linguists today suggest that the key to language capability may have been enfolded in our make-up from our earliest beginnings.

The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of Agriculture

By Jacques Cauvin, Trevor Watkins (translator),

Book cover of The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of Agriculture

Why this book?

At about 10,000 BC, there appeared in Mesopotamia female statuettes, clearly privileging fertility. They came to be associated with the bucranium – the head and horns of the wild bull aurochs, and, over time, the pair took on the unmistakable stamp of a goddess and her consort, a bull.

Jacques Cauvin, who conducted their excavation, was able to link the pair with the birth of agriculture, and in so doing he found that the individual came, for the first time, to stand in a worshipful posture toward an other-worldly existent bringing about for humanity thereby an entirely new cultural orientation. Indeed, the pair bore “all the traits of the Mother-Goddess who dominated the oriental pantheon, “right up to the time of the male-dominated monotheism of Israel” (p. 31).

Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

By Merlin Donald,

Book cover of Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

Why this book?

Cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald posited that, at the most fundamental level, humans have a hybrid mind, one that consists of a gene-based mammalian, analogue brain, onto which is grafted a culture-based, symbolic brain. The former, the primitive mammalian brain, is a space where “the lines between consciousness and the mind’s inaccessible unconscious modules are drawn very deep in the sand” (p. 286).

As to myth, Donald noted that virtually all hunter-gatherer societies observed in the modern era have or had elaborate mythological systems, all structured along the same lines, in which myth informs every aspect of life: “myth permeates and regulates daily life, channels perceptions, determines the significance of every object and event in life. Clothing, food, shelter, family – all receive their ‘meaning’ from myth” (p. 215).

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