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Archetypes and Other Things

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An interesting discussion developed during a weekend I was giving at the Assisi Conferences in Vermont.

Jungians stress the role of Archetypes in the lives of individuals. Archetypes connect the individual and idiosyncratic to the collective and transpersonal. For example, a person in the magnetic pull of the Puer Aeternis can appear youthful and charming, full of enthusiasms and ideas, always flying. The darker side of the Puer lies in the difficulties they have in trying to stay grounded or make a long term commitment to work and relationships.

But, as Michael Conforti points out, the presence of an archetype does not mean that a person's life and behavior is influenced in a deterministic way. Throughout their lifes they may enter into the sway of the same archetype again and again but each time "reading" and responding to it in different ways.

But this raised the question: Are Archetypes enough? For nature's systems grow, mature, flower, age and die. There is always some force, or some attraction, that moves natural systems through the several stages of life and, in the Jungian context, would eventually move them from the attraction of one archetype to another.

But what is the nature of this force, or attraction? And is it related in some way to our natural movement towards health and creativity? Could it be yet another Archetype, an master archetype of growth? Or is it something that lies beyond the archetypes themselves?

And what of the archetypes of the collective - those experienced by a society or a nation and extending across an historical period? Do archetypes or evolved change, or does a nation simply pass from archetype to another.

It is interesting, in this content, to evoke the biologist Waddington's notion of the chreoid. The chreoid is the life path of an organism from birth to death. Waddington saw the genes as playing a significant role, yet each organism must develop in an environment of external contingencies that Waddington termed the epigenetic landscape. The chreoid is the path through the hills and valleys of the epigenetic landscape that an organism must follow. Perturb the organism and it will eventually return, not to the point it previously occupied on the chreoid, but to that point it would have reached had it not been disturbed! What role could such a concept play in theories of the psyche?

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