Monday, January 20, 2014

Instinct and Archetype


Human beings have been evolving for millennia, and buried under all the modern polish is some pretty powerful atavistic stuff.

Our pre-human ancestors were ruled by instinct, and those automatic responses are still embedded within us. In times of crisis, we still revert to these instinctual behaviors. Sometimes it saves our lives. Sometimes it gets us into trouble. Biting people is one of those things you just can't get away with these days.

Similarly, our minds still hold remnants of our atavistic thought patterns. These are called archetypes. Archetypes are more emotionally loaded, more flexible and more poetic than ordinary thoughts. They blow through the logical brain and go straight to the heart of the matter. Like instincts, they show up in times of crisis. We see them in dreams and hallucinations, and the pull of a self-destructive course of action we can't quite explain.

The problem is that archetypes are not meant to be taken literally. Doing so could lead to strange behaviors, like donning a crown of thorns and hauling a giant cross through the city, ranting at passersby. Or barking like a dog at your neighbors.

To a modern brain, an archetype is a thought in code. Before you act on it, you still have to decipher it.