chapter  15
9 Pages

Jung on the history of consciousness

The shamans of the Paleolithic are close relatives of the often-maligned “urban shamans” of the late twentieth century. The social context has changed but not our organism’s capacities. The same autonomic nervous system has been “tuned” for at least 50,000 years-if not 600,000 or perhaps two million. Several authors have asserted that the capacity for generating altered states of consciousness over such a timescale proves that non-ordinary states of consciousness have long been important survival tools for primates. Natural selection would have eliminated such faculties if they had been jeopardizing rather than enhancing of our evolutionary fi tness. Every talent, however, can be used for a variety of purposes. Over time, our ancestors gradually moved from living in tiny isolated bands of hunter-gatherers to herding, agriculture, towns and cities. Artisans, traders, and industrialists have changed the human landscape. In the course of all these changes, different social classes learned to use altered states of consciousness in different ways and for different purposes. Today we can sketch in broad strokes a history of human consciousness that draws upon evidence from archaeology and anthropology while not forgetting the larger context of what has remained the same in human neurobiology. Doing so will show that Jung’s suspicions about our contemporary rootlessness are well founded. This chapter and the ones that follow will take up the progressive story of what we have done with our psychological capacities by paying special attention to the evidence for how our ancestors used rituals. As our fi rst step, however, this chapter will review Jung’s arguments regarding the history of consciousness.