Jordan Peterson, Dan Dennett and the Banshee


In this blog-post I will consider the nature of archetypes (as defended in different ways by Jung and Peterson and memes (as defended by Dan Dennett), and I will evaluate the evidence for them. I will then outline the Irish folk-myth of the Banshee and discuss whether memes or archetypes offer the most compelling evidence for the nature of the myth.

                                      Part 1: JUNGIAN ARCHETYPES

Jung being an agnostic about the existence of God and a person who heavily emphasised his own direct experiences mean that in popular mind he is viewed as a pseudo-scientist. When he speaks about religious archetypes being inescapable even for those who describe themselves as atheists he is sometimes interpreted as a religious mystic. Hence in the imagination of some of Jung’s critics, his arguments for the collective unconscious, and archetypes are viewed as religiously motivated speculation. Jung though considered archetypes and the collective unconscious empirical claims which could be justified on scientific grounds.

Freud’s primary focus was on the repressed unconscious. On Freud’s conception human children are animals with aggressive and sexual drives, while at the same time being defenceless members of a social group that indoctrinates them. As the child grows and develops in their social and familial groups they will eventually learn to repress some of these aggressive and sexual urges. However, the urges, though unconscious; can still play a role in the subject’s life, even though they may not be aware of these impulses. A lot of Freud’s therapeutic work was focused on helping people become aware of dramas from their early childhood that they were still unconsciously playing out in their adult life. Freud did leave a role for the unrepressed and instinctual unconscious but his primary emphasis was on repressed unconscious states and how they affected behaviour.

Jung believed that Freud underestimated the importance of the collective unconscious. For Jung the collective unconscious was a set of instinctive patterns that is shared by all humans. These instinctive patterns may never have been conscious, but according to Jung these instincts drive our conscious behaviour in ways we are entirely unaware of. Jung argues that it is the job of the psychotherapist to bring these instinctive patterns to consciousness. He argues that the archetype is very similar to the collective unconscious; and that one could consider archetypes as unconscious images of the instincts themselves (Jung: Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious p. 44).

Jung proposed the existence of Archetypes in relation to his theory of dreams. Freud’s famous “discovery” that dreams had an unconscious significance was related to his own analysis of a dream he had which revealed Oedipal fantasies of his in relation to his mother. Freud turned his interpretation of dreams into a developmental story where it is a universal feature of children as their lives unfold. Jung accepted Freud’s interpretation of some dreams as revealing Oedipal conflicts. However, according to Jung, a close analysis of his patient’s dreams revealed a series of patterns which corresponded to universal motifs that turned up in the world’s mythologies. Jung prided himself in being a scholar who read widely in mythologies and religions in both eastern and western cultures and discovered universal patterns in this diverse literature. Furthermore, Jung claimed, that when analysing the dreams of patients their dreams sometimes revealed details of ancient mythologies which the patient had never experienced in their daily life:

“Consequently, we must look for motifs which could not possibly be known to the dreamer and yet behave functionally in his dream in such a manner as to coincide with the functioning of the archetype known from historical sources.” ( Jung ‘The Concept of the Collective Unconscious’ p. 49)


Jung reasoned that if the patient never encountered the material in his daily life but exhibited some unconscious knowledge of the myth it is a reasonable assumption that the patient’s knowledge of the myth was innate[1]. His argument could be seen as a crude version of what Chomsky would call a poverty of stimulus argument. A person acquired knowledge of x but they don’t ever encounter x in their environment therefore it is impossible they learned x, hence x must be innate knowledge. In Chomsky’s case he provides precise syntactic constructions which he claimed children could go much or all of their life without encountering, and linguists have corpora to study the actual linguistic environment of children. And they have mathematical modellers who can design learning models which can be used to prove whether it is possible for a learner to acquire x given the data they are exposed to. Jung never articulated his argument for innate archetypes in this clear a manner. Hence it is harder to test his claims to either refute or confirm them. Furthermore given that Jung claims that these motifs are universal themes in our myths it is hard to give much credence to his claim that people never experience these universal myths.

Jung didn’t just rely on a poorly worked out poverty of stimulus argument to justify his belief in archetypes. He also argued that the concept had a long pedigree and was justified by the ethno-science of his time. He correctly noted that archetype concept was originally postulated by Plato. As every first year philosophy student knows, Plato argued that humans have innate ideas of concepts such of Justice, equality etc. Like Jung when arguing for innate ideas, Plato relied on poverty of stimulus arguments. In his Meno dialogue Plato illustrates Socrates getting an illiterate slave to demonstrate knowledge of geometry through just asking the slave questions. Plato draws the conclusion that since the slave was never taught geometry and yet demonstrated an understanding of geometry it is clear that the slave has some kind of innate knowledge of it[2].

Plato’s arguments were criticised by Aristotle amongst many others. But a primary reason that Plato’s arguments weren’t accepted was because he had no compelling explanation of where this innate knowledge came from. Jung noted that with the theory of evolution we have a good explanation of innate knowledge in the form of instincts. Jung goes on to describe his view as a combination of the views of Kant and Plato (Jung ‘The Concept of the Archetype’ p.77). Strangely enough Jung doesn’t touch on the rationalist/empiricist debate on innate ideas that Locke and Leibniz had. Jung skips from Plato right up to Kant; this is a strange move, given the influence the rationalist-empiricist debate had on Kant.

What is even stranger is that when he is criticising Plato’s argument Jung does so from the point of view of an empiricist:

“Were I a philosopher, I should continue in this Platonic strain and say: Somewhere, in “a place beyond the skies,” there is a prototype or primordial image of the mother that is pre-existent and supraordinate to all phenomena in which the “maternal,” in the broadest sense of the term, is manifest. But I am an empiricist, not a philosopher; I cannot let myself presuppose that my peculiar temperament, my own attitude to intellectual problems, is universally valid. Apparently this is an assumption in which only the philosopher may indulge, who always takes it for granted that his own disposition and attitude are universal…” (Jung ‘On the Concept of the Archetype’ p.75)

There is a lot to unpack in the above quote. Firstly Jung is correctly attacking Plato’s belief that innate ideas come from some abstract realm that we lived in during a previous life. Jung is surely correct that this is a poor idea. But Jung not only attacks Plato for coming to his unwarranted conclusion; Jung says that Plato came to the absurd conclusion BECAUSE he was a philosopher.

A possible interpretation of the above Jung claim is that he is criticising Plato for engaging in idle speculation of a type that cannot be tested empirically. Jung seemed to believe that a correct scientific approach would have been to acknowledge that we have innate understanding of certain universal concepts without projecting these universal concepts into some abstract realm.

There is some substance to Jung’s criticism of Plato. But in Plato’s defence he believed that since he had discovered innate concepts it was up to him to explain where these concepts came from. His explanation may not seem compelling to us with the benefit of two thousand years of accumulated knowledge but it was a nice attempt to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena. Now with our knowledge of modern biology and evolutionary science those compelled by Plato’s argument for innate ideas can nest them within evolutionary science.

Jung though stretches his criticism of Plato to all Philosophers who he charges with assuming that their own idiosyncratic nature reflects facts about the cosmos. Jung then distinguishes himself from philosophers by calling himself an empiricist. Now as is well known; empiricism is a philosophical position associated with three philosophers; John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume. Empiricism is a philosophical system that argues that all our knowledge claims are justified by reference to experience. For the empiricist while the philosopher should theorise freely; his theories can only be judged true or false when faced with the tribunal of experience.

When Jung argues that he is not a philosopher he is an empiricist this will raise eyebrows. To say that one is not a philosopher because one holds a particular philosophical epistemology sounds very strange. Nonetheless, there are ways that in which one could try to justify the claim that one is not a philosopher but an empiricist. It could be argued that empiricist epistemology is the epistemology used in scientific theorising, it’s pragmatic success has led to empirical science; and empiricists nowadays are scientists who don’t have any use for philosophical speculation. However, there is little reason to think that the above sketchy unimpressive argument is what Jung had in mind. In fact as we will explore in a minute there is little reason to think that Jung’s position is actually a form of empiricism at all.

While Jung believed that Plato was wrong in his explanation of the nature of our innate ideas he still thought that Plato was correct that innate ideas existed. Jung was impressed with Kant’s arguments against metaphysics, or rather, Kant’s argument that metaphysics can still exist but it must give up the proud name of ontology. Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy involved  the claim that philosophy couldn’t discover the ‘thing-in-itself’ which existed beyond our mode of cognition, rather the job of the philosopher was to discover the a-priori structures that were the conditions of possibility of our making any knowledge claims whatsoever.

Jung strongly endorses Kant’s arguments:

“Significantly enough, it is Kant’s doctrine of categories, more than anything else, that destroys in embryo every attempt to revise metaphysics in the old sense of the word, but at the same way paves the way for a re-birth of the Platonic spirit. If it be true that there can be no metaphysics transcending human reason, it is no less true that there can be no empirical knowledge that is not already caught and limited by the a priori structure of cognition.” ( Jung ‘The Concept of the Archetype’ p.76)

The above quote seems to place Jung in a very strange position he is labelling himself an empiricist while arguing that a form of transcendental idealism is the philosophical position he adopts.

To call oneself a Kantian and an empiricist is to use idiosyncratic language that just invites confusion. Kant after all famously thought that both rationalist and empiricist epistemologies were incomplete and needed to be replaced by Kant’s transcendental philosophy. How far Jung wanted to follow this Kantian turn is unclear; it is probable that Jung was just situating his views with Kant and Plato because of the prestige these thinkers are held in by academics. It is like as if Jung were saying to “look my archetype idea isn’t that crazy; it has eminent philosophical pedigree, my views are partially in line with Kant and Plato, though unlike them I can ground my archetypes in biology and psychology”.

When Jung called himself an empiricist and then went on to equate his views with two philosophers paradigmatically opposed to empiricism he appears to be confused. However, Jung can be rescued from the charge of confusion; a charitable interpretation of Jung’s claims is that while he found things he agreed with in Kant and Plato, Jung believed that they had discovered only partial truths. In order to further develop the arguments of Plato and Kant one must turn to the study of empirical psychology. When Jung was calling himself an empiricist he would have been more accurate to note that his views are grounded in empirical psychology. That this is the interpretation that Jung intended can be seen in the quote below:

“There is an a priori factor in all human activities, namely the inborn, preconscious and unconscious individual structure of the psyche. The pre-conscious psyche-for example, that of a new born infant- is not an empty vessel into which, under favourable conditions, practically anything can be poured. On the contrary, it is a tremendously complicated, sharply defined individual entity which appears indeterminate to us only because we cannot see it directly. But the moment the first visible manifestations of psychic life begin to appear, one would have to be blind not to recognize their individual character, that is, the unique personality behind them.” (ibid p. 77)

The above quote could have been written by Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker, the position is arguing that humans aren’t blank slates created entirely from culture but have a specific nature they inherit that partially determines how we develop as individuals. So despite Jung’s strange use of philosophical language his meaning is quite clear. There are innate biological archetypes that determine the way humans structure the data of experience. As we saw above though, Jung’s arguments for these archetypes relied on vague poverty of stimulus arguments, and appeals to the authority of a couple of famous philosophers.

In fairness to Jung despite the shakiness of his archetypal story he does present (limited) evidence to support it. In Jung’s years of extensive analysis with patients he claims have discovered themes in their dreams which had identical motifs which occurred in obscure texts that the patient couldn’t have read. Furthermore some evolutionary psychologist’s today claim to have found evidence for universal themes in our myths. (See: Robert King ‘A Regiment of Monstrous Women: Female Archetypes and Life History Theory’ 2016). So there is some evidence from disciplines outside of analytical psychology which support Jung’s conjectures about archetypes.

One of the strongest supporters of Jung’s archetypal story is the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. In order to flesh out Jung’s take on archetypes with the strongest possible evidence in the next section I will discuss Peterson’s take on archetypes and the evidence he presents to justify the postulation of their existence.



Part 2: Jordan Peterson’s conception of Archetypes

Peterson launched a large scale and compelling defence of archetypes in his 1999 book ‘Maps of Meaning’. A clinical psychologist by training Peterson primarily used evidence from developmental psychology to support his belief in the existence of archetypes. One aspect of Peterson’s book that is surprising is the lack of evidence he garners from the work of evolutionary psychologists such as Cosmides and Tooby (1992), Pinker (1994, 1997) etc when defending archetypes. Today as a proud member of the IDW Peterson goes out of his way to stress agreement with the work of Steven Pinker, Brett Weinstein, Geoffrey Miller etc. But in his ‘Maps of Meaning’ Peterson never really engages with Evolutionary Psychology at all.

Evolutionary Psychologists who were writing at around the time that Peterson was writing his ‘Maps of Meaning’ were arguing for massive modularity in which the brain used different encapsulated processing units for: language, folk psychology, vision, folk physics etc. Evolutionary psychologists were busy working on constructing theories about how these modules were selected for in the environment of our ancestors and how these modules were dissociable. Thus a person through a developmental disorder would not develop the ability to use the folk psychology module, but could have a functioning folk physics module. This evolutionary psychology would seem to be perfect for a Jungian like Peterson who was interested in an updated empirical defence of Jung.

However, for whatever reason, in his ‘Maps of Meaning’ we don’t find any real engagement with evolutionary psychology. Nor does Peterson engage with the work of developmental psychologists like Sue Carey, or Liz Spelke whose studies into infant cognition were being used to argue that infants having innate concepts of number, object, causation etc. Carey and Spelke’s work involved detailed experimental evidence that could be used to support Jung’s concept of archetypes. Likewise, the work of evolutionary psychologists like Pinker, Cosmides and Tooby offered support for Jung’s claim that there were a-priori constraints on the way we interpret the world.

Another avenue that Peterson could have gone to for support of Jung’s concept of archetypes was in the work of cognitive scientists Noam Chomsky and Jerry Fodor who in different ways argued for innate concepts which somewhat supported a Jungian take on archetypes[3]. But Peterson made use of none of these theorists in defence of Jungian archetypes. Instead Peterson defended archetypes from the point of view that we would today call enactivism.

                                           Peterson’s Enactivism

One interesting aspect of Peterson’s theorising is his heavy emphasis on actual behaviour and its consequences. One of the central philosophical texts of the twentieth century was Quine’s magnum opus ‘Word and Object’ which amongst other things offered a naturalist/behaviourist explanation of how people managed to refer to objects in the external world. Quine, infamously, took the child’s ability to achieve objective reference to be parasitic on the child’s mastery of the syntax of quantification. Peterson though considered the question from the point of view of the evolution of the species. On Peterson’s picture humans don’t typically use language in the referential manner of the empirical sciences. Rather language is a tool that is used to cope with the flux of experience.

Peterson’s views on linguistic usage are primarily derived from the work of George Lakoff, and the later Wittgenstein etc. In a foot note where he discusses Wittgenstein; Peterson makes the following point:

“This means that determinate experience must be considered an emergent property of behaviour to a degree that is presently unspecifiable…The word itself, as case in point, can no longer reasonably be regarded as a “label” for a “thing” (Wittgenstein, L. 1968). The notion that a concept is a label for an object is nothing but a slightly higher order version of the same error. Wittgenstein pointed out, essentially, that our sense of unified “thing” is not simply given. We tend to think of the objects we perceive as “being there” in some essential sense; but we see the tree before the branches. Despite this conceptual phenomenon, the tree has no objective precedence over the branches (or the leaves, or the cells that make up leaves, or the forest etc…Wittgenstein solved the “words are not labels for objects” problem by positing that a word was a tool. A word plays a role in a game and is a kin to the chessmen in chess…Wittgenstein was driving at a general principle; an object is defined even perceived (categorized as a unity rather than a multiplicity), with regard to its utility as a means to a given end. In a basic sense an object is a tool or an obstacle… What can reasonably be parsed out of the environmental flux as an object is therefore determined in large part by the goal we have in mind while interacting with that flux.” (ibid p. 477)

It is worth looking closely at the above passage and picking apart its meaning. Peterson is emphasising the pragmatic nature of word usage for people as they go about their daily activities. But he is also making a point about the cognitive processes we use to understand the world around us. On his picture we view things under an aspect depending on what we want to do with the objects we are engaging with. Peterson’s take on the topic is thus far a sensible one. Our minds don’t mirror the external world as a result of some kind of structural isomorphism, rather we as embodied creatures cope with the flux of experience as we explore our environment. The world appears to us because of our embodied nature and interests and needs as we interact with our environment:

“Brain structure necessarily reflects embodiment, despite the archaic presumption of the independence of spirit and matter (or soul and body, or mind and body), because the body is, in a primary sense, the environment to which the brain has adapted…The combination of hand and eye allowed human beings to experience and analyze the (emergent) nature of things. This ability, revolutionary as it was, was dramatically extended by application of hand-mediated, spoken (and written) language.” (ibid pp. 63-65).

The above picture emphasises our body as an active tool to cope with our environment not a passive mirror reflecting some “thing-in-itself”.

Peterson isn’t denying that we can use language to pick out objects in our environment; he is just noting that reference in the language of our evolutionary ancestors wouldn’t have had the precise referential apparatus that we take for granted in science. He draws a nice distinction between what the child learns when he is learning the meaning of a particular word and the connotations that the word will have. Thus the child will learn the meaning of the word ‘chair’; in other words what set of things in the environment the word picks out. But the child will also learn the emotional resonances of the term chair. The child will associate the term with the emotional experiences he has had with the term ‘chair’ e.g. the child will unconsciously register the parents scolding and praise around his interaction with chairs.

So there is a dual aspect of the child’s understanding of a term. It is helpful to think of this distinction in relation to some key terms in the philosophy of language. Peterson is not an analytic philosopher; in his ‘maps of meaning’ he cites only two analytic philosopher’s the later Wittgenstein, and Ryle[4]. It is a great pity that Peterson doesn’t engage with Analytic Philosophy more given the incredible amount of work that has been done on linguistic meaning over the last 140 years. It is beyond the scope of this piece to go into a detailed analysis of the philosophy of language, however it will be helpful to consider Peterson’s views in relation to two different conceptions of reference in natural language.

We saw above that Peterson distinguishes between the reference of a term that is socially learned and the emotional connotations that the child will have to the term. In the philosophy of language there is a debate between referential theories of meaning (Kripke, Putnam) and descriptive theories of meaning (Frege, Wittgenstein, Searle). When Peterson speaks about a child learning the meaning of chair he is ambiguous about what that entails. In one sense it could be argued that Peterson is ambiguous about the issue because it is irrelevant to his purposes. However, it is worth exploring the issue a bit as it has connections to his distinction between reference and emotional connotation.

As we mentioned above Peterson was heavily influenced by the work of the cognitive linguist George Lakoff. Lakoff’s (1987) work was highly critical of the objectivist paradigm in the philosophy of language and linguistics which tried to understand natural language reference interms of model theory. Lakoff argued (based on a formal proof by Putnam) that the model theory explanation was unsatisfactory as it was logically impossible to fix a unique domain of reference for any model of language that was being used. Lakoff then argued that research in empirical psychology showed a better way to explain linguistic usage. On Lakoff’s picture our language results from our embodied engagement with our environment, and the core of our language is constructed from metaphors drawn primarily from our embodied experience.

Peterson’s philosophy of language, which is based on the work of Wittgenstein and Lakoff, is largely of the pragmatist variety. On Peterson’s world view language users typically don’t use language in an explicitly referential manner rather they use language for intersubjective communication. Words have meaning on Peterson’s world view but the meaning isn’t provided by referring to mind independent objects. Since its inception analytic philosophers have also been critical of the use of naive referential semantics. Some of the primary criticisms of naive referentialism have come from those propounding the descriptive theory of meaning. Below are some of the main arguments that descriptivist’s use against naive referentialism:

  • Co-referring terms:


Frege notes that ‘The Morning Star’ and ‘The Evening Star’; refer to the same object. Nonetheless they have different meanings. A person could understand the meaning of ‘the morning star’ and ‘the evening star’ without knowing that they refer to the same object. Conclusion meaning isn’t the same thing as reference.

Clark Kent and Superman refer to the same person so you could substitute Superman for Clark Kent in any sentence without changing the truth value of the sentence. However this characteristic changes when you factor in belief sentences. Thus the sentence ‘Superman is bullet proof’ is true; and if you change the word ‘Clark Kent’ for ‘Superman’ you will get the sentence ‘Clark Kent is bullet proof’ which again is true. However if you add ‘John believes that Superman is Bullet Proof’ let us say that this sentence is true; now if you change ‘Clark Kent’ for ‘Superman’ the truth value of the sentence can change as John may not know that Clark Kent is the same man as superman. The difficulty of substitution of co-extensive words in belief contexts has serious consequences for us when we try to understand the logic of discourse extensionally. However, we need not worry about the logical status of language in our discussion here. The primary point in the above discussion is that the referential status of our words seems to be determined by meanings we attach to the terms.

But what is this meaning we are attaching to words? One way to explicate the meaning of a term is that it consists of a description of the object it refers to. Thus if we take the word ‘Chair’ the meaning attached to it could be { four legged objects that you sit on }.

  • Fictional names:

When I use words to speak about fictional creatures such as a Unicorn, or Sherlock Holmes; it is hard to explicate these words in terms of a referential relation. The words don’t refer to anything in the external world. Nonetheless the words have meaning.

  • The Very Large and the Very Small:

We can speak about sub-atomic particles, and our theories can refer to them, but any reference to them will need to be couched into an incredibly complex conceptual scheme. Likewise we can refer to the entire universe. But referring to the universe is not something that can be done directly; like in the case of sub-atomic particles any reference is going to be deeply enmeshed in a complex conceptual scheme. So with the very large and the very small a direct reference theory of meaning is out.

  • Impossible objects

A clichéd impossible object is a ‘Roundsquare’ the object by virtue of holding contradictory properties cannot exist in the world. Hence it cannot be referred to. Nonetheless it does have meaning. Hence meaning is not equal to reference.


Peterson and Descriptivism

There is a sense in which Peterson is a descriptivist about word meanings. We saw above that his views on meaning are taken from Lakoff and Wittgenstein both of whom emphasised the fact that any ostensive definition will require a lot of stage setting. The stage setting required from Lakoff would be his cognitive models derived from our embodied experience interacting with the world, while Wittgenstein would focus on our shared cultural practices. Peterson is a bit different than either Lakoff or Wittgenstein in one key respect; Peterson believes in archetypes which to some degree determine the limits of our thought.

As we saw above Jung’s archetypes were similar to what modern evolutionary psychologists would call innate concepts. If we try and translate Jung into the language of analytic philosophy; we could argue when a particular situation triggers an archetype the person will end up interpreting the data of experience using an implicit description provided by our evolutionary past. The stage setting that goes into our attempts to pick out objects in our environment is provided by our evolutionary history.

Peterson would agree with Jung that the stage setting that goes into ostensive definition is archetypal in nature; except Peterson would argue that the so called archetypes are patterns of behaviour which we implicitly understand on a procedural level. We can draw out the morals of these patterns of behaviour when we translate them into explicit semantic knowledge:

“It is only after behavioural (procedural) wisdom has been represented in episodic memory and portrayed in drama and narrative that it becomes accessible to “conscious” verbal formulation and potential modification in abstraction. Procedural knowledge is not representational, in its basic form. Knowing-how information generated in the course of exploratory activity, can nevertheless be transferred from individual to individual, in the social community, through means of imitation…Behaviour is imitated, then abstracted into play, formalized into drama and story, crystallized into myth and codified into religion-and only then criticized in philosophy, provided post-hoc, with rational underpinnings.” (ibid p. 78)

Peterson’s story of archetypes being passed on through behavioural patterns is presented without much in the way of evidence. Nonetheless, with his notion of archetypes as behavioural patterns that are passed down imitatively, Peterson has a theory of behaviour that underlies our linguistic productions. His theory is basically an enactivist-descriptivist story. He even goes as far as to argue that prior to the scientific revolution a few hundred years ago people engaged in their world pragmatically without using objectivist reference at all:

“The consequence of exploration that allows for emotional regulation (that generates security, essentially) is not objective description, as the scientist might have it, but categorisation of the implication of an unexpected occurrence for specification of means and ends. Such categorisation is what an object “is,” from the perspective of archaic affect and subjective experience. The orientating reflex, and the exploratory behaviour following its manifestation, also allows for the differentiation of the unknown into familiar categories of objective reality. However, this ability is a late development, emerging only four hundred-years ago, and cannot be considered basic to “thinking”. Specification of the collectively apprehensible sensory qualities of something-generally considered, in the modern world, as the essential description of reality-merely serves as an aid to the more fundamental process of evaluation, determining the precise nature of relevant or potentially relevant phenomena. (ibid p. 55)

In passage Peterson is noting that our interaction with objects in our world is primarily related to the emotional significance of the object not with the objective features of the object. Emotional associations with the objects we interact is the primary mode of thinking that governs our behaviour. He argues that understanding the objective features of objects beyond their emotional resonances is something we only achieved in the last few hundred years. Our primary experience of the world was through the emotional resonances the objects we engaged with.

Peterson’s historical understanding here is frankly bizarre. In the western philosophical tradition, ancient Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle were practically obsessed with discovering what the underlying essence was of objects of our experience; that went beyond the accidental properties of the objects we discovered when we interacted with them. To deny that the primary mode of thinking in Philosophers such as Plato et al was to discover the objective properties of the objects of experience is to misunderstand the philosophical cannon entirely. In fact even pre-Socratic Philosophers such as Anixmendes were constructing scientific theories that attempted to map the objective features of reality. So Peterson’s take on the nature of reference is radically wrong from the point of view of the history of western thought.

An obvious rejoinder to what I have said is that even if Peterson is off by a couple of thousand years about when objective reference became important in human thought he is still correct that emotional engagement with objects radically precedes the human use of words for objective reference. I have some sympathy for this objection. The human species is well over three hundred thousand old so whether it began using objective reference consistently 300 years ago or 3000 years; isn’t really that important, as we are still talking about a blink of an eye from an evolutionary perspective.

While I agree that 3000 years ago is a blink of an eye from the perspective of the age of the species; Peterson doesn’t adopt this view. Typically Peterson argues that Christian myths represent universal patterns of human behaviour; yet Platonic Philosophy antedates Christianity by centuries. At the very least Peterson needs an argument if he wants to argue that Christian beliefs are fundamental patterns of human behaviour but Platonic thought is a late less fundamental add on.

But more importantly Peterson is underestimating how fundamental referential capacities are to linguistic usage. While Peterson is correct to note that our linguistic usage and behaviour is steeped in emotional resonances; nonetheless this is all anchored with perceptual apparatus designed to pick out mind independent objects. We saw above that naive referentialism is out as an explanation of linguistic meaning. Nonetheless, Peterson’s enactivism is ignoring work in neuroscience and developmental psychology which suggests that children are pick out key features of their environment prior to any interaction with these objects (see Carey 2009, Fodor and Pylyshyn 2015). Our referential apparatus are built up from cognitive structures called FINST (fingers of instantiation), which pick out objects in our environment independent of any other cognitive processes:

“One of the main characteristics of visual perception that led Pylyshyn (1989, 2001) to postulate FINSTs is that vision appears not only to pick out several individual objects automatically, but also to keep track of them as they move about unpredictably by using only spatio temporal information and ignoring visible properties of individual objects… Pylyshyn and his students demonstrated in hundreds of experiments (described in Pylyshyn 2001, 2003, 2007 and elsewhere), that observers could keep track of up to four or five moving objects without encoding any of their distinguishing properties (including their motion and the speed or direction of their movement.” (Fodor and Pylyshyn: ‘Mind’s Without Meanings pp. 100-102)

Thus the human brain is structured so that it can automatically lock onto key aspects of its environment, and reference is built up using this basic brain process. The existence of FINSTs doesn’t refute Peterson’s conception of semantics as FINSTs do require some causal interaction with the environment. But it does show that objective reference is not some Johnny come lately resulting from the invention of empirical science; rather it a key feature of the human brain shared by all humans since homo-sapiens evolved over three hundred thousand years ago.

Nonetheless while Peterson may go too far in the degree to which he underplays the importance of reference in human semantic affairs; he is surely right that our engagement with objects will have emotional resonances that we are not aware of.

When trying to justify his belief in the existence of universal archetypes Peterson, like Jung draws research into common themes in world literature. We will discuss these some of this literature in relation to the Banshee later in this blog-post.

Part 3: Dennett on the nature of Memes

As we discussed above archetypes are to some degree accepted by evolutionary psychologists as a way of explaining human behaviour and competences. But within some other types of evolutionary theorising about culture; a different (not necessarily incompatible) tool is used to explain human behaviour. I am of course referring to the concept of a meme coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in (1976), and later popularised by philosopher Dan Dennett (1991, 1995, 2017), and the psychologist Susan Blackmore (1999). The meme concept was developed on analogy with the gene. Just as the gene is a unit of information whose only “aim” is to replicate itself so a meme is a unit of information whose only “aim” is to replicate itself. The gene doesn’t care about the well being of the body it builds, and the meme doesn’t care about the behaviour it builds. Different genes build different bodies which compete for survival in cruel world of natural selection and the same is true of memes. Different memes build different behaviours which will either be successful in replicating the memes or won’t. From a “memes” eye point of view it is not important whether “memes” benefit the organism but whether the memes get themselves spread. In his recent book ‘From Bacteria to Bach and Back’ Dennett noted that memes are not instincts but are ways of behaving that are passed on perceptually. He noted that a paradigm type of meme is a word. Various words formed into sentences can infect us with ideas which will make us behave in various ways. Examples of memes could be religious texts, folk myths, etc. These memes could have deleterious effects on their hosts but as long as they are catchy they will be passed onto others and from a memes eye perspective will be considered fit. Memes are not limited to words. Accents that are mimicked are types of genes, so are styles of dress etc. Dennett lists three key aspects of memes: (1) competence without comprehension: Some cultural features may have what appear to be design features but they may not have an explicit designer. Think about ship designs which are partly designed by selection by the sea (bad designs won’t float). (2) Memes have fitness: As we saw above memes have their own reproductive fitness just like viruses. (3) Memes are informational things: They are prescriptions for ways of doing things that can be transmitted, stored, mutated etc (Dennett ‘From Bacteria to Bach and Back’ p. 221)

In his controversial ‘Consciousness Explained’ Dennett speculated that the self may be a centre of descriptive gravity which consists of memes that are only available to language ready creatures. On Dennett’s picture as different meme structures which we acquire from our environment compete for attention; our consciousness arrives when one of these informational hungry creatures temporarily wins the fame in the brain battle. Leaving aside the use Dennett makes of memes in his controversial theory of consciousness it is fair to say that a lot of evolutionary theorists find the use Dennett et al make of memes to be too superficial.

In the next section I will consider a famous Irish myth ‘The Banshee’ and discuss whether it is best thought of as a meme or an archetype. This is only a particular case study designed to test the explanatory depth of memes and archetypes on a limited cultural phenomena. In order decide between the relative uses of memes versus archetypes thousands of case studies like the one below are needed.




Part 4: The Banshee: an Irish Myth

The Banshee is an ancient Irish myth about a solitary woman who appears before a person’s death; she is usually noticed mournfully wailing outside of the house of the person who is about to die. She typically follows prominent groups of families; two famous families she followed was ‘the Mac’ family and ‘the O’ family (‘The Irish Death Messenger’ p. 55). The Banshee is typically heard (sometimes seen) by family members or neighbours of someone who is about to die. She virtually never appears to the person who is going to die. She typically appears near where the person who is going to die lives; perched on a nearby tree wailing sorrowfully.

The description of her wailing has been compared with the cry of a dog howling, and to the cry of a wild cat trying to attract a mate. However, people have noted that while there is a similarity between the cry of some animals and the Banshee; anyone who has heard the Banshee wail will easily be able to distinguish it from the cry of a mortal creature (ibid. p.73). Another common way of describing the cry of the Banshee was to compare it to the cry of professional keeners. A keening woman was a professional mourner whose job was to watch over and morn for the person who had died. Professional keeners were first noted in writing in the 16th century; however, it is believed the folk tradition of keening antedated these written records by centuries.

Descriptions of the Banshee were not always consistent. Sometimes, though rarely, she was described as a beautiful young woman with long golden hair, while more commonly she is described as a small old woman with long grey hair. One commonality in describing her is her non-erotic appearance; she is never associated with sexual activity (ibid p. 91)[5]. Most descriptions of her say that she was dressed in white clothes and held a comb[6] which she brushed through her long hair.

There were many different folk tales associated with the Banshee; two of which I will discuss below. The first tale involved a man walking home late at night. He sees the Banshee in the field combing her hair. He runs towards her and she drops her comb. He picks up the comb and runs home with it. He then went to bed and was awoken by her screams and the shaking of his house. He realises the Banshee is looking for her comb. He picks up the comb with a pair of metal coal thongs and uses the thong to put the comb on the window sill. The Banshee grabs the comb and he pulls the thongs back into the house. He looks at the thongs and realises that she has ripped off the metal head of the thongs.

In the second folk tale a man is walking home late at night and he sees a woman on a green flag that was outside his house. He approaches the woman (the banshee) and claps her on the back. She puts her hand on her head and lifts him clean off the ground and throws him to the ground. He escapes to his house and goes to sleep. When he wakes up his hair has turned white and the mark of her fingers are indented in his head.

The Origin of the Banshee Myth

The first written record of the Banshee is in an 8th century book called ‘The Cattle Raid of Froech’, which tells of a man called ‘Froech Mac Idaith’ who is wounded by a water monster. While his wounds are being attended to the sound of weeping are heard, and one hundred and fifty beautifully clad women are seen (ibid p. 193). A messenger is sent to ask the women why they weep and they say they are weeping for Froech. Froech is then brought to these women and they carry him away to the other world.

There are aspects of this story that aren’t consistent with the Banshee story; firstly the Banshee is solitary, and the wailing women in ‘The cattle raid of Froech’ are in a large group. Secondly one of the wailing women spoke while the Banshee is rarely described as someone who speaks. However, there is enough of a family resemblance between the wailing women and the Banshee to think that they are connected to the Banshee.

Another early written text which mentions a creature like the Banshee is ‘The Death of Cu Chulainn’. ‘The death of Cu Chulainn can be traced to the 8th century. In it Cu Chulainn is visited by a creature who appears to him in a variety of different shapes; a crow, a hag roasting dog meat, a young woman washing his spoils at a ford as he sets out for his final battle (ibid p. 198). Cu-Chulainn’s druid Cathfad says that the woman is ‘Badh’s daughter’ a creature who is foreboding his death by wailing and washing his spoils (ibid p. 198). Again this creature isn’t identical with the banshee (the banshee is only rarely described a young). But as a female creature who forebodes a person’s death by wailing she has enough of a family resemblance to the folk tale to be counted as an instance of the Banshee myth.

How far back the Banshee myth goes is impossible to say. In her ‘The Banshee’ Patricia Lysaght speculates that the Banshee may have evolved from an earlier myth:

It is tempting to see a connection between the banshee and her kin and a being met with in Old Norse tradition, the fylgja, whose very name who according to many scholars means ‘a follower’. One form of the fylgja is a female spirit who is connected with families and who sometimes appears at deaths but who has a wider function as a guardian spirit and carrier of the luck of the family, in particular of its head.” (ibid p. 55)

The earliest written records of the Banshee are from the eight century around the time the Vikings invaded Ireland. It is unknown whether the Banshee was independently invented in Ireland or if it was derived from Norse Mythology and was modified as a result of unique Irish traditions.

Banshee: As a Meme

The idea of a Banshee as a meme has a lot to recommend it. When we think of it as a mind virus competing for replication with a variety of other mind viruses we can make some sense of the development of the myth and the ultimate death of the myth. When discussing the evolution of Religion; Dennett notes that a key aspect of human psyche is an hair trigger agent detector. This agent detector plays a massive role in our survival as a species. Certainly the prehistory of our species involves the interpreting of pretty much all of nature interms of agency.

This agency detector is a key part of our folk-psychology we use to interpret the data of experience. It isn’t only humans that rely on such an agency detector in interpreting strange phenomena. Thus we often see the amusing spectacle of a dog growling at the wind as a result of confusing the noise of the wind as a potentially dangerous agent. Where the dog differs from the human is that he lacks language. Our human minds chock-a-block with concepts that we can combine in a potentially infinite manner gives a rich scope for judging the nature of the potential agent that startles us. Furthermore we can communicate our experiences and interpretations of our experiences with community and hence spreading memes comes natural to us. Whether the memes get spread or not will depend on the selective environment they are created in; in other words on whether their hosts prefer spreading them to spreading rival memes.

It is perfectly possible to imagine person hearing of the ancient Norse Legend of the Fylgja a Godess who sometimes appears at people’s death, and being fascinated by the myth. Suppose at some point he hears some strange animal noise that sounds like a woman weeping near a friend’s house and the next day by coincidence discovers that his friend has died. He may think back to the myth of the Fylgia godess who sometimes appears at people’s death. So he tells his friends that he heard the Flygja weeping prior to his friend’s death. Thus you have an interesting story that gets spread. Irish people of the time would associate women weeping at someone’s death with the professional keeners; who were typically little old women with grey hair. So the Flygja myth gets modified and instead of a Goddess it is an old woman wailing prior to the death of a member of the community.

Once the myth was retrofitted to suit the minds of a particular Irish community it would be a perfect mind virus that could spread around the country. Of course, in order for memes to spread they had to out compete their rivals, for every myth successfully spread there were plenty of other memes which they out competed. And this competition could be a factor in the death of the Banshee myth over the last hundred years[7], in the last century as travel between different cultures became easier, competition between myths would have been much higher, and stories which enthralled one generation seem dull to the next generation. Patricia Lysaght speculated on other factors that may have contributed to the death of the Banshee myth:

“Of more importance is the fact that increased literacy and greater availability of reading material- books, newspapers and magazines- gradually exposed larger and larger sectors of the population to ideas which would make the question their own values and beliefs…They were to be followed by the radio. Broadcasting started in Ireland in 1926…the old custom of visiting the neighbours at night- the rambling-was abandoned… the number of cars in Ireland increased from 19, 848 in 1925 to 711, 098 in 1984…As telephones became more common many visits which formerly involved being out after nightfall also became unnecessary. People did not need a death-messenger to inform their neighbours or absent family members or relatives of a death. They could be telephoned…the Rural Electrification scheme was initiated in 1947…Light from lampposts and other outside lights which had become increasingly common even in small villages and private house in the country, will no doubt have dispelled many an image, which might otherwise have impressed itself on the observer’s mind as a banshee or some supernatural being…In 1926 only 32% of the population of Ireland lived in towns and cities while the figure for 1981 was almost 56%” ( ibid pp.236-237)

The Banshee myth had a perfect ecological niche in isolate semi-literate communities, lacking in street light, electrified homes etc. However, the myth was less credible than its rivals in the new world and hence it died out. On this way of looking at things the Banshee is a paradigm meme which took hold at a particular time and place and gradually died out; it was a relatively successful meme but lacked the staying power of Christian myths.

One wonders how the myth was spread and taken seriously though. One guy may have heard the wailing noise and coincidently someone died the next day, but this coincidence wouldn’t have happened too often. However, there would be double motivation in people saying they saw the Banshee; one it gave you a kind of local notoriety. But more importantly the Banshee was alleged to only appear to people from important and truly Irish Families. So there would have been some motivation for people to say a Banshee wailed for the death of a loved one; it would have been a social signifier of importance. In this way along with the coincidence of a strange noise preceding a death you would have some families motivated to claim being visited by the Banshee. This would have helped the meme spread from village to village.

The stories around the Banshee also served an implicit moral purpose. All of the main legends around the Banshee involve men out late alone at night and approaching a woman in an inappropriate way. In each of the stories when the man approaches the woman there is typically a price to be paid. So the story may have been used as a way of protecting women from the advance of men late at night. Whether these stories were intentionally created to serve this purpose is difficult to say.

                                 The Banshee: A distorted Great Mother Archetype

As we saw above Peterson’s philosophy of language involves a pragmatic element which notes that we use language to cope with reality as opposed to represent it. For Peterson our language is shot through with metaphors; but he argues that there are central metaphors (archetypes) that structure our great myths:

“The mythological world- which is the world as drama, story, forum for action- appears to be composed of three constituent elements and a “forth” that precedes, and follows and surrounds these three” ( Maps of Meaning p. 105)

On Peterson’s view the three constituent elements are (1) The Great Mother, (2) The Great Father, (3)The Archetypal Hero. And these three constituent elements are surrounded by the great Dragon of Chaos. He justifies this analysis by a close reading some of the world’s great ancient myths. One myth that Peterson focuses a lot of attention on is: the ancient Babylonian Myth of the Enuma Elis. Peterson argues that the Goddess Tiamat is an archetype that represents the great mother. He describes the great mother as follows:

“The Great Mother-the unknown, as it manifests itself in experience- is the feminine deity who gives birth to and devours all. She is unpredictable as it is encountered, and is therefore characterized, simultaneously, by extreme positive and extreme negative valence…The domain of the unfamiliar might be considered the ultimate source of all things, since we generate all of our determinate knowledge as a consequence of exploring what we do not understand” (ibid pp.105-109)

There are elements of the Great Mother archetype that indicate a connection with the Banshee. The Banshee was more than likely derived from a feminine deity: the Fygja. Furthermore, the Banshee signals death, the ultimate unknown; which could be a derivation from the feminine symbol of the unknown: The Great Mother. When Peterson speaks of the negative aspects of the great unknown he does so in stark terms:

 “The great mother-unexplored territory- is the dark, the chaos of the night, the insect, ophidian and reptilian worlds, the damaged body, the mask of anger or terror: the entire panoply of fear-inducing experiences, commonly encountered (and imagined by Homo sapiens…The unknown is the matrix of everything, the source of all birth and the final place of rest. It hides behind our personal identity and our culture; it constantly engenders all that we do, all that we understand, and all that we are…The Great Mother, in her negative guise, is the force that induces the child to cry in the absence of her parents…She is everything that jumps in the night, that scratches and bites, that screeches and howls; she is paralyzing dismay, horror and the screams that accompany madness.” (ibid pp 157-163)

When the great mother is connected with the final place of rest and with howling and screeching one is immediately put in mind of the Banshee which may indicate archetypal origins.

But there is an aspect of the great mother that is missing in the Banshee Myth. The great mother isn’t just associated with death and fear; she is associated with creativity and birth. Creativity and birth are entirely missing from the Banshee Myth. In the archetypal myths the hero engages with the chaos of the great mother at great danger and as a result of dealing with the unknown in an appropriate way the hero emerges changed with new knowledge.

This aspect is entirely missing with the Banshee; encounters with the Banshee typically result in difficulties those who approach her. Encounters with the Banshee typically are warnings against approaching her in an inappropriate manner. This is consistent with Peterson’s reading of the great mother archetype:

“The Great and Terrible Mother, daughter of chaos, destroys those who approach her accidentally incautiously or with the inappropriate attitude, but showers upon those who love her (and who act appropriately) all good things.” (ibid p. 177)

However, encounters with the Banshee never offer exemplars of the great hero, approaching her and emerging changed and enhanced. In the original stories in the eight century the banshee was connected with great heroes like Cu Chulainn. However, as the myth developed the hero became less and less involved in the stories until he disappeared entirely.

On Peterson’s view the Banshee myth didn’t die out because of increased competition from competitors or because of technological advances but because the Banshee was a poor approximation of the archetype of the great Mother which had limited usefulness.


At this stage we can tell somewhat convincing stories that support interpreting the Banshee as a meme and as an archetype. Jordan Peterson has criticised memetic explanations as superficial explanations; however he hasn’t really presented much by way of convincing evidence for the existence of archetypes. Jung’s defences of archetypes rely heavily on sketchy ill worked out poverty of stimulus arguments, and muddled appeals to noble philosophical ancestry. While Peterson’s enactivist model with its emphasis on behavioural patterns learned imitatively isn’t sufficiently differentiated from memetic explanations. Furthermore, Peterson’s interpretations of the various worlds myths involve plausible sounding interpretations which are massively underdetermined by the data of experience (it is trivial to come up with countless alternative interpretations). While Dennett’s memetic explanation amounts to nothing more than an interesting just so story which it is impossible at present to test. In my next blog-post I will consider the myth of the Banshee from the point of view of evolutionary psychology and modern developmental psychology and we will see if we can come up with a more plausible account of the banshee myth.

[1][1] Jung also used psychotic fantasies and the associations of neurotic patients as poverty of stimulus arguments that the patients had evidence of ancient mythological themes which were also found in ancient texts of which the patients had never read or heard of.

[2] See linguist Dan Everett’s ‘Dark Matter of the Mind’ for a criticism of Plato’s argument as relying on leading questions so not really demonstrating anything about innate knowledge.

[3] I am running together a lot of theorists who disagreed with each other on a variety of different points. Fodor and Carey disagreed on the possibly of conceptual change, and Fodor and Pinker disagreed on the amount of concepts that were innate. I am just mentioning these thinkers because they offer possible avenues of support that Peterson strangely didn’t pursue; I am not implying that they make up a homogenous group.

[4] Peterson does discuss the work of Thomas Kuhn throughout the book. However, Kuhn was trained as a physicist and a historian and isn’t strictly speaking an analytic philosopher. Though Kuhn’s work is regularly taught and discussed in all philosophy of science classes. So perhaps he could be considered an honorary analytic philosopher.

[5] In a recent humorous short story by Blindboy she is depicted in a sexual manner. However, when discussing the Banshee we are concerned with the folk traditions surrounding her recent literary depictions of her.

[6] In costal parts of Ireland where there was a prominent myth about mermaids using combs the Banshee wasn’t described as using a comb.

[7] The Banshee myth hasn’t been taken seriously for over a hundred years in Ireland. There have been some films and short stories about the Banshee in the last couple of decades but they bear little relation to the original folk myth. Perhaps these new strands could be viewed as mutations that are striving to compete in a new environment in a way the original strand could not.

3 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson, Dan Dennett and the Banshee

  1. Benjamin David Steele

    I only skimmed the piece. It’s rather long, something I appreciate, but I didn’t have time at the moment to delve fully into it. I just wanted to comment on one thing. You point to this quote by Carl Jung:

    “There is an a priori factor in all human activities, namely the inborn, preconscious and unconscious individual structure of the psyche. The pre-conscious psyche-for example, that of a new born infant- is not an empty vessel into which, under favourable conditions, practically anything can be poured. On the contrary, it is a tremendously complicated, sharply defined individual entity which appears indeterminate to us only because we cannot see it directly. But the moment the first visible manifestations of psychic life begin to appear, one would have to be blind not to recognize their individual character, that is, the unique personality behind them.”

    You then wrote that, “The above quote could have been written by Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker, the position is arguing that humans aren’t blank slates created entirely from culture but have a specific nature they inherit that partially determines how we develop as individuals.” I understand that interpretation, but Jung was always a complicated fellow. He was also influenced by the cultural relativism of anthropologists. And in his writings on personality, he oddly had a major influence back toward the cultural views of many anthropologists, such as Ruth Benedict. Like Margaret Mead, she was a student of Franz Boas who popularized the cultural view in American thought. Benedict influenced E. R. Dodds who influenced Julian Jaynes. Related to this American tradition of cultural relativism (and linguistic relativism) was Daniel Everett who is the most well known opponent of Noam Chomsky’s theory of a language organ.

    Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology
    by Sonu Shamdasani
    Kindle Locations 4706-4718

    “The impact of Jung’s typology on Ruth Benedict may be found in her concept of Apollonian and Dionysian culture patterns which she first put forward in 1928 in “Psychological Types in the cultures of the Southwest,” west,” and subsequently elaborated in Patterns of Culture. Mead recalled that their conversations on this topic had in part been shaped by Sapir and Oldenweiser’s discussion of Jung’s typology in Toronto in 1924 as well as by Seligman’s article cited above (1959, 207). In Patterns of Culture, ture, Benedict discussed Wilhelm Worringer’s typification of empathy and abstraction, Oswald Spengler’s of the Apollonian and the Faustian and Friedrich Nietzsche’s of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Conspicuously, ously, she failed to cite Jung explicitly, though while criticizing Spengler, she noted that “It is quite as convincing to characterize our cultural type as thoroughly extravert … as it is to characterize it as Faustian” (1934, 54-55). One gets the impression that Benedict was attempting to distance herself from Jung, despite drawing some inspiration from his Psychological Types.

    “In her autobiography, Mead recalls that in the period that led up to her Sex and Temperament, she had a great deal of discussion with Gregory Bateson concerning the possibility that aside from sex difference, there were other types of innate differences which “cut across sex lines” (1973, 216). She stated that: “In my own thinking I drew on the work of Jung, especially his fourfold scheme for grouping human beings as psychological ical types, each related to the others in a complementary way” (217). Yet in her published work, Mead omitted to cite Jung’s work. A possible explanation for the absence of citation of Jung by Benedict and Mead, despite the influence of his typological model, was that they were developing oping diametrically opposed concepts of culture and its relation to the personality to Jung’s. Ironically, it is arguably through such indirect and half-acknowledged conduits that Jung’s work came to have its greatest impact upon modern anthropology and concepts of culture. This short account of some anthropological responses to Jung may serve to indicate that when Jung’s work was engaged with by the academic community, it was taken to quite different destinations, and underwent a sea change.”

    By the way, Carl Jung also made what some might consider radical statements that easily could have been written by a cultural relativist such as Julian Jaynes:

    “There is in my opinion no tenable argument against the hypothesis that psychic functions which today seem conscious to us were once unconscious and yet worked as if they were conscious. We could also say that all the psychic phenomena to be found in man were already present in the natural unconscious state. To this it might be objected that it would then be far from clear why there is such a thing as consciousness at all.”

    Jaynes and Everett’s work was very much dependent on linguistic relativism, the idea that language effects thought and behavior. That is probably the best scientific evidence we presently have for memetics.

    1. surtymind Post author

      Thanks for your reply Daniel. I love your blog. I am doing a lot of research into Bertrand Russell and his relation to behavioural science. And I enjoy your take on Whitehead which makes a sharp contrast to Russell’s views. Btw. I have shared your recent excellent post on Weinstein vs Dawkins, in the Facebook ‘Analytic Philosophy’ group, it would be great if you could discuss it with members of the group as I think a lot of members are interested in your take.
      I agree with your criticisms of my recent blog-post to some degree. But I think with Jung his cultural relativism was shot through with the belief that of different ‘races’ were genetically different. He spoke about the collective unconscious being different for different races. There is little evidence to support Jung’s speculations in this direction. As far as I am aware (and my knowledge is limited on this) there is no evidence to support innate ideas being different between say African people and European people. I admire Everett’s take on the mind. But he was pretty critical of Jung in his ‘Dark Matter of the Mind’; though in fairness he didn’t engage with Jung in sufficient detail. I discussed Everett in this piece:;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–/RV=2/RE=1544509186/RO=10/

      1. Benjamin David Steele

        I forgot about what I had written in those two posts of mine you mentioned. But I went back to look at them to refresh my memory. I can’t say I’m learned on such topics. My knowledge of Russell and Whitehead, for example, is next to nothing. It doesn’t stop me from contemplating in my bricoleur fashion as an autodidact and dilettante.

        I don’t speak from authority, just plain curiosity in my roving mind. I pick up ideas and factoids and then play around with them, arranging them this way and then another, to see what might form. I’m a creative thinker and, as such, my thinking style can be a bit ungainly and my writing not always perfectly polished. I’m a working man and do what I can with what life has given me.

        I say this not for false humility. I genuinely don’t know as much about most things. But I know a little about a lot of things. That is why I sometimes see connections in my idiosyncratic way. I imagine I’d be over my head in the Facebook ‘Analytic Philosophy’ group. I wish I was more well read than I am. But my reading of books isn’t as systematic as it could be. I lack focus and am constantly jumping from one text to another. I don’t have a good grounding in the kind of thinkers you often write about.

        Yeah. There was a lot going on with Jung. One does sense an element of what you speak of. But I also know that his writings cross such a large span of time. I’d love to better understand how his thought changed over time. Another thinker I’ve had on my mind is Weston A. Price who also was influenced by the racist thought of that era, but he managed to follow the evidence of real world observations beyond racist ideology. Into his later years, did Jung maintain his view of separate ‘races’, each with a different collective unconscious? I don’t know. My readings of Jung are also rather random.

        Your piece on Everett is another doozy. I do like involved writing like that. But I’m feeling swamped these days. Too many things to do and too easily distracted. I did manage to skim your post and got the gist of it… maybe I’ll take another look at it later on when my mind is fresh. I did note Everett’s criticism of Jung in my own post about his book. I disagreed a bit, although from another perspective. I was questioning the frame being used.

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