The Last Wilderness

Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming

by Anthony Stevens
Harvard University Press, 385 pp., $15.95 (paper)

In 1982 the British psychiatrist Anthony Stevens published Archetype, a book in which he attempted to reconcile two psychological theories that were then, and still are, usually considered incompatible: Jung’s concept of archetypes (which holds that there exist certain psychic images, such as that of the mother, that are innate and universal) and John Bowlby’s ethologically based attachment theory (which holds that such images are imprinted in the early stages of development, as when Konrad Lorenz imprinted his image on motherless ducklings).1

Stevens’s argument was essentially that archetypes are innate behavior patterns which are transmitted from generation to generation, much like genes, and whose emergence is activated by the “innate releasing mechanisms” discovered by the ethologists. He found such releasing mechanisms in the particular combination of events in the outside world, such as being presented with a breast, that elicit an instinctive behavior, such as suckling. In Stevens’s view, an infant doesn’t become attached to its mother because she feeds and cares for it, but because at birth it already has an archetypal concept or image of a mother that it is looking for, and that, if lucky, it will find in its actual mother, provided she can find an archetypal image of an infant in her actual baby.

The puzzling thing about Stevens’s thesis was not that there was anything inherently improbable about the idea that human beings are endowed with innate behavior patterns. What was odd was that he should have claimed that Jung, who has a reputation for mysticism and a certain lack of scientific rigor, had prefigured the basic concepts of ethology and of Bowlby’s theory of attachment. And it is my impression that Stevens’s thesis has not really caught on, even among other Jungians, who do not make up a united camp. Like the Freudians, they are divided into various schools, of which the two most important are the London or “developmental” school, which is concerned to find common ground between Jung and post-Freudian object-relations theorists such as D.W. Winnicott and Melanie Klein, and the classic Zürich school, which is interested in archetypes, myths, and dreams. Stevens himself says he works in the “classical Jungian tradition,” and he seems closer to the Zürich Jungians.

In his most recent book, Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming, Stevens goes a step further and argues that Jung’s theory of archetypes anticipates Gerald Edelman’s neural Darwinism2 and provides an explanation of the facts about dreaming that have accumulated since, in 1953, E. Aserinsky and N. Kleitman discovered that dreaming only occurs during one particular phase or type of sleep, in which the sleeping person has rapid eye movement (REM).3 He also argues that Jung’s division of the mind into a conscious, a personal unconscious, and a “collective unconscious” correlates with, and indeed prefigures, the idea of the neurophysiologist Paul MacLean that the human brain is “three brains in one”—a neomammalian brain located in the cortex, a paleomammalian brain located in the midbrain, and a reptilian brain…

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