Though the older intuitive idea that the individual retraces the development of the species in condensed form (recapitulation) has been discredited by biology as a scientific concept, it’s value as an analogy should not be ignored. Jung offered a wealth of empirical evidence for it in his studies of primitive psychology: “Just as the body is a museum, so to speak, of its history, so too, is the psyche.“
Notwithstanding its rejection as a literal biological truth, as an analogy, it may aid us in understanding our natures in ways that the precision of modern science can’t. In its search for objective truth, science depends on concrete and very specialized information; though, our knowledge of objective fact has little altered our ego-image over the centuries. Such facts exist only in the intellect.
We may know, in fact, that we’re animals, yet we still react to animals and nature as if we’re the very gods we’ve projected consciousness into for millennia. The rational, scientific perspective has no empirical concepts to evaluate emotions, values, morality, or the natural limitations of our objectivity needed to express the irrational functions which form our deeper personalities.
Our views of nature and our own natural history continue to deteriorate in direct proportion to conscious development. Few accept in their hearts that, as animals no more or less important (objectively speaking) than any other species on this earth, our values reflect an unconscious disdain for nature as destructive as it is unsustainable.
In an attempt to better understand our subjective reality, I revive the old idea of recapitulation, not to argue scientific principles but analogical ones. Though the evolutionary biologist or embryologist may refute this or that literal point in the following description, it is, as Philip Wylie stated in his, Essay On Morals, a biological analogue:
“Each human being from the meeting of his paternal sperm with his maternal ovum, relives the history of his forbears. He is at his beginning awash in mucus, a dividing amoeba — next, a sea anemone with its root in the uterine wall — then a jellyfish — a gilled fish, after that afloat soon in his salty amniotic sea — reptilian then for a while — mammalian presently — and at last, when he is ready to be born, the Primate. So Nature, to create one man, repeats… the forms of his predecessors.
“But the born human being, unlike the hatched fish, is not ready to take up even on a miniature scale the ways of the adult. Now, for years instead of months, its development repeats a second pattern — one whereof the basic cast required a million years rather something more than a billion.”
Though depicted in the Old Testament as an “event” — an even older form of analogy — Wylie here links the historical process of coming to consciousness to the contemporary individual’s psychological experience of the evolution from a raw instinctual condition to an increasing self-awareness. This was a major theme of Jung’s work: the value of an historical perspective in determining who we are that we might be more conscious of our responsibility to the future: the god-like task of the Old Testament in modern empirical terms:
“The babe is the brainless, feeding beast that can but cling to its mother’s hair; the infant is the savage — unhousebroken rage and hunger — a very ape; the tot with his sticks and mud pies and witless cruelty of investigation is a Stone Age person; after him comes the school barbarian — full of ritual and superstition, hero worship and familial prides; with the first tinge of adolescence, the mysticisms of the Middle Ages appear; after that (not often, for we have been at this business but a few thousand years and only in a few categories) there occasionally emerges a rare figure, an adult — a human being whose acceptance of what has gone before and whose ever-expanding concern with the truths of what now is give him insight into what is yet to be. This is the individual Homo Sapiens, full grown, fully aware, whose choices are formed according to consciousness of the long evolution of consciousness and whose prospects extend in the same scale.
“Argument by analogy is, of course, inferior to demonstration. Yet, the fact that each one little man recapitulates the… swing of evolution in his body, and… that each one human child lives through the rising moods and upward movements of all past human society suggests, at the very least, that consciousness may be the compliment of event, or in some fashion, the mirror of it.
“Einstein… is hardly a spontaneous phenomenon: he is at once the purest detachment and the inevitable product of an almost unimaginable train of causes and effects. And, while our knowledge of biology and of anthropology and of sociology does not prove instinct shapes us, or even settle the eternal, dismal, ignorant argument concerning “free will,” it gives a most inferior countenance to all prescientific ideas of God and the human soul. Indeed, it destroys them, simply by providing a more majestic truth — or more majestic set of parallel truths.“
What does this say of the perceived majesty of consciousness and its relentlessly destructive nature? Did you read the “news” today?