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On Mankind in Amnesia

I admit to having being guilty of frequently putting aside this my study in the collective psychology of the human race for the benefit of other research, being urged by my readers to complete Ages in Chaos, being urged by my collaborators to complete Test of Time,. the record of confirmations in the fields of geology, astronomy and archaeology; I myself, however, consider this one, of all the works with which I am being occupied, to be of perhaps the greatest urgency. First I thought to call it The Great Fear; but later I decided on the title Mankind in Amnesia. It has to do not only with the past, like my other books—the past of the solar system being the theme of Worlds in Collision, the political and cultural past of Ages in Chaos and natural history of Earth in Upheaval—primarily it has to do with the future, a future not removed by thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years, but the imminent future, on whose threshold we now stand.

The theme of Mankind in Amnesia is the psychological aspect of that one theory which unfolds itself in so many directions, as far apart as the theory of evolution, origin of religion, and celestial mechanics—implying the participation of electricity and magnetism besides gravitation and inertia. This psychological aspect is called upon to answer several questions stemming from mankind’s past experience, namely, the grandiose events which took place not only in pre-human and prehistoric times, but in historical times as veil. I coined in Worlds in Collision the term collective amnesia; in general I do not coin new terms and this is practically not a term, but a formulation of bhe situation in which humanity finds itself as a consequence of the catastrophes which took place in historical times. And it can be observed in the literature from classical times and the early Christian centuries and later—the process can be followed of the events that had occurred in earlier ages falling into oblivion.

First, there were people who knew; I should caution that there is no such thing as a collective amnesia such that those who were affected by the events, those who suffered through than, did not know—of course they knew, and they described them. So if it be asked, who are my precursors, those who preceded me, I would answer: It starts with Isaiah. He lived in the time of the catastrophes, and he described them. He described them so that he could not have described them more clearly than he did. Everything is there. What is going on in the sky, what is going on on earth, what is going on with the sea, what is going on with the mountains, what is going on with the people, the migrations of entire nations, earthquakes—everything is described—nevertheless, we read it, and we think that it is only a political description, some metaphors. Imagine how many people read the book of Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets through all the generations since those people wrote; and in how many languages they read it, into how many languages it was translated. No other book. was read so much and discussed so much and commented so much upon—nevertheless, the very fact that catastrophes took place at the time of the Exodus and then in the second series of catastrophes in the eighth century before the present era, in the time of the prophets Isaiah and Joel and Micah and Nahum and Hoshea and Amos and Habakkuk—all of them speak almost only about these catastrophes—went as if unnoticed.

Of course the prophets also speak about the vengeance of the Deity, they call on the people to mend their ways; all the nations, especially the nation of Israel, should lead a moral life and try to appease the Deity, try to persuade it to keep the fated disaster from coming. And then we can see the awareness of what happened continuing through the generations, even intensifying in the first pre-Christian century and the first century of this era. How the catastrophes occupied the mind not only of the Jewish nation, but of all the nations of the world, till the possibility of their repetition became a probability, even a certainty. And in later ages, in different places and cultures there appears a visionary, a poet: suddenly, he has as if a door opened before him and a light shining through, and he sees the past; but for reasons that we will discuss, for most of mankind the message has submerged into the unconscious mind. This is a phenomenon not discovered by me, but well known: namely, a human being, after suffering a traumatic experience, whether the trauma be psychological or physical, may become affected by amnesia—it could be only partial amnesia, dealing with these events alone. The person thus forgets the event which may be exactly the one most decisive in his life and in the development of his character. This phenomenon was already well known in the early years of psychoanalysis. In the manuscript of my book I wrote on the subject as follows:

A victim of amnesia may live in the next block without you being aware of his plight. He maybe employed, he may be married and behave, on the surface, as anybody else. But he forgot everything back of a certain date. He does not know his name and he assumes a new name to hide his own perplexity—he does not remember his childhood and adolescence or maturity prior to that date; he does not know the town or city from which he came and how he came to his new habitat; he does not know whether he had been already married and whether he has children. If he comes into conflict with the law, as for instance for bigamy, he may wind up in a psychiatric clinic; in most cases victims of amnesia voluntarily seek psychiatric help.

Amnesia can be not all-erasing but cover only certain facts in the past. Such cases are very numerous and rarely a neurotic personality is free from some oblivion; characteristically, the oblivion erases the most painful or terrorizing reminiscences. Psychoanalysis, as Sigmund Freud defined it, is a tool for bringing into the conscious mind the memories that sank into the unconscious stratum of the mind. This dredging of a partial amnesia, if successful, destines to heal the person from his irrational behavior; irrational, or pathological reactions and pursuits are symptoms of a neurosis. In the early days, psychoanalysis was called by Freud ‘catharsis’ because by letting the sick person live once again through the painful scene, he was successful in resti-tuting the mental health of a patient and freeing him or her from pathological reactions. Freud’s very first patient was a young lady who became victim of a para-lyzing neurosis, upon having submerged, as Freud found, the most painful memory of the circumstances of her father’s death whom she nursed.

This phenomenon of “patched” amnesia is much more ubiquitous among men and women than the reader may think and he himself, most probably, “succeeded” in erasing from the conscious memory some small or great painful occurrences that his ego cannot face. Much of the maladjustment, failure and floundering, of guilt-feeling and self-punishment, of aggressiveness, hatred and hostility, of pathological inclinations and sexual aberrations, criminal impulses and acts, suicide and murder, or detachment from reality and flight into madness, can be traced by correctly applied analytical procedure to impressions erased from the conscious memory, traumatical occurrences obliterated, in short, to contents submerged; from the mind’s dark recesses they pilot the personality toward its bizzare behavior and, not seldom, toward a repetition of the traumatic experience or some other disaster. This repetition is sought for, whether in the form of a return to the scene of first experience or in a fixation on abnormal sexual objects, or in selecting an occupation that offers a regular substitute of an act repressed from the conscious memory.

In Jenseit des Lustprinzips (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) as also in several other works of his, Freud developed the thesis that “the patient cannot recollect everything he repressed—and quite possibly the most important part of it stays repressed.... He is, however, urged to repeat the repressed instead of recollecting it.”

Freud spoke of this compulsion of repeating as of “demoniac” quality (triebhafter, dämonischer Character); the one possessed by it “lives in a dark anxiety (dunkele Angst) afraid of awakening something that would be better left asleep.”

Although Freud did not yet develop the other thesis—of submerged racial fears and urges, he referred to them in a definite way in Jenseit des Lustprinzips.

Here I have to interrupt myself and say: When I wrote this several years ago I was not aware of how Freud in the very last years of his life took up the idea that he earlier had dropped here and there, and became not only a clear believer, but quite possessed by the idea that it is not just the personal, private traumatic experience that is the cause of a neurotic condition, but that racial inheritance of traumatic experiences of ages past is the main, the most important substratum out of which merely by a secondary process a personality takes over the submerged racial traumatic inheritance. In the Jenseit des Lustprinzips, one of the early references, he wrote:m “In the phenomenon of heredity and in the facts of embryology we have the most telling proofs of the organic repetition compulsion.” He wrote also: “Since the organic urges have been historically accumulated, they are directed toward repression and also toward re-living of the past.”

I will return to Freud; before this, I wish to say something about Jung. With Carl Gustav Jung is connected the term ‘collective unconscious mind.’ He started as a disciple of Freud, but soon they parted, for in Jung the idea of collective unconscious mind became a point of disagreement with Freud. He considered Freud at that time as one who sees in the private experience of a personality the cause and the beginning of the neurosis. Jung, however, became convinced that man’s actions are to a large extent determined by the unconscious collective mind that belongs to the entire human race. In his psychoanalytic experience he found that subjects of widely different backgrounds displayed the same pattern of anxieties and strivings, and reported the same repeating pictures, symbols and figures. And he saw that these same images are present also in religion and in mythology, or collective human experience. Human dreams, human memories, imagination, poetry, could be grouped and analyzed according to these patterns, and he gave them a name: archetypes.

As to these archetypes, one cannot find in Jung what exactly was the cause that implanted them in the human race—it was as if man, on growing out of his animal state to a state of intelligent being, on becoming homo sapiens, was already possessed of these mysterious patterns. So the answer to the question, what planted the archetypes in the collective unconscious of the human race was never given by Carl Jung or by the Jungians, his followers. The archetypes were an inheritance from times immemorial, coming into being under circumstances about which Jung did not even ask; Jung did not even raise the question of what put them in. This is how man was created; he was created with these archetypes. And occasionally, in dreams and imaginations, in neurosis, the archetypes come to the surface—otherwise they remain submerged, though not inactive, in the collective unconscious mind.

Man is not by himself a person apart from the collective—it is not the question that was recently again much discussed, whether man is entirely a segregated individual who can keep his thoughts and feelings to himself; it is more than this. Jung became rather convinced that the unconscious mind, whether by telepathy or in some other way is a common possession of the entire human race; but it is not only constituted of the experiences of this generation, we who interact in this world today, it includes the cumulative experiences of all generations past. This is more than just telepathy, but something which is brought down from generation to generation; and this became his main idea, to the extent that he looked upon the personal experience of a patient as secondary, and his personal life unconsciously dominated by these archetypes, acquired through heredity: not heredity from certain generation down, but from the time man is man. If by some experience, by some situation, the personality comes into disorder, these archetypes, which are powers, become demonic powers (and now I use a Freudian word) that make him suffer: in order to free him from it, it is not the personal experience but these archetypes that need to be discussed and brought up to the surface, explained to the patient, and made conscious to him.

By 1913 Freud parted with Jung who tended to mysticism and with Adier, who tended to socialism. In that year he published Totem and Taboo, an analytical study of ancient and partly also of modern folklore, culled mostly from Frazer’s Golden Bough; Freud endeavored to evince from various rites and observances the surviving traces of the patricide practices in the cave of prehistoric man: the grown-up sons used to kill their fathers and possess their mothers, a violent act in consummation of the Oedipus complex, the son’s sexual attachment to his mother. Freud “felt that religious ceremonials and individual psychological reactions still bear witness to the unconscious persistence of memories of archaic situations, anxieties, feelings of guilt, and various reaction formations which are beyond contemporary experience.”1

Freud came to this understanding rather late in his analytical work. For almost a score of years he ascribed the origin of the neuroses exclusively to the traumatic experiences in the early life of a person, usually in his second to the fifth year.

Freud moved slowly toward the new orientation. That he used to name unconscious was the personal unconscious or, if we prefer, the subconscious; in deeper recesses of the mind were stored racial memories; instincts, too, belong to racial heritage.

The longer Freud sat behind the couch and the more he listened and thought, the more did the guilt feeling for acts committed by ancestors grow in persuasiveness. Archetypes inborn in primogenitors of man were foreign to Freud: the ancestral man acquired the guilt feeling when he committed the act of patricide and he committed his issue, not seldom an incestuous progeny, to repeat his own act and to will to generations to follow the urge to imitate and suffer guilt or at least to imitate in an unconscious urge and still to suffer guilt. A traumatic experience in an individual asks to be repeated; to traumatic experiences of his ancestors he is an heir. Freud did not know of any other paramount trauma that could become a source of a universal guilt feeling.

In his “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis” (1918), Freud explained the universality of certain symbollic expressions in speech and in various fantasies, usually connected with parental coitus and the related castration fears, as grounded in persisting unconscious memories of archaic situations.

“We must finally make up our minds to adopt the hypothesis that the psychical precipitates of the primeval period became inherited property which, in each fresh generation called not for acquisition but only for avakening.... We find that in a number of important relations our children react, not in a manner corresponding to their own experience, but instinctively, like animals, in a manner that is only explicable as phylogenetic acquisition.”2

A neurotic state results from triggering an explosive precipitate inherited from ancestral generations.

“Early trauma—defence—latency—outbreak of neurotic illness—partial return of the repressed. Such is the formula that we have laid down. for the development of a neurosis. The reader is now invited to take the step of supposing that something occurred in the life of the human species similar to what occurs in the life of individuals: of supposing, that is, that here too events occurred of a s.exually aggressive nature, which left behind them permanent consequences but were for the most part fended off and forgotten, and which after a long latency came into effect....”3

Here Freud assigned equal weight to the personal and to the inherited trauma.

“As a rule there is a combination of both factors, the constitutional and the accidental. The stronger the constitutional factor, the more readily will a trauma lead to a fixation and leave behind a developmental disturbance; the stronger the trauma, the more certainly will its injurious effects become manifest even when the instinctual situation is normal.’ ‘4

But can the “instinctual situation” be normal if everyone in the human race is a carrier of traumatic experience of earlier generations? Freud is not yet clear. Averse to use any Jungian terms or concepts, he delineated as “id” the unconscious domain of a person, a repository of the philogenetic and instinctual heritage and equally so of personal repressed and forgotten experiences and reactions due to their traumatic character.

“It [the id] contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, that is laid down in the constitution—above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate from the somatic organization and which find a first psychical expression here in the id in forms unkown to us.”5

Later he wrote: “Some portion of the cultural acquisitions have undoubtedly left a precipitate behind them in the id; much of what is contributed by the super-ego will awaken an echo in the id; not a few of the child’s new experiences will be intensified because they are repetitions of some primeval phylogenetic experience.”6

Since many instinctual reactions and arrangements serve the species and even enable it to survive, a demarkation line needs to be drawn between the heritage of instincts of beneficial purpose and the deep imbedded phylogenetic memories of violent traumas.

Now the question of course is, did Freud find the answer to the main question, what was the traumatic experience of the human race? Was it just the killing of the father by his grown-up sons who wished for themselves their mothers in the cave of the stone age?

It is still to be proven that these things were not single phenomena, single family dramas. Was this really the phenomenon which till today leaves its mark on the human psyche, or was it something else? Toward the end of his life Freud expressed himself in the sense that other phenomena, other things took place which could perhaps be clarified through anthropolgical research.

The fact is that catastrophic events have taken place—not just in a cave here or in a cave there, but events of indescribable violence, such that no human being who succeeded to survive could be free from the traumatic effects—traumatic effects, as I say, indescribable. Imagine: suddenly, time is no more time. The day does not move into the night; the ocean does not just beat at the coast of the Atlantic, it moves over the continent; not even moves over the continent: continent and sea just change places. Where were plains, mountains are thrust up in a matter of hours; the air is filled with loud hissing noises of meteorites falling down, and all volcanoes erupting simultaneously—not just the volcanoes that existed, but thousands of new volcanoes coming up and blazing; and rivers losing their beds, and earthquakes removing cities from their foundations. Man and animal run to escape where-ever they can, whether in caves, or trying to go up the trees, and the trees themselves breaking and flying away. What we have now in the polar regions, and at every latitude, actually; masses of fractured trees, torn apart animals whose habitat is Africa, and their heaped-up carcasses are found in the polar regions, all mixed together, arctic animals with tropicals—this is the testimony of a traumatic experience which could not have been not implanted. Few escaped; entire species were destroyed to the last, and many species, destroyed on one continent, survived as a few individuals on another continent. All horses in the Americas were destroyed, though there were very many of them, and even though the ecological base was very good for them—as was proven when horses were re-introduced by the Spaniards. While many species were destroyed to the last, all others were decimated, from insects to the marine animals, to the quadrupeds and birds and to man. At this moment I speak about the catastrophes preceding those that I described in Worlds in Collision, and that which occurred in the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt coming to an end. Perhaps the catastrophes of the eighth century were not of that very extent, they may have been a little more merciful: still, they destroyed cities, uprooted populations, and terminated civilizations.

Freud asked the question; under what conditions does the traumatic experience enter into the collective mind?—he did not like the term “collective,” because he did not like to repeat the Jungian expression, but this is what it is. And now Freud, the longer he sat behind the couch, the longer he thought over the things deep into the night, started to realize that something conceivably fatal for mankind is hidden in the deep recesses of the human mind: this, after forty-four years of working in analysis, from 1895 to 1939.

“If we consider mankind as a whole and substitute it for a single human individual, we discover that it, too, has developed delusions which are inaccessible to logical criticism and which contradict reality. If, in spite of this, they [the delusions] are able to exert an extraordinary power over men, investigation leads us to the same explanation as in the case of the single individual. They [the delusions] owe their power to the element of historical truth [and ‘historical truth’ he himself put in italics] which they have brought up from the repression of the forgotten and primeval past.”7

And he says that “no individual is spared such traumatic experience, none escaped the repression to which they give rise.” But these are not just sexual traumatic experiences, guilt feelings of the men of this generation, the descendants of the cave-man, for the crime of their ancestors.

This is something that Freud did not fathom, namely, destructions in the natural world, of which all civilizations that left any vestige in writing speak: clearly, and not in a way given to misunderstanding, and to which stones and bones, as I tried to show in Earth in Upheaval, testify. There is no argument against this testimony, only evasion. It can be claimed that erratic boulders were moved by ice-cover, but what caused the ice-cover to form? And how did they come to be high in the mountains, and how is it that they are found in the tropics? It can be claimed, as some one wrote me recently, that the mammoths perished because of slowly-approaching ice. Well this ice that advanced and retreated over tens of thousands of years, as the present-day Ice Age theory has it—not the glacial theory of its originators, like Louis Agassiz, but how it was re-worked in terms of uniformitariansm—cannot possibly account for the sudden death, most likely by asphyxiation, of the vast mammoth herds that roamed the Siberian plains at a time when the climate differred radically from what it is today. Such facts are a stumbling block for uniformitarianism, which means the theory that nothing happened in the past that we do not observe happening in our own age. But this is not a philosophical, or even a logical approach, that nothing could have happened in the past that does not happen today. This is an escape. This is what in psychoanalysis is called repression—not to see, explain away, not to know.

What I tried to do by presenting some passages from my manuscript was to show that the two men who till today are supposed to dominate the field of psychology of the unconscious mind, though approaching the question from almost diametrically opposed standpoints, converge on this idea of racial inheritance. Of course, there were many schools, and many people try to understand analytical neurotic situations by any number of explanations, but Freud and Jung remain the two great figures in psychoanalysis. And so they have cleared up that we are carriers of experiences that are not our own. We were born with this stigma of trauma, and we are fated to will to our children and grandchildren this heritage from our ancestors.

Neither Freud nor Jung, however, came to grips with the trauma itself. They saw the result, they understood, Freud especially, that they were in conflict with the biological teaching of our time that the acquired characteristics are not inheritable. Freud said he knew it, he knew that he was in conflict, but he could not do otherwise; this was his understanding, and he did not know of any other explanation for his analytical findings. It took him decades of thinking and working with the patients. He filled twenty-three large volumes with his writings—but this finally became his main idea, and the twenty-third volume is from beginning to end a series of articles and books, like Moses and Monotheism, where he not just promulgates, not just defends the idea of racial inheritance—he carries it as his last testament.

Now we have to take over this and see where he can be helped. He asked himself whether man can be helped by this realization, how to bring it together, where is the healing. Of course, in order that the neurotic situation should develop in a person, something must come which is of the same nature as that which happened to the ancestors. Nothing is heard any more about the other part of it, an idea that was rather early in his mind as analyst, namely that a traumatic experience not only goes into oblivion, but dealing there with a demoniac power, requires repetition. In his later work he also refers to this compulsion neurosis of two kinds—some persons require repetition, while others try not to know and repress and protest any knowledge. But if there are many who require repetition, then we are actually rather doomed, because it is not experience only of my ancestors or of your ancestors; it is the experience of the entire human race; and if, as Freud wrote, the human race acts as a single individual, and wishes to repeat its early experiences and is in the grip of urges that are possessing it, actually delusions, then we must realize that it is facing possible self-destruction.

For the reality of the traumatizing events we have evidence from the natural sciences combined with the testimony of ancient writings from all early civilizations—the same testimony repeated thousands and thousands of times; yet we are as if deaf; we are not willing to listen; we are like patients of traumatic experiences who refuse to know what happened to them. But if man’s urge to repeat the experience should assert itself—and he now has all the necessary tools to recreate the destruction witnessed by his ancestors—he may turn this planet into an uninhabitable place. Since we are acting, as Freud said, in collective delusion, and if every one of us, and we together as a collective, are irrational, then it is not again a celestial mishap, not a disaster that may come from the sky which endangers the future of life on this planet: it is man himself with his collective unconscious. He does not know what is -hidden in this unconscious, he does not wish to know it, and when it comes to revelation, reacts as a neurotic patient, with violence, as the history of the reception of my work has shown; a violence that has not a precedent in the history of science. Something was touched to which people reacted almost instinctively, and themselves did not understand the reason.

Man lives on a planet that is the optimal place in the solar system—not the central, but the optimal place. Yet he is in the process of making out of this planet a Gehenna, a hell. But do not ask me the question, how can it be helped?—here, I do not know. I have not come with a panacea, but I warn of the danger inherent in our present situation, and that by being aware of it we might turn aside before the precipice. I say this with a sense of urgency, for who knows when the irrational in man may take control? We are carriers of memories that go probably to prehistoric, and maybe pre-human times. And to open these recesses of our minds is, in my understanding, the main, the chief, almost the only task of the true analysis of man.


  1. “Racial Memory” in Encyclopaedia of Psychoanalysis, ed. L. Eidelberg, (New York, 1968).

  2. Moses and Monotheism in Freud, Works, ed. Strachey, Vol. 23, pp. 132-133.

  3. Ibid. , p. 80.

  4. Analysis Terminable and Interminable in Freud, Works, ed. Strachey, Vol. 23, p. 220.

  5. An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, Part I, ch. I, in Freud’s Works, ed. Strachey.

  6. Ibid., p. 206.

  7. “Construction in Analysis,” in Freud’ s Works, ed. Strachey, vol. 23, p. 269.

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