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The Origins and History of Consciousness (Bollingen Series, 42) Paperback – 1970

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Editorial Reviews


"There can be no doubt that [Neumann] has brought to his task a remarkable . . . knowledge of classical mythology, some considerable acquaintance with the comparative study of religion, and a deep understanding of those psychological views and theories evolved by C. G. Jung."--The Times Literary Supplement

"A welcome source of information for all those who are touched by the relationship between man and his myths."--The New York Times

"No better exposition has come to us of the two Jungian themes: the evolution of consciousness in the history of mankind and the development of personality in the individual."--The Personalist

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 493 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691017611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691017617
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Paul Vitols on June 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
A prominent psychologist, knitting together the elements of Jung's psychological theory and some new elements of his own, shows how the great cycles of world myth depict the hard-won development of ego-consciousness in humanity, and how this development is recapitulated in each individual's life.

Twenty-six years ago, when I first read this book, Jung's ideas were much more popular than they are now. In this era of cognitive science and its focus on the physiological underpinnings of psychology, there doesn't seem to be room for Jung's collective unconscious, its archetypes, and their polymorphous manifestations in myth and symbol. But this, I think, is more a matter of fashion than any reflection on the quality of Jung's thinking, which was vast, deep, and bold.

Neumann, a student of Jung, with erudition comparable to that of his teacher, synthesizes Jung's ideas into a unified theory of psychology around his own new concept of "centroversion", his name for the integrative force of the organism--its survival instinct in the widest sense. He shows how ego-consciousness--the self-aware "I" of the modern human being--is the preeminent organ of centroversion, and that, like other, physical, organs, it has had its own evolutionary history.

This history, reflected in the structure and behavior of the modern ego, forms the deep story underlying world mythology. In Part I of the book, Neumann shows how the birth and emancipation of the ego is reflected in three great cycles of myth: the creation myth, the hero myth, and what he calls the transformation myth, which is the apotheosis of the hero.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
There are two books that I recommend without hesitation to anyone who is seriously interested in gaining a deeper understanding of consciousness. This book is one of them. (The other one is "Godel, Escher, Bach" by D. Hofstadter.)
Central to the thesis put forward by this work is the cyclical and recursive patterns evident in the development and history of conscious thought and expression. Developing the idea of 'eternal recurrence' beyond the usual (and superficial) notion of cyclical historic patterns, Neumann puts forward the brilliant (and afterwards self-evident) idea that the collective generative and developmental patterns of the human species (collective psyche) is mirrored recursively (and latently) in each and every individual member of that collective.
An interesting side effect of this view of consciousness is the resultant synthesis of linear and cyclical notions of Time. To Neumann, Time is an open-ended linear progression (development) which is recursively cyclical. The recursion occurring in the subject self's perception of time: That the individual's subjective perception of time in an early part of his development, corresponds with the Human's perception of Time in a corresponding earlier point in history.
For example, using Neumann's framework, one can see the 'mythological' persona and teachings of Jesus (and his semi-contemporary Buddha) as the collective expression of the coming 'personal' transcendence and autonomy of the Ego (as in: "The Kingdom is in You!").
To me, this book represents the Flower of critical 'Jungian' thought: It is lucid, balanced, creative, and deeply insightful.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Michael Levenhagen on October 16, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Neuman's ideas and book need considerable study, I think, not only to understand them but to assess them. I had considerable training in archetypal theory in literature, so I hesitated reading Neuman's book. However, Neuman's ideas came alive for me as I worked through the book. Indeed, there were days when I could not get his notions out of my head. I began to see their application everywhere throughout contemporary life. The book added dimensions to my awareness. It has also provided useful explanations to Buddhist teachings in Zen, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen for me.

I found the writing difficult to read, sometimes. The writing repeats itself, but in different ways. What one reads in later chapters was often written in an earlier chapter. To be fair, though, that redundancy was helpful as there were some ideas / concepts that I still struggle with definitively--especially when I have to explain them to someone else outside of this field of study.

Last, I disagree with reviews who claim that Neuman's book and ideas are dated or no longer applicable. That would be like claiming that the love of a mother for its child is dated and no longer applicable. I think such criticisms are unambiguous signs of a overly emphasized mental-rational point of view. If Neuman's ideas and book say anything, they work to show how much of the experience of life cannot be understood conceptually or rationally.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ram Lee on September 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
When you have a warm heart for depth-psychology (Jungian), and you are interested in the origin and development of human consciousness, and how this development is reflected in mythology and in one's own personal psychology, then this book is very much recommended.
I admire Erich Neumann because his treatment of the subject, besides his use of a Jungian approach (which I think can be quite helpful), is strikingly original and creative.
Though written at the end of the 1940s, it did not lose its actuality and usefulness.
Neumann's study is appealing, psychologically subtle, profound and encompassing. He shows a combination of clarity of mind and creativity.
He does not conform to mainstream/conventional/paradigmatic twentieth-century-thinking. He seems to transcend (here and there) unconscious/unintended cultural restrictions in our usual approaches. This can be challenging and is certainly refreshing.
His theory of 'secondary personification' is very to the point and revealing and useful and catches something which (culturally) is in deep need to be caught and made known.

I do think that this book can also contribute significantly to one's self-understanding, providing helpful insight into our timeless inner relations with basic archetypes.
Essentially this (studying the phenomenon of archetypes) is not mere theory, but useful material for personal orientation and practice.

I believe this book does serve our sanity.
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