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KRONOS Vol X, No. 2
"MANKIND IN AMNESIA": An Overview
In the years that many thousands have read Velikovsky's works, few it seems have taken sufficient note of the author's primary profession - psychoanalysis - and that ultimately this was the springboard of his efforts. Because of protracted distortions by critics, most have been led to think of him at best as an amateur cosmologist who hit upon an intriguing but scientifically untenable notion that interplanetary catastrophes had punctuated human history. At worst he was labeled, simply, a crackpot. His years of classical and scientific education, his medical training, his preeminence as a first-son of Freud's psychoanalytic group are ignored or cast aside: so too his many years of psychoanalytic practice and theoretical contributions which Freud published; likewise his seminal works in other psychoanalytic literature.
The immediate connection between his cosmology and psychological science is not so compelling, perhaps, as the reconstructed scenario of interplanetary disasters. In his cardinal work, Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky himself only hints at the possibilities for an integrated theory of the collective psyche. The underlying mechanism (collective repression) resulting in the contemporary collective amnesia is left to be defined (". . .some characteristic process. . .", p. 300, W in C), though analogy is made to the psychological defense of repression in Freudian theory. Purely external effects, such as destruction of the written record or the widespread death of literate individuals, are ruled out as sufficient cause. The contemporary result of collective amnesia is also couched in speculative terms (". . .we may well wonder to what extent the terrifying experiences of world catastrophes have become part of the human soul. . .", p. 383, W in C).
Thus, the long awaited publication of Mankind in Amnesia was a welcome opportunity for those concerned to explore specific details of Velikovsky's new psychology. In this sense the book is clearly a disappointment. Unlike the volumes devoted to theory by his colleagues and immediate predecessors, Freud and Jung, Mankind in Amnesia is an inexplicably short work that would serve better as an introduction to the concept rather than the expected magnum opus from the master of collective psychoanalysis.
Yet there is merit in this brevity, especially in the clear, concise exposition of the central tenets of Freudian and Jungian thought and Velikovsky's own differences with these theorists. Freud had struggled throughout his career to discover a theoretically suitable source for the collective dynamics of the unconscious mind. Unable to account for them adequately in his patients' personal histories, Freud reasoned that present-day humanity had inherited a complex of impulses and emotions stemming from the behavior of our uncivilized, primeval ancestors Driven by biological sex instincts, and within a hypothetical early social order (the "primal horde"), acts of parricide and incest became the commonplace means by which a younger generation of sexually mature males succeeded their progenitor. Intense motives, emotions, and conflicts associated with these events became an inherited, unconscious racial complex - a race memory of sorts as humankind developed toward civilization.
Jung argued that Freud's view was too narrow. He perceived a collective unconscious mind shaped by the entire course of evolution into human form. The archetypes of this mental stratum were symbolic representations of evolved instinctual psychological patterns, some tracing to the origins of life itself. None of these preexisting ideas had ever been conscious in human beings. Lying deeper than the repressed personal unconscious, they form a racial mind and impart a preeminent collective order to human psychology.
Velikovsky's insight into this problem is the crux of his contribution - specifically, that neither a complex acquired through sexually motivated pre-civilized practices of early humankind, nor the abstracted evolutionary mental instincts of Jung's theory, adequately explain the common elements of imagery and emotion that characterize the human psyche. Velikovsky's contention that commonly experienced global catastrophes laid down the primary structure of the collective psyche offers a revolutionary insight to psychologists. Its importance is independent of the new perspectives required in science and history, and ultimately is more significant. Though acquired through conscious, historical experience, the memories underwent rapid, universal repression. Somehow heritable, the mnemes or mneme complexes (see p.30, M in A) have passed down to present generations, continuously and collectively influencing the course of human thought and action. As with much of Velikovsky's work, the heuristic value here is paramount.
A considerable portion of the text is devoted to the millennia-long conflict between uniformitarianism and catastrophism and the putative unconscious triumph of uniformity, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, in the minds of foundational philosophers, theologians, and scientific theorists of Western Civilization. Darwin particularly - with his profound influence on both biological and psychological science - seems to have misguided knowledge, himself the victim of the inexorable force of collective psychological repression despite the direct evidence for global cataclysm as early penned by his own hand. Other elements of the case for collective amnesia are generated from literary works where imagination runs toward uncanny recreation of events and human responses to the scenario reconstructed (in W in C) from history and myth.
But all of this is soft evidence and is, by its nature, not altogether convincing, especially in a scientific sense. The only attempt at hard evidence - some quantitative tracing of the effects of collective amnesia on a mass scale - does violence to good statistical analysis and leaves one to wonder whether such suggested effects as the 700-and 52-year cycles of human conflict and upheaval actually exist. Apparently, so far as the development of a truly scientific psychology and its application to the treatment of individuals or the management of mass behavior is concerned, Velikovsky has chosen to leave the task to succeeding generations.