Evolution, Jung, and Theurgy:
IV. Some Implications for Neoplatonism

N. The Evolving Archetypes

We have seen how evolutionary neuroethology explains the function of the archetypes in a species’ behavior, but I have put off until now the implications of evolution for our understanding of the archetypes.  Since the human genome evolves, so also must the archetypal Ideas, but we must consider carefully what this means, and avoid several common pitfalls.  In particular, we must avoid essentialism, the notion that there is an “ideal kind” for each species.  We have seen that the archetypal Ideas, common to all people, are implicit in the human genome.  Therefore it is natural to view the human genome as representing an ideal human kind, the essence of Homo sapiens.  Individual humans might be considered imperfect images of this ideal to the extent that their genotype differs from the genomic ideal.  This would certainly be a very Platonic way of looking at things, but modern biologists have rejected it for a variety of good reasons.

In modern evolutionary biology the genome is considered a kind of statistical average of the individual genotypes belonging to a species at a given time.  Therefore, the genome is a mathematical abstraction (that is, an Aristotelian abstraction from particulars), rather than an eternal Platonic essence.  As before, a species is defined as a population of individuals that are potentially able to interbreed (subject to sex constraints), but this has proven to be a much more fluid concept than previously supposed.  On one hand, individuals traditionally classified in the same species may not interbreed for a variety of reasons; on the other, individuals of supposedly different species have been found to interbreed (Milner 1990, 414, 438).  Therefore, as the population changes through time, so does the genome, for it is just an average over the population.  The genome is not a fixed essence, but a time-varying form; otherwise, the whole concept of the evolution of species would be inconceivable.  (For more on the revolutionary shift in biology from essentialism to “population thinking,” see Mayr 1982.)

Now we must apply the population definition of the genome to our understanding of the archetypal Ideas.  We have seen that the human genome at a given time is defined over a population existing at that time.  That is, the genome is defined by the set of participated genotypes.  During sexual reproduction a new DNA molecule is assembled from the DNA of the parents; the new molecule participates in a (previously unparticipated) genotype, and thus alters the genome minutely.  Similarly, each death alters the genome.  Thus the evolution of the genome, as statistical average, is mediated by processes in the natural world.  As a consequence, the universal archetypal Ideas, at a given time, must be conceived as a sort of average of the archetypal Ideas as experienced by all humans living at that time.  Since mating is a process that takes place in nature (albeit under the guidance of the gods), and death is also a natural event, the changing participation of genotypes, and thus the evolution of the genome, is mediated by the material world.  That is, matter is necessary to the evolution of the archetypal Ideas.

Thus, in contradiction to Neoplatonic tradition, we must conclude that some archetypal Ideas do change, albeit at slow, evolutionary timescales.  These slow revolutions in the heavens may be symbolized by the turning of the astrological ages, from Aries, to Pisces, to Aquarius, and so forth.  Indeed, Wilson (1978, 88) observes that significant change in human nature can occur in about 100 generations, which is not so different from an astrological age (about 2200 years).

Moreover, it is important to recognize the essential role played by individual living persons in the turning of the ages.  In this sense, the gods are not completely impassive; mortals do have an effect on them, although the effect of each individual is small.  (In biological terms, each individual has a very small effect on the evolution of the species.)  I think this recognition of the role of embodied life — generation — in the constitution and evolution of the archetypal Ideas is an important modern correction to the tradition of disembodied idealism associated with Plato.  (We may also note that evolution depends on random processes, such as mutation, crossover, and genetic drift, which correspond to the Indefinite Dyad.)

So must we exclaim πάντα ῥεῖ and agree with Heraclitus that Pythagoras had much learning but little understanding (fr. 40)?  I think not. 

The human genome evolves, and therefore so do the personified gods.  However, we have seen that behind the gods are the divine numbers, the more abstract, impersonal archetypal Ideas, which are the psychical aspects of natural law.  In particular, although there is still much that we do not know, we can see in principle how evolution must take place in living systems, and that in fact evolution, in some form, is a necessary consequence of natural law.  Therefore, even though the human species is not fixed, the laws that govern its evolution are eternal.  Beyond the personified archetypes, that is, the gods, who appear invariant across the centuries but evolve slowly through the ages, beyond them we may glimpse the truly eternal archetypal Ideas that govern divine evolution and everything else in nature.

We must conclude that there are two realms of archetypal Ideas.  The higher realm, that of impersonal psychical forces (e.g., archetypal numbers), is strictly eternal.  The lower realm, that of the personified gods, is effectively eternal, but actually slowly changing across the cosmic ages through interaction with embodied life (that is, through evolution by natural selection).  Jung also recognized evolution in the archetypal realm (Stevens 1982, 75).  Although it might seem that we should evict the gods from the Empyrium, the realm of Platonic Ideas, we must acknowledge that they are central to human life in spite of, indeed because of, their co-evolution with humans.  Rather, we should understand them as falling into place between the eternal impersonal archetypal Ideas, and the time- and space-bound personal daimôns.

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