In Touch. DNA and The Unconscious

An Interview with Gene Qualls

From C.G. Jung Page (

Developments in scientific research continue to bring science and depth psychology into a closer, more meaningful relationship. In his lifetime, Jung was always deeply interested in the way that 20th century physics, for instance, reflects some of the dynamics of the psyche. As physics and medicine continue to provide empirical support for the principles of analytical psychology, the concept of the unus mundus, the "one world of matter and psyche, becomes interestingly more understandable.

In the biological sphere, the discovery of DNA has brought science that much closer to the basic reality of life itself. And one might imagine that that discovery could provide some speculation, at the very least, on the relations between psyche and soma. When In Touch heard that Gene Qualls had suggested such a relationship, he was asked to inform us further of his ideas in this area.

IN TOUCH (I.T.): What exactly is DNA?

GENE QUALLS (G.Q.): DNA is the pneumonic for deoxyribonucleic acid. which was discovered in 1944. It is the basic chemical component of the genes in animals and plants, as well as nearly all primitive life forms such as bacteria, viruses, retroviruses, etc. It is the material in the nucleus of every cell and the component of the genes. The genes transmit our heritage from the past and direct our development and physical function from the moment of the first cell division until we die. The DNA in any given individual is unique because the fertilized egg derives half of it's DNA from each parent who in turn derived their DNA from four grand parents, etc. Despite the potential for infinite variability, 97% of human DNA seems to be identical to that of other animals. However, not only does that 3% set us apart as a species it provides us with our own individual characteristics and the specific DNA that distinguishes us from our fellow human beings. Scientists are busy studying DNA in many different ways. One of their major concerns is that of mapping out the genes in human DNA. At the present rate doing just that will take nearly 10 years. This does not even consider what each of these individual genes does nor what determines how or when it is to perform its task. There is good evidence that this latter process occurs in some way beyond all known physical means of communication. As I have noted elsewhere the pattern of DNA configuration suggests encryption of something similar to the encoding of languages. As I see it, this could take the form of universal symbols, signs, or runes that convey universal facts and truths. These encoded messages might well be identical but when decoded they may not appear identical due to the variable individual descriptive techniques and coloration of the decoder. What I am attempting to say is that DNA has the potential of being the reservoir of the archetypal symbols of the collective unconscious.

An analogy might be made to present day computers. The DNA would then be the memory chip and the program, the cell would be the computer, and the body would be the hard copy. It must be noted that DNA is much more sophisticated than any chip that human kind has developed. Its capacity is vast--something, perhaps, comparable to a hard drive of 6 gigabytes. In addition DNA has the ability of self activation, direction and replication. In other words, a computer that can invent and modify itself.

I.T.: What alerted you to a possible connection between DNA and the archetypes?

G.Q.: Several years ago a pair of robins nested near one of the windows at my home. This provided me with the opportunity to closely observe the whole process involved in building the nest and parenting. When I realized how complicated the whole process was and how much knowledge the robins had to possess to accomplish it, I had to examine what I knew about instincts. An instinct may most simply be defined as a fixed pattern of action that an animal exhibits. Certainly, the complexity of the behavior I observed in the robins far exceeded that of a "fixed pattern." As I contemplated how such knowledge could possibly be transmitted or acquired by an animal with such small cerebral capacity as a bird was possible, I recalled Jung's definition of an archetype as being an "a priori" that was inherited rather than the archetype itself. Certainly, Jung had made the analogy between the two as being inherited. Then I began to think about our present day knowledge of DNA and genetics. As I have learned more about the phenomenon of DNA with its capacity and complexity for recording and transmitting information, the more I see it as being the ideal analogue for the collective unconscious.

I.T.: Has anyone, so far, published any material on this hypothetical connection?

G.Q.: Not to my knowledge, but my lack of knowledge of it does not rule it out nor does it rule out that others may already be contemplating such ideas or similar ones, at least.

I.T.: DNA is a physical structure, I believe. Is there anything about it, however, that appears to be beyond the physical?

G.Q.: By all means, from the theoretical-physical standpoint, if we assume that DNA arose from a common source, then we would all share the same DNA, hence we would all be merely clones. But, of course, mutations have and do cause changes which have resulted in evolution. Too, from just the physical aspects alone there are marked variations in nature, as for example, the snowflake which is based on the hexagonal, crystalline structure that water assumes upon freezing. There is so much variation in the flakes that there are infinite differences between them. In other words there is great diversity between us even though our DNA has so much similarity with all other human beings. On the other hand identical twins allegedly have identical DNA yet these individuals are diverse enough that we have very little difficulty distinguishing between them physically, emotionally, and mentally. Every cell in our body contains the same DNA as every other cell. So why is not one cell like every other cell? We know that DNA is responsible for directing and coordinating the activity of the individual genes in determining what kind of cell is to be produced and how it is to function, as well as, directing when a specific activity is to cease. We have discovered how some specific genes work and also how to use them medically to better manage some physical diseases, but by and large, we have no idea of the ultimate intricacies that are involved.

Computers have been made comprised of a 'chip' made of DNA. These computers are very crude and inefficient when compared to our mechanical ones, but they differ in that they are capable of solving problems by 'lateral' thinking as opposed to linear '"on/off' patterns which are the limiting factors of our present day computers.

The structural configuration of DNA takes on a pattern that is commonly encountered by cryptologists, specialists who decipher unknown languages and encoded messages. This infers to me the possibility that DNA may well contain an encrypted symbolic record of the history of all life forms. My pair of robins may have been able to convert their encrypted knowledge of nest building into what I observed and through this genetic DNA mechanism pass the same knowledge on to their fledglings.

I.T.: You have suggested a similarity between DNA and the collective unconscious. Could you elaborate on that?

G.Q.: To paraphrase Jung, the collective unconscious is that psychic component that contains all that is unknown that is shared by all human beings. I have always liked this concept and enjoyed the vast reservoir of knowledge that it provides. DNA is shared by all human beings and all other life forms and is comprised of vast amounts of the unknown. Not only does it encode all that has preceded us, it provides the mechanism by which that knowledge may or may not be altered and the path to pass it into the future, just as it has been doing for eons. At present, as tool-making animals, we are in the process of decoding some of those secrets or bits of information. The encrypted symbolic language referred to above could well be the reservoir for the archetypes. The psychics, seers. and space-time travelers may well be persons who are able to access encrypted DNA in a more direct manner than can the majority of us--just as I fancy what my robins were doing. Simultaneous reading of DNA could account for synchronicity. I see DNA as being so suited to Jung's concept of the collective unconscious that were he alive today, he would embrace. it as being just what he had been talking about long before the exact structure was discovered.

I.T.: There is nothing in the Collected Works about DNA, but what might Jung have contributed to our understanding of DNA psychologically?

G.Q.: DNA was discovered by Avery in 1944. Between 1953 and 1966, Watson and Crick were able to determine its structure as a double helix and now we are in the process of mapping out its specific structure with the location of some 50,000 to 100,000 genes that are comprised of 3 billion paired chemical radicals. I mention the above to document the fact that DNA and its capacity for recording and storing vast amounts of information was essentially unknown during Jung's life time. I think his conception of the psyche and its dynamics with the uniqueness of the collective unconscious was actually the prototype of what has since been discovered and named DNA. I think he would have loved to have such a demonstrable physical structure in which to ground his "mystical" ideas. Also, since DNA is common to all life forms and because of its inert chemical physical nature, being the carrier of data that is dependent upon life for its expression and maintenance, DNA provides an ideal site for the union and/or conjunction of the "opposites." Jung drew an analogy between instinct and archetype. I think that had he had any idea of the capacity of DNA for transmitting detailed information that he might well have equated the two.

I.T.: You mentioned Jung's SEPTEM SERMONES. What do they have to contribute to your proposal of the relationship between DNA and the archetypes?

G.Q.: As I have inferred regarding my robins above, I observed them translate the instructions for nest building from their DNA into the actual building of it, etc. I can imagine that Jung's relationship with Philemon and the automatic writing of the SEPTEM SERMONES as being the result of his special receptiveness to the recordings of DNA. This could have been his DNA or possibly that in another entity. A cursory reaction to such an idea might be that it cheapens his experience by robbing it of its numinosity, but further reflection might reveal that instead it actually deepens it because it strengthens the connection with the "Numenosum." It also follows that his mother and cousin, being the ethereal persons that they were, owed their mysticism to being excellent transcribers of DNA. His father, on the other hand, was so removed from just such capacity that he was even uncomfortable in his own conscious life.

I.T.: Does contemporary medical research have anything to contribute to the DNA/unconscious connection?

G.Q.: I do not know of any research that deals specifically with that concept. The findings regarding DNA are in such an infantile stage and there are so many avenues that bear directly on the physical aspects demanding attention that any psychic findings are almost a by-product or happenstance of the physical findings. Some recent events that support this would be: (1) the use of DNA as a computer chip mentioned above; (2) in the study of the reaction of T-cells to the invasion of the body by the AIDS retrovirus, the various elements of the immune system are alerted in some manner other than chemical or neural pathways; (3) Dr. Stuart Hameroff in Arizona has reported that he has observed consciousness in studying paramecia; and (4) in human fertility studies there has been observed the phenomenon of sperm organizing their activity to assist a specific sperm in penetrating and fertilizing the ovum. However, if we expand the concept of collective unconscious to include everything that is unknown and consciousness to include all knowledge that is available, then all discoveries in all fields ultimately become a means toward increasing consciousness.

I.T.: Have there been any recent news event which might add something to this connection?

G.Q.: The answer above is a partial answer to this question. In the late summer of 1996 in the news media there was an item that told of a swimmer who had been attacked by a shark. Before the shark could continue its attack and probably the kill, three porpoises surrounded him swimming circles around him and warding off the shark just as they do when protecting their young.

Also about the same time there was the incident at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo in which a gorilla, Binti Jua, retrieved a 3 year old toddler who had fallen 18 feet into the gorilla's enclosure. She gently carried the boy to the human caretakers. The boy recovered completely There are many such incidences that indicate that there is some communication going on between animals and human kind. I like to think that these are related to some sort of communication between DNA/Collective Unconscious and Consciousness.

In the February 3, issue of TIME there is an article, "Fertile Minds," which outlines how important the genes are in the development of the human neurological system. This article describes the physical development of the system and documents how essential external stimulation from the environment is for the system's reaching its maximum potential.

I.T.: Has there been any material from your practice which you would consider relevant?

G.Q.: Some of the material from my practice that relates to this is what I presented at Harvest last September, 1996. Here is a copy of that material as I developed it then:

Early in my practice of analysis I was seeing a very intelligent young man who had a predominance of "Peter Pan" or "Puer-like" qualities. We had spent many hours of looking at dreams and other forms of psychotherapy that had not been too productive. Then one day he came in and told me that an older woman who was an aide at the hospital at which he worked had made the following remark rather pointedly to him: it went something like this, "God made both the robin and the worm, but in order for the robin to survive, it had to scratch for the worm." My patient seemed to be able to get the point, and we were able to move on. I must admit that I had some grave personal misgivings when I realized that an aid had been able to do something that I had not been able to accomplish with all my superior knowledge and training. Despite this rather severe blow to my ego I was able to learn from this and, I must confess, I have used this gem on several subsequent occasions.

Several years later I happened to notice some increased activity of a pair of robins outside of my kitchen window. Soon a nest took shape and eggs were laid, etc. This site was on a down spout beside the kitchen window and at right angles to a window in our adjoining den that provided me with an up close and excellent view into the area. I really enjoyed having such an opportunity to observe this whole process in such detail. I was able to note the incubation, hatching, feeding, and growth of three siblings and their parents. I did so want to be around when these young fledglings had to leave their haven, because, it was obvious that each of these birds had to make a successful flight on their first attempt since there were no intermediate stops between the nest and the very hard concrete patio some 18 to 20 feet below. This very major event took place while I was away. I was disappointed in that I did not get to witness the culmination of what I had considered the completion of the primary goal of this pair of robins. I sort of shrugged, the nest was empty, and there was no more activity around the area, and I more or less forgot the whole thing. Later that summer a workman was up on a ladder cleaning the windows near the nest so I asked him to remove it. He had so much difficulty in doing so, and I was impelled to look at it more closely. The moment I picked it up, I became consumed with a sense of awe, reverence, and a feeling of guilt for having destroyed something truly sacred. The nest was much larger than I had expected; the base, about one third or more of it, consisted of a mass of cement like mud which had adhered tenaciously to the down spout and the side of the house. This mud also securely held the myriad of twigs, sprigs of grass, etc., together. In addition, the interior of the nest was much softer than the exterior and it was clean! There was absolutely no evidence of bodily waste products nor residue to indicate that five birds had occupied and used this nest for their home for a number of weeks. The following spring I suffered another wave of guilt when I noted the presence of robins repeating the same activity that I had observed the previous spring. To this day I am certain that these were the same birds returning with the expectation of finding their home of last year ready and waiting for them. Being the intelligent beings as they had proven to be, they made no attempt to build a new nest. Slowly the following thoughts and questions formed in my mind: The construction of such an intricate structure would be trying and difficult for anyone who had two hands and was firmly planted on the ground. This nest was 6 to 8 inches across and some 3 to 4 inches high and had a stable, rigid firm wall forming the rim of the bowl. It had been high off the ground, sheltered from the elements and hidden from sight of predators from above by the overhang of the roof; it was approachable only by direct flight or the intermediate perch of the gutter which I mentioned earlier. Since this was built on top of a galvanized down-spout and the vertical wall of the house, there was no perch from which these birds could work until they had formed a sizable base. Too, all of the mud, the multitude of twigs and sprigs of dried grass had had to be transported and woven into place by the beak of the birds. When I mentally began to think about the weight of the wet mud as compared to the dry mud that I had held in my hands I marveled at the physical stamina these animals had exerted in just building the nest not to mention the time and energy it must have required to feed themselves, lay and hatch the eggs, and then feed those three ravenous young fledglings. I thought of them and realized how rapidly they had grown in order to make their first flight without any practice. There had been no opportunity for short practice flights from limb to limb as would have been possible if the nest had been built in a tree or such. Finally if these young birds did reach adulthood, then without any written instructions or even observation of nest building techniques they would in all probability be able to go about a similar process themselves.

Of course, I knew about instincts of animals and their hereditary nature and tried to dismiss the whole event with that explanation. Then the thought flashed through my mind of Jung's analogy of archetypes as being similar to instincts in animals. He went on to define the nucleus of the archetype as an a priori, the germ of an idea, and that it was this that was inherited rather than the actual archetype itself. When I tried to attribute this innovative nest building process that I had observed to simple instinctual rote behavior, the picture just did not compute. The bird's pea-sized brain just was not large enough to deal with such complicated processes. As I searched for some other possible explanation the image DNA. appeared before me----then came the ever familiar, "AHA." Then what about DNA and what does that have to do with my obsession with two robins building a nest in my back yard?

I.T.: Is there any way in which individuals can investigate their own psyche for material relevant to DNA?

The easiest answer to this since I have equated DNA to t he collective unconscious is that all the ways in which we have learned to access unconscious material from Jungian Psychology apply here. Also, I think that the more adept we become in symbolic thinking, the more we increase our ability to receive data from DNA. An example of this might be, What does an egg, spore, ovum, and acorn have in common? Any one of these, in and of itself, can be sources of reams of amplification and meaning, but what unites them in this context is that each is a bearer of a single copy of DNA derived from the organism that produced it. Within each of them, given the proper circumstances, lies the potential for new life.

I.T.: Do you have any plans for publication of your research in DNA/collective unconscious material?

G.Q.: Certainly I have thought about this and fantasized about fame and fortune. But the more I think about that, the more I have come to appreciate Jung's resistance to having an Institute and in publishing some of his own material. I am certainly glad that he did sanction the Institute and publish his material. Had he not done so, I am not at all sure that my conscious state would be where it is today. However, I find the claiming of ownership of ideas that surely transcend my being to be somewhat repugnant. How would I know which robins to credit for my inspiration regarding the potential of DNA? As cryptic and superficial as this sounds, it certainly is not to me because I do think that this DNA/collective unconscious concept came about through synchronicity or some mystical communication between those robins and myself. Since it was non-verbal, I like to view it as the robin's DNA speaking to my consciousness. For me it was a monumental moment or event. Those birds spoke to me just as clearly as did Philemon speak to Jung.

The following are snipets of thoughts regarding this idea of DNA/collective unconscious:

Of what we know regarding consciousness, it is dependent upon conscious carrying and producing life forms for it's maintenance. From our standpoint human beings are and have been this major vector. The validity of this fact would lend relevance to evolution in that evolution's purpose may be that of making consciousness possible by the development of human kind. Although we like to think that human beings are the epiphany of evolution, we may be the only beings we know of in a chain of other conscious developing beings that are yet to evolve. It is also possible that as we unfold this DNA phenomena, that we may be participating in the evolution of more efficient conscious producing beings.

When we allow our selves to think in such broad terms this adds another dimension to the reverence for all life forms. Since DNA/collective unconsciousness provides a practical way for us to comprehend how God and human beings participate in mutual evolution. The idea supports Jung's contention that the ultimate purpose of human kind is that of revealing God's unconsciousness to Himself. A corollary to this then is the sacredness of life. Not necessarily the preservation of every individual life but the continuation of the cycle of life and death which supports the expansion of consciousness. Here I am using my broader definition of consciousness as meaning all forms of knowledge. Anyone or anything that increases knowledge then could be considered an act of worship. The preservation of this planet or a means of expanding consciousness beyond this planet's confining limitations then becomes mandatory in the expansion of the conception of God.

Lastly, what comes to mind is that ultimate evil could then be conceived as the total destruction of all life forms, consequently, the extinction of all consciousness. Whatever record there might be of knowledge would have no meaning, what so ever, if there is no consciousness of it.

Later musings

March 2, 1997:

In reference to the cloning of Polly, the break through reported from England. On the surface this is most threatening to the prevailing conception of the sacredness of God's creation of life and the individual soul. Especially, if human beings are ever cloned. This I am sure will occur, regardless, of what ever resistance may be attempted to prevent it. This is just another step in the relentless unfolding of the "mysteries" of the universe.

1. Cloning in and of itself is not anything new. This is exactly what happens in nature when identical twins are produced. There has never been any question regarding soul or souls in such a situation. This is in reply to the idea that a single soul resides in a single genetically defined being. So far as I know, although identical twins are genetically the same, there has always been many distinguishing differences between the resulting individuals as they have gown and matured. As we learn more about DNA we may discover that there are subtle differences in the DNA of identical twins, but, for now, we have to relegate these differences to the interaction of the DNA as it proceeds in the process of growth and development in any one individual.

2. We immediately think that the genetic duplication of an individual would be a way of perpetuating that individual. The physical replication might be identical but there is no way, so far as we know as yet, that the two resulting individuals would be any more the same than identical twins.

2. The fear that man is playing God as we participate in delving into the mysteries of this universe really becomes a different concept if one of the roles of human kind is that of speeding up the process of evolution. I really do not think that God nor humankind has to have any idea of what the ultimate end point may be or even that there may be an end point. Again, time and end points are only relevant to life forms, not to God.

3. The cloning of human beings or the possibility of the chemical synthesis of a human being from atoms alone must be approached with the same fear and trembling that has arisen when man discovered that the Earth was round and that it was not the center of the Universe. Also, as we have had to deal with the inherent evil in the splitting of the atom, breaking the sound barrier, and the exploration of Space, so will we have to deal with the consequences of cloning.