What are symbols symbols of? Situated action, mythological bootstrapping and the emergence of the Self



Abstract:  This paper addresses the question of how symbols should be understood in analytical psychology and psychoanalysis. The point of view examined focuses on the recent turn to more cognitive and developmental models in both disciplines and briefly reviews and critiques the evolutionary and cognitive arguments. The paper then presents an argument based on dynamic systems theory in which no pre-existing template or structure for either mind or behaviour is assumed. Within the dynamic systems model the Self is viewed as an emergent phenomenon deriving from the dynamic patterns existing in a complex system that includes the physiological characteristics of the infant, the intentional attributions of the caregiver and the cultural or symbolic resources that constitute the environment. The symbol can then be seen as a discrete, and in important ways an autonomous, element in the dynamic system. Conclusions are drawn for further research into the nature of the symbol with implications for both theory and practice in analytical psychology and psychoanalysis.