Chaos and self-organization: emergent patterns at critical life transitions


  • Patricia Skar


Abstract:  A feeling of chaos can accompany many real-life events over which we have little or no control, and latent developmental needs may create tension that manifests in symptoms of depression or anxiety. Particularly at critical life transitions, conflicts may arise which have no obvious solution. From an analytic perspective, recent scientific models from the area of complexity theory can prove illuminating as analogies to Jung's archetypal view of the individuation process. Throughout life, human beings, like many complex, open systems, pass from disordered phases to more complex stages of order. This paper shows how the scientific concept of self-organization can be compared with our physical and psychological developmental processes. From embryology, the model of the ‘epigenetic landscape’ (C.H. Waddington) is introduced as an analogy to Jung's individuation process, with a clinical example to illustrate these parallels. The emergent nature of behaviour and development is seen from the viewpoint of the organism as a dynamical system, and Jung's concept of the archetype viewed as an emergent property of the activity of the brain/mind.