Sigmund Freud theorized that the act of collecting ties back to the time of our toilet training. Freud suggested that the loss of control and what went down the toilet was a traumatic occurrence to us human and thus in our subconscious we develop the desire to collect things as a mean to try to gain back not only control but “possessions” of that which were lost so many years ago.......
O.K. if I tried to rephrase what I just shared in a non-academic language is that we human collect because of the trauma we faced when we couldn’t control and keep our poo poo when we were toddlers - man that sounds pretty bizarre (in a funny and entertaining way - no disrespect to Mr. Freud) while at the same time stirred my brain into thinking really deep about the purpose, the psychology and even the philosophy behind our beloved hobbies of collecting, whether they be fossils, minerals, books, etc.
Thus in this blog, I will attempt to share my thought and theories that are my own take on this particular subject. Though I will have to say in advance before you read that this is in no way an attempt to be academic in nature - just pure ramblings for the purpose of my own amusement and if it turns out to be enlightening then all the better! So here it goes:
**switching on psychological rambling mode**
My perspective and belief is that collecting is an act that is stemmed from our human nature’s instinct that reacts towards “Fear” and “Uncertainty”, and there are quite several motives and psychology behind collecting that I believe support this notion:
Fear of Mortality
A collector collects due to a deep rooted fear of mortality and whether if you will be remembered or leave legacy after you have passed away. We can observe collectors of this type who often will go on to donate collections to public institutions or create museums to exhibit their collections. We as human (at least I believe most of us are anyway) desire to be remembered in some ways and thus our collection or what we have contributed will leave a mark in history and in essence immortalize us with our legacy which is our collections.
Fear of Being Alone
Some collectors start collecting as a mean to seek company of like-minded individuals who share similar passions or to experience acceptance as be part of a unique society, group and culture; for we human are social animals that instinctively seek group safety and social belongings or we become lost and terrified. This motive therefore, is also based on our fear instinct that has been implanted in our psyche.
Fear of Non-Existence
I think it’s probably sensible to assume that we all collect in order to know more about ourselves or to remind us of who we are, our interests, our loves, our passions and our nostalgic pasts. Thus the motive of collecting from this perspective is related to our fear instinct. For to remind of ourselves is to reinforce ourselves that we exist while at the same time reminding us of moments of happiness that make us feel alive - and those moments for collectors are the times we interact with and make ourselves surrounded by the objects of our obsessions. In addition we could say that, the act of building a collection creates a type of blueprint of our inner psyche and of a person’s life through the objects the collector acquired and cherished - the experiences the collector went through in his life. Therefore, the act of collecting is the act of painting a portrait of our life stories and our souls, through objects that speak about our love and fascinations. It reinforces our identity, our memories and our existence.
Fear of Uncertainty & Chaos
Collecting as a mean to create meaning to an otherwise seemingly chaotic world. We as collectors collect by gathering groups of objects that form cohesiveness or relationship between the pieces or to tell a certain story behind those naturally unrelated pieces and thereby forming meaning to the collection. Some collectors form collection in response to certain problems or sense of wonder of the chaos presented in front, and by building a collection the collector is able to tackle that problem. For example, a collector might face the question of “How can I represent the diversity of the Eocene mega fauna of North America?” (problem / chaos) and thus the collector embarks on a collecting quest to gather specimens that would build a complete collection of Eocene North American mega fauna specimens collection (solution / order). The act of collecting creates a collection that in essence, becomes the solution to the collectors dilemma. This, I would also say that is part of our deep rooted human psyche of fear of chaos and the unknown, and thus our instinct is to try to limit the chaos by creating orders (or illusions of order) to an otherwise chaotic world (in our perception at least) much in the same ways as how the early humans banded together, formed groups and created cultures or rituals to face the world’s problems or threats. Collectors on the other hands, tackle the chaos by creating order in the collection and in so doing the collector gains a semblance of power and control over disorganization and chaos.
Fear of the Absence of Aliveness
Collecting is without a doubt, a pleasurable pursuit for collector, whereas an audiophile takes pleasure in listening to music, food connoisseur indulges in the enjoyment food & wine, or art aficionado indulge in art appreciation and possession. We collectors induce our senses of aesthetics and pleasure from acquiring and creating collections of objects in order to feel enjoyment. In a way, this could be viewed as related to our fear instinct because we fear to not being able to feel the pleasurable pursuits in life. For we human feel alive when we experience such pleasures, whether the pleasures be from the indulgence of consumable & wearable objects or simply to possess and be surrounded by the things that give us joy like our collections.
Fear of Powerlessness
Collecting can be viewed as an act that I think came from our hunting instinct - to explore our sense of wonder of the unknown, to challenge the goals of acquisitions of hard-to-find objects; this in my view is in essence “the thrill of the hunt”. This particular collecting mindset is also based on our response to our fear instinct for when we hunt, we transform ourselves from being powerless prey to being powerful hunter and dominators - thus hunting (or in essence collecting) is an act to overcome our fear instinct while the “hunting” and while at the same time the journey of the hunt makes us feel alive. Also, when thinking about this motive I think it makes sense as we tend to see many collectors tend to be drawn to fossils of creatures of great power and ferocity or majestic beauty. For some collectors to possess such specimens make the collectors feel the power of those long dead creatures probably in similar manners in how hunters have trophies of their hunt to show their skills as hunters to overcome such beasts.
Now don’t these reasons and psychology of collecting sound much more appealing than Sigmund Freud’s potty training explanation? But, before some may think that “Collecting = Fear” may seem like a degrading notion at first glance, I present to you my next theory:
**switching on philosophical rambling mode**
Fear of Being just another Animal - Collecting to Transcend Humanity
Despite our instinctual fear that drives us to collect, the act of collecting is also an act of human transcendence and transformation. Some collect objects of power to symbolize the attaining of that power or the conquering of such powerful force that ultimately makes us feel more powerful than who we are without the collection. An act of collecting transform us into more powerful being (whether physically, socially, economically or spiritually): a person with no social distinction or significance can become conservators, scholars and even admired icons of historical significance. Collecting can transform the powerless into the powerful, the ignorant into a scholar, a hoarder into a curator and in many cases, turning common man into sage.
Our fear of mortality, uncertainty and instability of our universe makes us human so special and able to achieve our transcendence from mere creatures of survival instinct into creators, innovators, artists, philosophers or sages. Thus it is the shadow that allows us to appreciate the light; the fear of death that makes us cherish the beauty of life; the brutality of our darkest side that gives rise to the reactionary opposites that make us saints, protectors and self-less beings capable of great courage and heroism.
Therefore, even if the psychology of collecting comes down to “Our Fear of Mortality” (death with no legacy or inability to feel “alive”), “Our Fear of Non-Existence” (due to the lack of social presence, acceptance or without a group to belong); that very fear creates motives for us to have “Desire for Transcendence” into something more than what we are. Thus I would make the case that the act of collecting is both instinctual (as a reaction to our deep rooted fear of mortality & physical existence) and spiritual (as a path [and an enjoyable one!] towards transcendence of the human existence).
**switching off philosophical rambling mode**
My goodness after I just wrote all that, I just had an idea that the next time, when I meet people who think my collecting and obsession with eclectic objects are weird, bizarre or non-sensual, I can start quoting my philosophical ramblings that my collecting hobby allows me to transcend spiritually and start going into Zen mode - that’s should be entertaining to say the least, lol. Who would have thought our hobbies could be so spiritually stimulating.
Anyway that’s all for my rambling for today. Hope you enjoy the blog entry