Theories, Definitions, and Logic
Jung had a lot to do with the formulation of this nonsense with his Collective Unconscious. Even before him though, you have creation stories tying us to shared origins. Think about this for a minute. Take any subway car you are sitting on. There is strong evidence showing we all share mitochondrial dna enough to prove we all descend from one common ancestor. That means, if you rewind the tape enough, we all have common ancestors. That is hard to swallow now, with the scientific evidence to prove it. How did this story, surviving against common sense, make it all the way to the present to be examined?
My interests in Epigenetic inheritance largely lie in this human condition we live in. While I do not propose something on the order of Orthogenesis (because, indeed, I do not believe in prime motivators or directions), I do think that there is room for Epigenetics to cross into Modern Evolutionary Synthesis in much the same way that modern synthesis made a hybrid of Darwin's natural selection and Mendel's inherited genetics. Many serious geneticists I have engaged on this see my theories as a radical form of the theories behind the Baldwin effect.
There are plenty of geneticists out there that subscribe to the theory that acquired traits have no effect on the human genome, which is the only thing passed to offspring. I cannot agree with this stance. To say that the genome is the foundation of genetic potentiality in offspring is apt; to say that it is the only factor is myopic.
So what does all this have to do with consciousness and genetic memory?
We have inherited many things from our ancestor ranging from immunobiology and metabolism along with other phenotype-related traits (hair, eye, skin color). There is some evidence (used mostly in supporting the Baldwin effect) to suggest genetic plasticity, but I suppose the potentiality goes a step further.
Applying Above to History
One of the things that sets us apart from many other species on the planet is our ratio of body-brain, and the way it is utilized. Physiological differences aside, most of our societal as well as individual advantages over most other life forms in terms of environmental survival relates to our brains, and our abilities to use them. Learning, memory, and sense of self (and others) are all key in this process.
There is a majority opinion which states that evolution operates for the middle. In times of drastic environmental change, the "middle" of a species is defined by who survives to procreate. This leads to trends in phenotypes amongst the offspring. If the environment changes again so that something which was a survival need in previous generations becomes a liability in future generations, selection as well as genetics eventually normalize those previously desirable traits.
Take this chunk from Onelife.com:
"The long term result of evolution is bare survival. If the organism is in distress, the higher death rate removes survival impediments rapidly. An organism suffering a high mortality rate tends to become stronger to match its environment. If the organism is better than required, evolution will degrade it, again matching the organism with the environment. A comfortable organism has a lower death rate and so does not weed out detrimental characteristics as quickly. The result is a gradual degradation of function until the comfort is removed."
That sums it up nicely. If our preceding ancestors, had access to genetic memories, it is very likely that they would have become phased out as our species evolved. Biological evolution tells us that there is very little different between a modern person and someone walking around two hundred thousand years ago. Biologically, this may be apt on major phenotypes, but from a social and neurological perspective, I wonder how true this is. Of course, the rub is, the mental factors are not clearly marked in the archaeological record, and are devilishly hard to pin down, even with artifacts of art, culture, and social structure to support theories.
Going back to cars as an analogy, the definition of an automobile has not changed much since Ford started mass producing them. However, subcategories, features, enhancements and changes have abounded in that same shortened time period. True, there are plenty of external changes to point to these refinements, but the central image is still apt - when do cars stop being cars, and start becoming something else? When do humans?
The things that link us all lie within us, in our "instincts", in our predispositions to one thing over another, on levels which biochemically are beyond our notice, but phenominologically are beyond our ability to ignore. It is my supposition that this shared pool of consciousness and experience, inherited and altered after generations of diversity, are what lead to the common roots of cultures, religions, and our collective understanding of the world around us. This touches all levels of thought and capability to think, and, therefore, affects everything we, as a species, have accomplished thus far.
Starting At the End to Find the Beginning
Consider the prevalence of common themes in many Eastern and Western mythologies and early theologies. How different is Mictlantecuhtli from Hades, or Lei Kun from Ares? Many great minds have hit upon the commonalities of early cultural mythos from a great many angles. From Freud and Jung with psychological Image creation, to Sir James George Frazer and "The Golden Bough" from a mythological/sociological/historical standpoint, there have been countless explanations and theorizations of "how and why".
Think of all the commonalities to cultures, despite hugely different sociological, anthropological, and environmental differences. Many Cultures have their own version of the "Cinderella" story. In many cases, this is simply a story traveling from one culture to another. However, when you look at the body of work available to study, it seems that the story arose in several cultures at different times, independent of contact with each other.
The first flirtation I had with "ancestral memory" was in Jean Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear", which I read at a pretty young age.
Auel's supposition is that our evolutionary predecessors maintained genetic memory. There is no evidence for this, but there is evidence for it in some other primate relatives we can observe. While information there is conflicting, there are certainly lower life forms (zebrafish and African nest weavers) which show some fairly clear signs of behavior consistent with genetic memory. Why is it that we should be exempt from this game?
I know way more about this now, both form a meta scientific and scientific perspective than I did when I started looking into this seemingly odd idea years ago. I have been following it for years, honing my thoughts on it, reading up on it, running into intellectual dead ends, academic cul-de-sacs and opening avenues of thought I had previously thought closed. What I have realized is that there is a good chance I will die before finding biological proof. So, I am going at it like a paleontologist or archaeologist might. Look at the roots of what is available in terms of common human culture, and try to find the patterns and formulas that spring up. Literature, culture, linguistics. These are the broken bones and flint arrowheads of the passage of our species. Why do some people have past life syndromes and others don't? How is it that some people "know" how to do things, sometimes after being shown once, occasionally not being shown at all, yet others do not, even with professional training? How do savants happen, and why can't anyone "become" one? What, if any parts of who we are are inherited, and what parts are a byproduct of our environments?
My theory is that the roots of shared biological memory lies within all of us, within our DNA and our physical forms, passed down to us through our common ancestry. Through copious sociological change, the need to depend on, or even use this potential has become infinitesimal compared to our need to use many other higher brain functions, which were getting nowhere near as much of a workout two hundred, or even one hundred thousand years ago. They still pop up in savants, or during dreams, or when those other brain functions are sublimated. They tend to be viewed as "side effects" as opposed to phenomena in their own right. I believe the amount and level of this potentiality varies greatly, and is affected by countless other factors and, to a certain extent is a plastic inheritable trait. All of this adds up to a list of questions which are quite a challenge to qualify, much less quantify, particularly since we are still unlocking vast stores of knowledge on both the neurobiological mechanics of the brain, and DNA/RNA and how it relates to measurable inherited traits.
I am sure you can guess that this will never get "an answer" in my head. However, it does lead down some fascinating roads of knowledge (and useless trivia).
If you managed to read all, or part of that, and have any knee jerks, respond. I'd love to know what you think.