The Subconscious – The Echoes of the Mind (27)

The Subconscious

“What we are conscious of is constructed out of what we are not conscious of – that our whole knowledge is made up of the unknown and the incognisable.” ~ Scottish metaphysician William Hamilton

A single conscious stream – cognition – may hold one’s attention at any moment. Meanwhile, the mind processes multiple threads below the threshold of instant awareness. This dynamo below is the subconscious.

Thoughts come to conscious attention based upon subconscious prioritization of what is the most stimulating to the mind among the menu of immediate concern. A subconscious stream surfaces into conscious awareness if sufficient stimulus prompts attention, or during a focal context switch, whereby the current conscious flow of thought is temporarily submerged or extinguished.

“The contents and strength of mental imagery are influenced by sensory-like representations that emerge spontaneously before volition.” ~ Australian psychologists Roger Koenig-Robert & Joel Pearson

The subconscious acts as a filter, bringing disposition and personality into play. By this the subconscious introduces the biases that predominate reasoning.

Under the false flag of intuition, the subconscious is also a decision maker. The subconscious makes judgments in a fraction of a second, which the conscious mind may mull and validate at a relative snail’s pace.

The conscious mind is more of an observer after the fact, while behavior itself is usually unconsciously initiated. ~ American sociobiologist Robert Trivers

Rationality that runs against the subconscious creates a nagging dissonance, which is apt: the subconscious is a better decision maker than can be mustered through conscious cognition, as a greater confluence of considerations can be taken into account.

“When people deliberate before they make a decision, they tend not to be as good as they are if they do it non-consciously.” ~ Indian social psychologist Nalini Ambady

 Freud’s Consciousness Trinity

Freud posited a triad of consciousness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. His sense of the conscious was conventional: thoughts and desires of which one is aware. Retrieving the salacious bits of what lay below was what turned Freud’s psychoanalytic crank.

“In all the symptoms of all neurotic diseases, always and everywhere the meaning of the symptoms is unknown to the sufferer. Without fail, these symptoms are derivatives of unconscious experiences which can, under various favorable conditions, become conscious.” ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud’s focus on repression led to his bifurcating the subconscious into the preconscious and unconscious. Freud’s preconscious comprises thoughts and desires conceived at the unconscious, but not subject to repression, and so can become conscious. The unconscious was Freud’s netherworld of the mind: thoughts submerged beyond access to the conscious mind, not available for introspection, even as they influence behavior. Freud’s “talking cure” aimed at unearthing repressed memories.

(The use of unconscious in Spokes is the common, non-Freudian sense, as synonymous with subconscious (occurring below the level of conscious thought), not in the sense of being repressed beyond retrieval.)


“Most of your experiences are unconscious. The conscious ones are very few. You are unaware of the fact because to you only the conscious ones count.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Most mental processing goes undetected, sailing the seas of the subconscious. We are aware of only a small fraction of the terrain that the mind traverses. The subconscious is constantly consulted, especially intensely when the cognitive mind remains uncertain.

“The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the Sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.” ~ Sigmund Freud

The reason for the subconscious is that there is simply too much perception going on to consciously keep track of. The subconscious is an efficiency: maintaining awareness without distraction unless a potential for danger or some desirous object is sensed. Such a signal grabs our attention.

The subconscious also provides for a richness in mentation which could not otherwise be obtained. Nature is fond of layered complexity.

“We only notice an object once our unconscious has calculated its importance.” ~ Korean-born Canadian cognitive scientist Diana Kwon

Our mental processes are largely autonomic: continuously adding sensations, processing perceptions, combing through memories.

Reactions from social interactions while growing up yield a sense of individuality. An identification of distinctness via comparison to others is largely culled subconsciously from the emotional residue of interpersonal encounters.

Most saliently, the emotions of children are keenly felt. Subconsciously made and commonly without conscious evaluation, early impressions can be lasting.

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Organisms have a sense of their body parts and movement through space: proprioception. Proprioception is constantly maintained, albeit subconsciously.

Peripheral vision, which provides part of proprioception, is exemplary of subconscious processing. Much gaze outside the limited focal range is unconsciously registered. The term subliminal is often used for this phenomenon.

(Owing to eye structure and placement in the head, humans have less peripheral vision than many other animals, especially herbivores subject to predation.)

Implicit Motives

“Implicit motives influence successful goal pursuit and positive life outcomes through their effects on learning and memory.” ~ German psychologists Oliver Schultheiss & Martin Köllner

While the conscious mind has its own goals, so too the subconscious. Dissonance between the two generates stress and negatively affects mental health.

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Attitude influences physical health as well as sense of well-being. In an instance of self-fulfilling prophecy, how one thinks stress affects health does so, for better or worse.