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The term subconscious is used in many different contexts and has no single or precise definition. This greatly limits its significance as a meaning-bearing concept, and in consequence the word tends to be avoided in academic and scientific settings.
In everyday speech and popular writing, however, the term is very commonly encountered. There it will be employed to refer to a supposed 'layer' or 'level' of mentation (or/and perception) located in some sense 'beneath' conscious awareness -- though, again, the notion's dependence upon informal 'folk-psychological' models that remain vague means that the precise nature and properties of this 'underlying' layer are either never made explicit or possess an ad hoc quality. At different times, references to the 'subconscious' as an agency may credit it with various abilities and powers that exceed those possessed by consciousness: the 'subconscious' may apparently remember, perceive and determine things beyond the reach or control of the conscious mind. The idea of the 'subconscious' as a powerful or potent agency has allowed the term to become prominent in the self-help literatures, in which investigating or controlling its supposed knowledge or power is seen as advantageous. The 'subconscious' may also be supposed to contain (thanks to the influence of the psychoanalytic tradition) any number of primitive or otherwise disavowed instincts, urges, desires and thoughts.
The word 'subconscious' is an anglicised version of the French subconscient as coined by the psychologist Pierre Janet. Janet himself saw the subconscient as active in hypnotic suggestion and as an area of the psyche to which ideas would be consigned through a process that involved a 'splitting' of the mind and a restriction of the field of consciousness.
The 'Subconscious' and Psychoanalysis
Though lay persons commonly assume 'subconscious' to be a psychoanalytic term, this is not in fact the case. Sigmund Freud had explicitly condemned the word as long ago as 1915: "We shall also be right in rejecting the term 'subconsciousness' as incorrect and misleading".. In later publications his objections were made clear:
|“||"If someone talks of subconsciousness, I cannot tell whether he means the term topographically -- to indicate something lying in the mind beneath consciousness -- or qualitatively -- to indicate another consciousness, a subterranean one, as it were. He is probably not clear about any of it. The only trustworthy antithesis is between conscious and unconscious."||”|
Thus, as Charles Rycroft has explained, 'subconscious' is a term "never used in psychoanalytic writings". And, in Peter Gay's words, use of 'subconscious' where 'unconscious' is meant is "a common and telling mistake"; indeed, "when [the term] is employed to say something 'Freudian', it is proof that the writer has not read his Freud".
Freud's own terms for mentation taking place outside conscious awareness were das Unbewusste (rendered by his translators as 'the Unconscious') and das Vorbewusste ('the Preconscious'); informal use of the term 'subconscious' in this context thus creates confusion, as it fails to make clear which (if either!) is meant. The distinction is of significance because in Freud's formulation the Unconscious is 'dynamically' unconscious, the Preconscious merely 'descriptively' so: the contents of the Unconscious require special investigative techniques for their exploration, whereas something in the Preconscious is unrepressed and can be recalled to consciousness by the simple direction of attention. The erroneous, pseudo-Freudan use of 'subconscious' and 'subconsciousness' has its precise equivalent in German, where the words inappropriately employed are Unterbewusst and Unterbewusstsein.
The "subconscious" and instinct
The subconscious mind is a composite of everything one sees, hears and any information the mind collects that it cannot otherwise consciously process to make meaningful sense. The conscious mind cannot always absorb disconnected information, as it would be an information overload, so the subconscious mind stores this information where it can be retrieved by the conscious mind when it needs to defend itself for survival (and for other reasons, such as solving puzzles).
The subconscious mind stores information that the conscious mind may not immediately process with full understanding, but it stores the information for later retrieval when ”recalled” by the conscious mind, or by an astute psychoanalyst who can draw out information stored in the subconscious, bringing it to the individual's conscious awareness. This can especially be observed with heightened sensitivity of victims of violent and other crimes, where victims "felt something" instinctually about a person or situation, but failed to take action to avoid the situation, for whatever reason, be it embarrassment, self-denial or other reasons to blow off instinct, as they disregard internal warning signals.
A precise example of the subconscious mind at work and related phenomena can be found in a book written by psychoanalyst, Gavin De Becker "The Gift of Fear". He describes how a victim "knew something was wrong", but initially discredited her own instinct/subconscious mind, opting instead to respond to the perceived threat in a normal, "socially acceptable" manner, completely ignoring that the subconscious mind tried to tell the conscious mind "that something is wrong." De Becker tapped into the mind of the victim regarding her "prior awareness by the subconscious mind that caused her to act instinctively" allowing her realize that the perpetrator was going to kill her. The analyst brought her conscious mind to recognize HOW her subconscious was working on her conscious mind, by eliciting her original "inner thoughts/voice" through a serious of events to which her subconscious mind ultimately drove her conscious mind to behave in such a manner as to protect her from being killed. Gavin was able to elicit her subconscious mind's recognition of a dangerous situation that compelled her conscious mind to act to save her through its basic survival instinct, bringing to the victim's conscious mind that it was the "subtle signal that warned her." The victim describes this as an unrecognized fear that drove her to act, still unaware consciously of precisely WHY she was afraid. Her conscious mind had heard the words, "I promise I won't hurt you, while her subconscious mind was calculating the situation much faster than the conscious mind could make sense out of WHY the fear was there. The victim stated that "the animal inside her took over."
Targeting the 'Subconscious'
There are a number of ways to try to directly affect the 'subconscious' mind, they include the following:
- Affirmations (New Age)
- Binaural beats
- Subliminal perception
- Subliminal stimulation]]
Notes and references
- Sigmund Freud,'The Unconscious' (1915)
- Sigmund Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis (Vienna 1926; English translation 1927)
- Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London, 2nd Ed, 1995), p.175
- Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time (London 2006), p.453
- Peter Gay (ed.), A Freud Reader (London, 1995), p.576
- Collective unconscious
- Rapid eye movement sleep
- Non-rapid eye movement sleep
- Slow-wave sleep
- Unconscious mind
- American Psychology Association
- Merriam Webster Dictionary Definition
- Article on Subconscious Mind Power Techniques
- Article on Training The Subconscious Mind
- Mind Power Resource
- 'A Reader's Guide To Pierre Janet: A Neglected Intellectual Heritage'
- Mind Power Explained
- Hill, Napoleon. Think and Grow Rich (1937), Chapter XII "The Subconscious Mind".
- Powell, Robert Charles (1979). "The 'Subliminal' versus the 'Subconscious' in the American Acceptance of Psychoanalysis, 1906-1910." Journal of the History of the Behavioral Science, 15, 155-165.
- Murphy, Joseph Murphy (2001). The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, Bantam Books.
- How to Work Wonders With Your Subconscious Mind by Christian D. Larson, Aware Publishing.
- Everything You Should Know Perhaps Nothing(Dominate Subconscious Mind) by Todd Andrew Rohrer (2009), IUniverse Publishing
- I Unlocked My Subconscious Your Turn(Dominate Subconscious Mind) by Todd Andrew Rohrer (2009), IUniverse Publishing
- Subconscious Demons and Conscious Delights by Todd Andrew Rohrer (2009), IUniverse Publishing
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