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Subconscious

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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 definition-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 as a layperson's replacement for the unconscious mind
Unconscious mind
The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century German romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge...

, which in Freud's
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 opinion is a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression. However, the contents do not necessarily have to be solely negative. In the psychoanalytic view, the unconscious is a force that can only be recognized by its effects—it expresses itself in the symptom. Unconscious thoughts are not directly accessible to ordinary introspection, but are supposed to be capable of being "tapped" and "interpreted" by special methods and techniques such as meditation, random association, dream analysis, and verbal slips (commonly known as a Freudian slip
Freudian slip
A Freudian slip, also called parapraxis, is an error in speech, memory, or physical action that is interpreted as occurring due to the interference of some unconscious , subdued, wish, conflict, or train of thought...

), examined and conducted during psychoanalysis. Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

 developed the concept further. He divided the unconscious into two parts: the personal unconscious
Personal unconscious
In analytical psychology, the personal unconscious is Carl Jung's term for the Freudian unconscious, as contrasted with the collective unconscious. Often referred to by him as "No man’s land," the personal unconscious is located at the fringe of consciousness, between two worlds: "the exterior or...

 and the collective unconscious
Collective unconscious
Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is proposed to be a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms with nervous systems, and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience...

. The personal unconscious is a reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed.

The idea of the "subconscious" as a powerful or potent agency has allowed the term to become prominent in the New Age
New Age
The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational...

 and self-help
Self-help
Self-help, or self-improvement, is a self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis. There are many different self-help movements and each has its own focus, techniques, associated beliefs, proponents and in some cases, leaders...

 literature, in which investigating or controlling its supposed knowledge or power is seen as advantageous. In the New Age community, techniques such as autosuggestion
Autosuggestion
Autosuggestion is a psychological technique that was developed by apothecary Émile Coué from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.-Origins:...

 and affirmations
Affirmations (New Age)
Affirmations in New Age and New Thought terminology refers primarily to the practice of positive thinking—fostering a belief that "a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything." More specifically an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should...

 are believed to harness the power of the subconscious to influence a person's life and real-world outcomes, even curing sickness. Skeptical Inquirer
Skeptical Inquirer
The Skeptical Inquirer is a bimonthly American magazine published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry with the subtitle: The magazine for science and reason....

magazine criticized the lack of falsifiability
Falsifiability
Falsifiability or refutability of an assertion, hypothesis or theory is the logical possibility that it can be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of a physical experiment...

 and testability
Testability
Testability, a property applying to an empirical hypothesis, involves two components: the logical property that is variously described as contingency, defeasibility, or falsifiability, which means that counterexamples to the hypothesis are logically possible, and the practical feasibility of...

 of these claims. Physicist Ali Alousi, for instance, criticized it as unmeasurable and questioned the likelihood that thoughts can affect anything outside the head. In addition, critics have asserted that the evidence provided is usually anecdotal and that, because of the self-selecting nature of the positive reports
Publication bias
Publication bias is the tendency of researchers, editors, and pharmaceutical companies to handle the reporting of experimental results that are positive differently from results that are negative or inconclusive, leading to bias in the overall published literature...

, as well as the subjective
Subjectivity
Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desires. In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity.-Qualia:...

 nature of any results, these reports are susceptible to confirmation bias
Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.David Perkins, a geneticist, coined the term "myside bias" referring to a preference for "my" side of an issue...

 and selection bias
Selection bias
Selection bias is a statistical bias in which there is an error in choosing the individuals or groups to take part in a scientific study. It is sometimes referred to as the selection effect. The term "selection bias" most often refers to the distortion of a statistical analysis, resulting from the...

.

The word "subconscious" is an anglicized version of the French subconscient as coined by the psychologist Pierre Janet
Pierre Janet
Pierre Marie Félix Janet was a pioneering French psychologist, philosopher and psychotherapist in the field of dissociation and traumatic memory....

. 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 laypersons commonly assume "subconscious" to be a psychoanalytic term, this is not in fact the case. Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 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:
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
Preconscious
In Freudian psychoanalysis, the word preconscious is applied to thoughts which are unconscious at the particular moment in question, but which are not repressed and are therefore available for recall and easily capable of becoming conscious....

"); 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 das Unterbewusste and das Unterbewusstsein.

"New Age" and other "fringe" modalities targeting the "subconscious"


As outlined above, psychologists and psychiatrists exclusively use the term "unconscious" in situations where many laywriters, particularly such as those in metaphysical and New Age literature, usually use the term "subconscious". It should not, however, be inferred from this that the orthodox concept of the unconscious and the New Age concept of the subconscious are precisely equivalent. Psychologists and psychiatrists, unsurprisingly, take a much more limited view of the capabilities of the unconscious than are represented by the common New Age depiction of a transcendentally all-powerful "subconscious". There are a number of methods in use in the contemporary New Age and paranormal communities to try to directly affect the latter:
  • Affirmations
    Affirmations (New Age)
    Affirmations in New Age and New Thought terminology refers primarily to the practice of positive thinking—fostering a belief that "a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything." More specifically an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should...

  • Autosuggestion
    Autosuggestion
    Autosuggestion is a psychological technique that was developed by apothecary Émile Coué from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.-Origins:...

  • Binaural beats
    Binaural beats
    Binaural beats or binaural tones are auditory processing artifacts, or apparent sounds, the perception of which arises in the brain for specific physical stimuli...

  • Hypnosis
    Hypnosis
    Hypnosis is "a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination."It is a mental state or imaginative role-enactment . It is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a long series of preliminary...

  • Subliminal message

See also


  • Consciousness
    Consciousness
    Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

  • Collective unconscious
    Collective unconscious
    Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is proposed to be a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms with nervous systems, and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience...

  • Preconscious
    Preconscious
    In Freudian psychoanalysis, the word preconscious is applied to thoughts which are unconscious at the particular moment in question, but which are not repressed and are therefore available for recall and easily capable of becoming conscious....

  • Rapid eye movement sleep
  • Non-rapid eye movement sleep
  • Slow-wave sleep
    Slow-wave sleep
    Slow-wave sleep , often referred to as deep sleep, consists of stages 3 and 4 of non-rapid eye movement sleep, according to the Rechtschaffen & Kales standard of 1968. As of 2008, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has discontinued the use of stage 4, such that the previous stages 3 and 4 now...

  • Unconscious mind
    Unconscious mind
    The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century German romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge...

  • American Psychology Association


Transdisciplinary topics
  • Philosophy of mind
    Philosophy of mind
    Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

  • List of thought processes

External links