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In psychology, the subconscious is the part of the mind that is not currently in focal awareness.
Scholarly use of the term
The word subconscious represents an anglicized version of the French subconscient as coined in 1889 by the psychologist Pierre Janet (1859–1947), in his doctorate of letters thesis, De l'Automatisme Psychologique. Janet argued that underneath the layers of critical-thought functions of the conscious mind lay a powerful awareness that he called the subconscious mind.
Locke and Kristof write that there is a limit to what can be held in conscious focal awareness, an alternative storehouse of one's knowledge and prior experience is needed, which they label the subconscious.
Sigmund Freud used the term "subconscious" in 1893 to describe associations and impulses that are not accessible to consciousness. He later abandoned the term in favor of unconscious, noting the following:
"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."
In 1896, in Letter 52, Freud introduced the stratification of mental processes, noting that memory-traces are occasionally re-arranged in accordance with new circumstances. In this theory, he differentiated between Wahrnehmungszeichen ("Indication of perception"), Unbewusstsein ("the unconscious") and Vorbewusstsein ("the Preconscious"). From this point forward, Freud no longer used the term "subconscious" because, in his opinion, it failed to differentiate whether content and the processing occurred in the unconscious or preconscious mind.
Charles Rycroft explains that the subconscious is a term "never used in psychoanalytic writings". Peter Gay says that the use of the term 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".
"New Age" and other modalities targeting the subconscious
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The idea of the subconscious as a powerful or potent agency has allowed the term to become prominent in New Age and self-help literature, in which investigating or controlling its supposed knowledge or power is seen as advantageous. In the New Age community, techniques such as autosuggestion and affirmations are believed to harness the power of the subconscious to influence a person's life and real-world outcomes, even curing sickness. Skeptical Inquirer magazine criticized the lack of falsifiability and testability 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, as well as the subjective nature of any results, these reports are susceptible to confirmation bias and selection bias.
Psychologists and psychiatrists use the term "unconscious" in traditional practices, where metaphysical and New Age literature, often use the term subconscious. It should not, however, be inferred that the concept of the unconscious and the New Age concept of the subconscious are precisely equivalent, even though they both warrant consideration of mental processes of the brain. Psychologists and psychiatrists take a much more limited view of the capabilities of the unconscious than are represented by New Age depiction of the subconscious. There are a number of methods in use in the contemporary New Age and paranormal communities that affect the latter:
- Collective unconscious
- History of hypnosis
- Non-rapid eye movement sleep
- Rapid eye movement sleep
- Slow-wave sleep
- Subconscious sex
- Subliminal stimuli
- Unconscious mind
- Transdisciplinary topics
Notes and references
- Janet, Pierre (1899). De l'Automatisme Psychologique [Of Psychological Automatism] (in French). Retrieved March 2014. Check date values in:
- Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970)
- Locke, Edwin A.; Kristof, Amy L. (1996). "Volitional Choices in the Goal Achievement Process". In Gollwitzer, Peter M.; Bargh, John A. (eds.). The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. Guilford Press. p. 370. ISBN 9781572300323. Retrieved 2014-12-08. "By the 'subconscious,' we refer to that part of consciousness which is not at any given moment in focal awareness. At any given moment, very little (at most, only about seven disconnected objects) can be held in conscious, focal awareness. Everything else - all of one's prior knowledge and experiences - resides in the subconscious." Compare memory.
- Freud, Sigmund (1893). « Quelques considérations pour une étude comparative des paralysies organiques et hystériques ». Archives de neurologie, citation in Psychanalyse (fondamental de psychanalyse freudienne), sous les directions d'Alain de Mijolla & Sophie de Mijolla Mellor. Paris, P.U.F, 1996, p. 50.
- Laplanche, Jean; Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand (1988) . "Subconscious (pp. 430-1)". The Language of Psycho-analysis (reprint, revised ed.). London: Karnac Books. ISBN 978-0-946-43949-2.
- Freud, Sigmund (1966). The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume I (1886-1899) Pre-Psychoanalytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts. Hogarth Press Limited.
- Freud, Sigmund (Vienna 1926; English translation 1927). The Question of Lay Analysis.
- Freud, Sigmund (1955). The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume II (1893 - 1895). The Hogarth Press.
- 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
- Jung, Carl (1964). "Approaching the unconscious". Man and his Symbols. Doubleday. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-385-05221-4.
Such material has mostly become unconscious because — in a manner of speaking — there is no room for it in the conscious mind. Some of one's thoughts lose their emotional energy and become subliminal (that is to say, they no longer receive so much of our conscious attention) because they have come to seem uninteresting or irrelevant, or because there is some reason why we wish to push them out of sight. It is, in fact, normal and necessary for us to "forget" in this fashion, in order to make room in our conscious minds for new impressions and ideas. If this did not happen, everything we experienced would remain above the threshold of consciousness and our minds would become impossibly cluttered.
-  Archived July 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- Whittaker, S. Secret attraction Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, The Montreal Gazette, May 12, 2007.
- Kaptchuk, T., & Eisenberg, D. (1998). "The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine". Annals of Internal Medicine. 129 (12): 1061–5. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.694.4798. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-129-12-199812150-00011. PMID 9867762.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- In his ("New Thought") work Power of Your Subconscious Mind (1963), Joseph Murphy likens the workings of the subconscious mind to a syllogism. Murphy states (p. 43), "whatever major premise your conscious mind assumes to be true determines the conclusion your subconscious mind comes to in regard to any particular question or problem in your mind." This means that if your major premise is true, then the conclusion that follows your premise must be true also. He shares the following formula.
"Every virtue is laudable;
Kindess is a virtue;
Therefore, kindness is laudable."
Murphy argues that because your subconscious mind operates like a syllogism one can reap great benefits by utilizing a powerful and positive major premise. He also warns that the opposite could hold true: if one uses a negative, self-defeating major premise, one could reap horrible consequences.
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