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In psychology, the word subconscious is the part of consciousness that is not currently in focal awareness. The word "subconscious" represents an anglicized version of the French subconscient as coined by the psychologist Pierre Janet (1859-1947), who argued that underneath the layers of critical-thought functions of the conscious mind lay a powerful awareness that he called the subconscious mind.[1]

The subconscious and psychology[edit]

In the strict psychological sense, the adjective is defined as "operating or existing outside of consciousness".[2]

Locke and Kristof write that there is a limit to what can be held in conscious focal awareness, so an alternative storehouse of one's knowledge and prior experience is needed, which they label the subconscious.[3]

The subconscious and psychoanalysis[edit]

Sigmund Freud first used the term "subconscious" in 1893[4] and in the 1895 "Studies on Hysteria" and in 1926 he said:

In Freud's opinion the unconscious mind has a will and purpose of its own that cannot be known to the conscious mind (hence the term "unconscious") and 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.

Charles Rycroft explains that the subconscious is a term "never used in psychoanalytic writings".[6] Peter Gay says that the use of the term subconscious where unconscious is meant is "a common and telling mistake";[7] indeed, "when [the term] is employed to say something 'Freudian', it is proof that the writer has not read his Freud".[8]

Freud's own terms for thinking that takes place outside conscious awareness are das Unbewusste (rendered by his translators as "the Unconscious mind") 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 das Unterbewusste and das Unterbewusstsein.

The subconscious and Analytical psychology[edit]

Carl Jung said that since 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.[9]

"New Age" and other modalities targeting the subconscious[edit]

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.[10] Physicist Ali Alousi, for instance, criticized it as unmeasurable and questioned the likelihood that thoughts can affect anything outside the head.[11] 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.[12]

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:

See also[edit]

Transdisciplinary topics

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970)
  2. ^ A Dictionary of Psychology Andrew M. Colman. Oxford University Press, 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. King's College London.
  3. ^ Locke, Edwin A.; Kristof, Amy L. (1996). "Volitional Choices in the Goal Achievement Process". In Gollwitzer, Peter M.; Bargh, John A. 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.
  4. ^ S. Freud, 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.
  5. ^ Sigmund Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis (Vienna 1926; English translation 1927)
  6. ^ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London, 2nd Ed, 1995), p. 175
  7. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time (London 2006), p. 453
  8. ^ Peter Gay (ed.), A Freud Reader (London, 1995), p. 576
  9. ^ Jung, Carl (1964). "Approaching the unconscious". Man and his Symbols. Doubleday. p. 37. ISBN 0-385-05221-9. 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.  Compare memory.
  10. ^ [1] Archived July 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Whittaker, S. Secret attraction, The Montreal Gazette, May 12, 2007.
  12. ^ Kaptchuk, T., & Eisenberg, D. (1998). "The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine". Annals of Internal Medicine. 129 (12): 1061–5. PMID 9867762. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-129-12-199812150-00011. 

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