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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 as a layman's replacement for the unconscious mind, which in Freud's 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), examined and conducted during psychoanalysis. Carl Jung developed the concept further. He divided the unconscious into two parts: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. 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 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 [1]. Physicist Ali Alousi, for instance, criticized it as unmeasurable and questioned the likelihood that thoughts can affect anything outside the head.[2]. 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.[3]

The word 'subconscious' is an anglicized 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.[citation needed]


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".[4]. 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."[5]

Thus, as Charles Rycroft has explained, 'subconscious' is a term "never used in psychoanalytic writings"[6]. And, in Peter Gay's words, use of '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 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.

'New Age' and Other 'Fringe' Modalities Targeting the 'Subconscious'

Although the consensus among psychologists and psychiatrists is that the subconscious mind does not exist, the subconscious is widely believed to exist within the New Age community. There are a number of methods in use to try to directly affect the so-called 'subconscious' mind:

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ Whittaker, S. Secret attraction, The Montreal Gazette, May 12th 2007.
  3. ^ Kaptchuk, T., & Eisenberg, D. (1998). "The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine". Annals of Internal Medicine 129 (12): 1061. 
  4. ^ Sigmund Freud,'The Unconscious' (1915)
  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

See also

Transdisciplinary topics

Further reading

  • Hill, Napoleon. Think and Grow Rich (1937), Chapter XII "The Subconscious Mind".
  • 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.
  • I Unlocked My Subconscious Your Turn(Dominate Subconscious Mind) by Todd Andrew Rohrer (2009), IUniverse Publishing

External links



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