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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Consciously considering subconscious and unconscious

So I just had this brilliant post written in which I was making fun of an author who I believed was misunderstanding the difference between subconscious and unconscious.

He writes of "The Unconscious Marriage", which I thought was funny, because to me that phrase means "a marriage out cold". So I was brilliantly making fun of this guy (whose name is Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., so really there's still plenty of reason to make fun of him), and then before hitting the publish button, I thought it would be prudent to do a little fact checking.

I had always thought subconscious was a mental state of unawareness and unconscious was a physical state of unawareness, just as the person who started this discussion says, thus:

I have always been taught that subconscious was used when talking about the parts of your psyche that you are not aware of - "the subconscious mind" and that unconscious was a physical condition - "knocked unconscious"

Lately I have been hearing people interchange the two; most of the time it is someone using "unconscious" in place of "subconscious".

Am I confused here? Are they interchangeable?


But then this guy with a psychology degree pipes in with this:


I have a degree in Psychology and wondered about this during my studies. Here's your answer (I hope).

Unconscious is the term usually used in Psychology to refer to the thoughts we have that are 'out of reach' of our consciousness. A traumatic childhood event that we repress is an example, but it doesn't have to be so serious as this. It could be something very distant like a memory that we can't 'pull out' at our choosing. It's there, but we can't remember it no matter how hard we try. Certain psychoanalytical methods can bring back these memories (such as hypnosis) and can also be triggered by an event (a scent, a familiar place etc).

The important point to remember here, is that we cannot, by choice, remember anything in our unconscious without some special event or technique. This is the unconscious.

The sub-conscious is almost the same, but the very major difference is, we *can* choose to remember. Sub-conscious is used far too often (erroneously) to mean unconscious. It's simply not the case, and you'll find that in Psychology the topic of the unconscious of *far* more prevalent (and important for study) than that of the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is for example the part of your mind that lets you remember your phone number.

Before reading this, you were not conscious (thinking right now) of your phone number, but should I ask you for it, you're able to bring it to the conscious level by pulling it from your sub-conscious. The person who told you your phone number for the first time has perhaps faded from memory. It may still be in there somewhere, but it's something you can't remember (maybe), and if so, this is in your unconscious mind. So there you have it.


And my searches in Dictionary.com seem to corroborate this position.

Sumbitch. My reality once again gets thrown up against the wall. And my post had been so brilliant, too.

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14 comments:

sovknight said...

I always sorta considered your "conscious" mind to be one that is accessed in a wakeful state, not "wakeful" as in not being asleep, but wakeful as in the forefront of your attention. I'm conscious right now of forming the words I wish to say in my mind, and then translating that to my hands which key them into my computer. I'm also conscious of the Queen song playing in my Rhapsody client. These things are the center of my attention.

Therefore, my "unconscious" state would be one of thoughts not in the forefront of my mind, like, for example, what I'm going to have for dinner tomorrow. I can bring that to the front, and make it into a conscious thought, but unless I do, it's "un" conscious, or "not" conscious. Or not at the center of my attention.

Of course, the term "unconscious" is typically meant to describe someone who is asleep, but I don't think that was its actual intent.

You bring up good points though. I suppose I'd really never given it much thought. Thank you!

sovknight said...

I always sorta considered your "conscious" mind to be one that is accessed in a wakeful state, not "wakeful" as in not being asleep, but wakeful as in the forefront of your attention. I'm conscious right now of forming the words I wish to say in my mind, and then translating that to my hands which key them into my computer. I'm also conscious of the Queen song playing in my Rhapsody client. These things are the center of my attention.

Therefore, my "unconscious" state would be one of thoughts not in the forefront of my mind, like, for example, what I'm going to have for dinner tomorrow. I can bring that to the front, and make it into a conscious thought, but unless I do, it's "un" conscious, or "not" conscious. Or not at the center of my attention.

Of course, the term "unconscious" is typically meant to describe someone who is asleep, but I don't think that was its actual intent.

You bring up good points though. I suppose I'd really never given it much thought. Thank you!

sovknight said...

Double post! WEIRD!

I win!

Sra said...

There is no extra credit for submitting the same work twice. ;)

It looks like your concept of the terms is closer to the real meanings than mine. But clearly there is significant confusion on the matter, because I'm not the only one who had my idea of what these terms mean.

Just when you think you're a native speaker of a language, your own language makes you feel foreign.

Ben Sloan said...

I thought the same thing for the longest time, and it bugged the hell out of me when people would "misuse" unconscious in the psych videos we watched at school. I never really had the matter settled until today, when you posted this.

I've learned something new! Woot!

Travislpace(at)gmail(dot)com said...

LOL @ "sumbitch"


classic..

Claire said...

This is why I carry the entire, unabridged OED with me at all times. Sure, the trailer is awkward and provokes questions, but semper paratus, I always say.

Sra said...

I wonder if you can get the unabridged OED in a handy electronic device. I used to have an electronic dictionary about as big as a calculator. I used that thing all the time in jr. high and high school until its LED screen finally died on me.

It looks like I could still benefit from having one.

Scottrbarnes said...

You spelled subconscious wrong in the title. (Sorry to be picky, I just thought you'd like to know)

I wonder if spelling is related to the subconscious/unconscious division. I can recognize words for what they are, but if I'm asked to recall certain words, I can't spell them correctly. The same goes for Chinese. I can read fairly well, but couldn't write a complete sentence to save my life.

If you practice writing a word enough, will it bring its proper spelling from the unconscious to the subconscious?

Sra said...

Thanks for the catch, I've corrected it. That's one of those words that I type incorrectly every time. I previously had conscious misspelled in the title too, but caught that one.

I think different people have different spelling skills. I'm a pretty good speller, and I can spell a word without seeing it written down. Other people need to see them written to spell them. Sometimes I will randomly forget how to spell a word that I should know how to spell. Or sometimes a word will suddenly look weird when spelled correctly even though it never looked weird before.

But anyway, there are certain words that I used to have great difficulty with, but with plenty of practice they don't give me trouble anymore. Like "knowledge". I never used to like to put the "d" in there.

Travislpace(at)gmail(dot)com said...

LOL @ "sumbitch"


classic..

Sra said...

There is no extra credit for submitting the same work twice. ;)

It looks like your concept of the terms is closer to the real meanings than mine. But clearly there is significant confusion on the matter, because I'm not the only one who had my idea of what these terms mean.

Just when you think you're a native speaker of a language, your own language makes you feel foreign.

sovknight said...

I always sorta considered your "conscious" mind to be one that is accessed in a wakeful state, not "wakeful" as in not being asleep, but wakeful as in the forefront of your attention. I'm conscious right now of forming the words I wish to say in my mind, and then translating that to my hands which key them into my computer. I'm also conscious of the Queen song playing in my Rhapsody client. These things are the center of my attention.

Therefore, my "unconscious" state would be one of thoughts not in the forefront of my mind, like, for example, what I'm going to have for dinner tomorrow. I can bring that to the front, and make it into a conscious thought, but unless I do, it's "un" conscious, or "not" conscious. Or not at the center of my attention.

Of course, the term "unconscious" is typically meant to describe someone who is asleep, but I don't think that was its actual intent.

You bring up good points though. I suppose I'd really never given it much thought. Thank you!

sovknight said...

I always sorta considered your "conscious" mind to be one that is accessed in a wakeful state, not "wakeful" as in not being asleep, but wakeful as in the forefront of your attention. I'm conscious right now of forming the words I wish to say in my mind, and then translating that to my hands which key them into my computer. I'm also conscious of the Queen song playing in my Rhapsody client. These things are the center of my attention.

Therefore, my "unconscious" state would be one of thoughts not in the forefront of my mind, like, for example, what I'm going to have for dinner tomorrow. I can bring that to the front, and make it into a conscious thought, but unless I do, it's "un" conscious, or "not" conscious. Or not at the center of my attention.

Of course, the term "unconscious" is typically meant to describe someone who is asleep, but I don't think that was its actual intent.

You bring up good points though. I suppose I'd really never given it much thought. Thank you!

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