We are not masters in our home: our “I” partly obeys the forces of the unconscious. Our unconscious is not our enemy, even if it causes unpleasant symptoms. We fall into the trap when we don’t hear his signals. By trying to decipher them, we can get to know ourselves better and get closer to our real one.
Our distant ancestors attributed mental processes to the influence of higher forces. The ancient Greeks, falling into uncontrollable anger or panic, feeling passionate love or uncontrollable desire, explained their state of being “possessed by the gods.”
Until about the 8th century BC. people were simply unable to be aware of themselves in the usual sense for us, believes the American psychologist, researcher of the history of consciousness Julian Janes. They considered all their sudden inner urges to be the result of divine intervention.
This kind of explanation (“the Lord directed” or “the devil beguiled”) can be heard, by the way, to this day. The idea of some individual deity living in us, “daimon” (in fact, from this Greek word comes “demon”), which, like an inner voice, prompts one or another action, is also present in the philosopher Socrates. However, the Socratic “daimon” is individual and inseparable from the personality. This was the first step towards a modern understanding of the unconscious.
Gradually the source of the unconscious impulses came to be called the human soul.
“Events occur in our souls that we are not directly aware of,” noted the ancient Roman physician Galen1… Closer to our time, in the 17th century, Cartesianism – the teaching of the French philosopher Rene Descartes – influenced the concept of the unconscious.
He identified the conscious and the psychic, so that the world was cut into two parts: on the one hand, matter, devoid of consciousness, our body, on the other, the spirit dwelling in it.
Most of us love the idea that we could be extremely angry if we just let ourselves loose.
Descartes raised doubt in everything into a principle, and only one thing did not raise doubts in him: his own consciousness (“I think, therefore I am”). The next step was already made in the 18th century by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz.
For him, the unconscious acts as the lowest form of mental life, which lies beyond what we are aware of. He likens the zones of the conscious to “islands rising from the ocean of dark perceptions”2…
However, until the end of the 19th century, it was widely believed that this form of mental life was mainly related to the mentally ill or hysterics, grimacing in hospitals like demoniacs. A healthy person in that era was not supposed to have any dark abysses.
“The prevailing public opinion still proceeds from the assumption that the concepts of” psychic “and” conscious “are equivalent,” wrote the German philosopher Eduard von Hartmann in The Philosophy of the Unconscious3…
After the publication of his work, the term “unconscious” became popular. So the ground was prepared for the demon of Freud’s “unconscious” to fit into our stable Cartesian picture of the world.
Personality within personality
In search of the causes of mental disorders, Freud turned to what was “repressed into the unconscious.” Of course, for him the “unconscious” consisted not only of the repressed.
However, he pays special attention to the repressed, considering the unconscious as a repository of impermissible desires, and not all, but incestuous desires of the child. Impulses are triggered in us, which our consciousness cannot bear, rejecting them or even not allowing them to reach us (which, in fact, is “repression” in the Freudian sense).
They hide from consciousness, but they remain alive, continuing to murmur within us, and looking for ways to come out into the light. The prolonged conflict between them and the conscious “I”, which builds numerous defenses against them, makes us sick.
By hearing our unconscious, we will become closer to ourselves and can act in accordance with our nature.
At first, Freud called the colony of these voluptuous impulses sent into exile “the system of the unconscious,” but when it became clear to him that other areas of the soul – “I” and “Super-I” – functioned not only in the daylight of consciousness, he renamed this colony in “It”.
In this picture, the “system of the unconscious,” or “It,” creates an independent unity within the psyche, which is filled with its own feelings, thoughts, desires and memories. “It” looks like a secret personality inside ours and differs from us in that this inner personality is more illogical, passionate, irresponsible, misanthropic, and we cannot find it even in the course of the most careful searches.
Freud believed that unconscious states “can be described with the help of all those categories that we apply to conscious mental acts, that is, to ideas, aspirations and the like. Yes, about some of these latent states, we must say that they differ from conscious ones only by the absence of consciousness. “4…
Doesn’t the medieval theory of the demonic show through Freud’s teaching?
The English philosopher Bertrand Russell believed that this was so, and joked: “The unconscious appears here as a kind of prisoner of the dungeon, who lives in a dungeon and only occasionally, with heavy groans and curses and bizarre atavistic desires, catches the eye of a respectable public.
Most of us love the idea that we could be extremely angry if we just let ourselves loose. Therefore, Freud’s unconscious was a consolation for many quiet and glorious people “five…
No matter how much too sober heads joke with Freud, the idea of the unconscious is deeply rooted in us, and we see its manifestations even where they are not. Often our reservations seem significant to others, they are looking for hidden meaning. Meanwhile, not all linguistic mistakes turn out to be “reservations according to Freud.”
Our language can be led by the sound proximity of words, especially if we are tired. However, the Freudian optics encourages to perceive any chance as conditioned by the “repressed” content. And sometimes tactless psychotherapists or loved ones who are prone to psychological violence instill in us that they see right through us.
In the 1990s, several American psychotherapists, convinced that patients’ neurotic symptoms were associated with childhood sexual trauma, managed to create false memories of incest in them. These false memories were so clear that the patients even brought their fathers to trial.
What does cognitive science know about the unconscious?
Outside of our consciousness are not only motives and impulses, but also a variety of information that affects our behavior and the interpretation of even the information that we are aware of. “For example, we can ignore or forget some advertisement, but when we see an advertised product in a store, we are more likely to buy it,” explains cognitive psychologist Maria Falikman. – Psychologists use in experiments the procedures of “subthreshold presentation”, when an object is illuminated by a flash or demonstrated for thousandths of a second, so that a person cannot perceive it. But it affects the speed or accuracy of identifying the next object, and sometimes its interpretation: for example, even if we did not have time to consciously read the word “bow”, then the next word “braid” we will perceive as a hairstyle, and if we were presented with the word ” meadow ”, we will take the same word“ scythe ”as a tool.
We may not be aware of the patterns that we use, or our own actions, the implementation of which is well mastered, automated. How do you fold your fingers when you turn the page? Is it difficult to answer? But that doesn’t stop you from reading a book or magazine. If everything goes according to plan, we don’t need consciousness to perform automatic actions. ”
Maria Falikman – Doctor of Psychology, Senior Researcher, Moscow State University M.V. Lomonosov, Leading Research Fellow, Laboratory for Cognitive Research, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
Later generations criticized Freud for the fact that for him the unconscious is inextricably linked with sexual desires. Carl Gustav Jung, a student of Freud, could not accept such a limitation. The Jungian unconscious includes the memory of all humanity and even the genetic memory of prehistoric times.
The collective unconscious can send us signals across the centuries and regardless of cultural differences. For example, the “field behavior” of autists – their swinging back and forth – Jungians associate with the rites of antiquity and the rituals of modern Africa.
The psychoanalyst Jean Lacan also argued that the unconscious is the voice of the “other”, but he significantly narrowed the circle of these others. We are the result of what our first “others” said – parents, brothers and sisters.
It is their thoughts and desires that live in us, influence, against our will, our decisions in love and in the professional sphere. Our unconscious is a product of our personal history, but it does not make us hostages of the past, it is a window to the future.
The unconscious is a “summary” of all our thoughts, conclusions made by us about ourselves, about the world, about other people
Recent research in the field of neuroscience shows that the unconscious is a “summary” of all our thoughts, the conclusions we made about ourselves, about the world, about other people. This “resume” helps us to better learn the lessons of the past and meet tomorrow by making the right decisions.
Deciphering the messages of the unconscious is not just an intellectual game. It is work that gives practical results, whether we are using psychoanalysis or another method. After all, if we manage to establish contact with the unconscious, we will not only better understand ourselves, but also get rid of symptoms and behavioral patterns that do not suit us.
Trying to understand the hidden part of yourself is not a narcissistic exercise, the point of which is to fuel self-esteem by discovering hidden possibilities in yourself. This is primarily a way to get into action. Ultimately, understanding your unconscious notions serves exactly that purpose: to begin to act according to your own deep nature.
1 K. Galen, Works, vol. 1 (News, 2014).
2 G.-V. Leibniz, Works in four volumes, vol. 1 (Mysl, 1982).
3 E. von Hartmann “The Essence of the World Process or the Philosophy of the Unconscious” (Krasand, 2010).
4 Z. Freud “The Psychology of the Unconscious” (Peter, 2010).
five B. Russell “The Art of Thinking” (Idea-Press, 1999).