Psychology

How Greatly are we Affected by our Unconscious



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Modern studies of consciousness actually date back to the last quarter of the nineteenth century when the comparatively new science of psychology started to emerge from its roots in philosophy and physiology. According to Kihlstrom (1999) the structuralist school of psychology began with Wundt and Tichner who attempted to analyse conscious mental states in terms of their constituent sensations, images and feelings. This preferred method of introspection assumed that people had accurate introspective awareness of their own mental states. Although William James opposed the doctrines of structuralism in general he used a version of introspection in his own research. In his Principles of Psychology', James referred to psychology as the science of mental life. In the Briefer Course', he adopted a definition of psychology first attributed to Ladd (Kihlstrom, 1999), "the description and explanation of states of consciousness as such".

It was clearly understood by James and others that there was more to mental life than was readily available to introspection. Although the idea that unconscious processes are important elements in mental life is attributed to Freud, it was an old idea dating back to Leibniz the eighteenth century German philosopher (Kihlstrom, 1999) who suggested that every moment is filled with an infinity of perceptions most of which go unnoticed and are not available to reflection. Leibniz also suggested that we are never indifferent although we may appear to be so and that the choices we make arise from these insensible stimuli, which cause us to find one direction of action more comfortable than another.

At the close of the eighteenth century the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View' in which he devoted a major section to the concept of ideas that we have without being conscious of them' (Kihlstrom, 1999). Kant found it something of a contradiction that we had ideas that we were not conscious of at the time although we later became aware of them indirectly. This is not such a contradiction when one considers the possibility of quantum level communications as postulated by EMW.

In the nineteenth century, Herbart, referred to the limen' the sensory threshold as a mental battleground where competing perceptions, mostly unconscious ones, competed for representation in consciousness. This idea was obviously an extension of what Leibniz had stated much earlier (Kihlstrom, 1999). Hermann von Helmholtz in his Treatise on Physiological Optics argued that our conscious perceptions are determined by unconscious inferences. Helmholtz also thought that it was permissible to speak of the psychic acts of ordinary perception as unconscious conclusions.

Hartmann is attributed with reaching the peak of preFreudian analysis of unconscious mental life (Kihlstrom, 1999). For him the universe was ruled by the unconscious which was a highly intelligent dynamic force composed of three layers: the absolute unconscious, accounting for the mechanics of the physical universe; the physiological unconscious, underlying the origin, evolution, development, and mechanisms of life; and the relative unconscious, which was considered to be the origins of conscious mental life.

If we now institute a comparison between the Conscious and Unconscious, it is first of all obvious that there is a sphere, which is always reserved for the Unconscious, because it remains forever inaccessible to consciousness. Secondly, we find a sphere, which in certain beings only belongs to the Unconscious, but in others is also accessible to consciousness. Both the scale of organisms as well as the course of the world's history may teach us that all progress consists in magnifying and deepening the sphere open to consciousness; that therefore in a certain sense consciousness must be the higher of the two. Furthermore, if in man we consider the sphere belonging both to the Unconscious and also to consciousness, this much is certain, that everything which any consciousness has the power to accomplish can be executed equally well by the Unconscious. The Unconscious always appears to accomplish things far more strikingly, and therewith far more quickly and more conveniently for the individual, since the conscious performance must be striven for, whereas the Unconscious comes of itself and without effort.

Hartmann's idea that the unconscious processes capacities and powers are superior to those available to consciousness was considered by his peers and possibly by most contemporary psychologists to be nothing more than a romantic notion (Kihlstrom, 1999). However this viewpoint may be prejudiced by the apparent suggestion that the origin of our unconscious abilities lies inherently in the individual, a deep mostly hidden power within the individual psyche.

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