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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Something to stir up some controversy. Every one talks about the unconscious mind but is there any empirical evidence that it actually exists in the classic Freudian description of it. I read this article from the sceptics dictionary web site (http://skepdic.com). Have a read and see what you think?

Unconscious mind

The unconscious or subconscious mind, according to classical Freudian psychoanalysis, is a "part" of the mind which stores repressed memories. The theory of repression maintains that some experiences are too painful to be reminded of, so the mind stuffs them in the cellar. These painful, repressed memories manifest themselves in neurotic or psychotic behavior and in dreams. However, there is no scientific evidence either for the unconscious repression of traumatic experiences or their causal agency in neurotic or psychotic behavior.

The unconscious mind is also thought by some, such as Jung and Tart, to be a reservoir of transcendent truths. There is no scientific evidence that this is true.

It would be absurd to reject the notion of the unconscious mind simply because we reject the Freudian notion of the unconscious as a reservoir of repressed memories of traumatic experiences. We should recognize that it was Freud more than anyone else who forced us to recognize unconscious factors as significant determinants of human behavior. Furthermore, it seems obvious that much, if not most, of one's brain's activity occurs without our awareness or consciousness. Consciousness or self-awareness is obviously the proverbial tip of the iceberg. But most interest in the unconscious mind has been restricted to potentially harmful memories that might be stored or stirring there, memories of bad experiences that influence our conscious behavior even though we are unaware of their impact.

It is assumed that the unconscious is distinguished from the conscious by the fact that we are aware of conscious experience, but unaware of the unconscious. However, there is ample scientific data to establish as a fact that some conscious perception goes on without self-consciousness. It is possible to be unaware of having experienced something and unable to remember the experience, but still give evidence that one has had the experience. Several examples should suffice to establish this point.

1. blindness denial. There are cases of brain-damaged people who are blind but who are unaware of it.

2. jargon aphasia. There are cases of brain-damaged people who speak unintelligibly but aren't aware of it.

3. blindsight. There are cases of brain-damaged people who see things but are unaware of it.

4. oral/verbal dissociation. There are cases of brain- damaged people who cannot orally tell you what you just said, but they can write it down correctly. Furthermore, they can't remember what they wrote down or what it refers to.

Somehow it does not seem appropriate to speak of these cases as involving the unconscious mind, even though the perceivers are not aware of what they are perceiving. It might be less confusing to abandon talk of the unconscious mind and refer instead to "lost memory" or "fragmented memory" or "implicit memory" (a term coined by Daniel Schacter and Endel Tulving). It is not repression of traumatic experiences which causes memories to be lost. Memories are lost because of inattentiveness in the original experience and because the original experience occurred at an age when the brain was not fully developed. Memories are also lost because we have no recognizable need to reference the original experience. (Many fragments of pleasant experiences, such as the name of a place or a product, may be influencing present choices without one's being aware of it.) Memories are lost because of brain damage, loss of consciousness during an experience, neurochemical imbalance, cognitive restructuring, and sensory, emotional or hormonal overload. On the other hand, all the empirical evidence indicates that the more traumatic an experience the more likely one is to remember it. Novel visual images, which would frequently accompany traumas, stimulate the hippocampus and left inferior prefrontal cavity and will generally become part of long-term memory.

Neuroscience tells us that a memory is a set of connections among groups of neurons that participate in the encoding process. Encoding can take place in several parts of the brain. Neural connections go across various parts of the brain; the stronger the connections, the stronger the memory. Recollection of an event can occur by a stimulus to any of the parts of the brain where a neural connection for the memory occurs. If part of the brain is damaged, access to any neural data that was there is lost. On the other hand, if the brain is healthy and a person is fully conscious when experiencing some trauma, the likelihood that they will forget the event is near zero, unless either they are very young or they later experience a brain injury.

Long-term memory requires elaborative encoding in the inner part of the temporal lobes. If the left inferior prefrontal lobe is damaged or undeveloped, there will be grave difficulty with elaborative encoding. This area of the brain is undeveloped in very young children (under the age of three). Hence, it is very unlikely that any story of having a memory of life in the cradle or in the womb is accurate. The brains of infants and very young children are capable of storing fragmented memories, however. Such memories cannot be explicit or deeply encoded, but they can nevertheless have influence. In fact, there are numerous situations--such as cryptomnesia-- where memory can be manifested without awareness of remembering. But such unconscious memories, even though pervasive, are not quite what Freud or Jung meant by the unconscious. "In Freud's vision, unconscious memories are dynamic entities embroiled in a fight against the forces of repression; they result from special experiences that relate to our deepest conflicts and desires. . . .mplicit memories . . . arise as a natural consequence of such everyday activities as perceiving, understanding, and acting." (Schacter 1996, 190-191) Implicit memory may be far more mundane than Freud's dynamic 'unconscious mind', but it is more significant since it reaches into every aspect of our lives. As Daniel Schacter notes: "If we're unaware that something is influencing our behavior, there is little we can do to understand or contradict it." (191)

Most lost memories are lost because they were never elaborately encoded. Perception is mostly a filtering and defragmenting process. Our interests and needs affect perception, but most of what is available to us as potential sense data will never be processed. And most of what is processed will be forgotten. Amnesia is not rare but the standard condition of the human species. We do not forget in order to avoid being reminded of unpleasant things. We forget either because we did not perceive closely in the first place or we did not encode the experience either in the parietal lobes of the cortical surface (for short-term or working memory) or in the prefrontal lobe (for long-term memory).

To those whose lives are devoted to getting into the unconscious mind, either to find out why they have problems or to find some transcendent truth, I say you will be looking for a long, long time. You might better spend your time reading a book on memory or neuroscience.
 

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Somehow it does not seem appropriate to speak of these cases as involving the unconscious mind, even though the perceivers are not aware of what they are perceiving.
And I don't think anyone does speak of them that way! :lol:

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Something interesting about the unconscious that my therapist mentioned to me the other day was that it is more like (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember her exact words) the idea that there is no "place" or "thing" called the unconscious, but that the process of thinking and acting involves the repetition of previous behaviors and feelings that are automatic and become a part of us without our thinking about it. I could see that dovetailing with at least some of what the writer of the article you posted wrote. I do think that writer has misunderstood what those who posit the unconscious believe about it.

I think there's something also about the young child trying to organize experience that results in patterns of thinking and feeling that become as it were the "template" for experiencing everything we experience. The "filter" through which we experience life.

I'm getting so interested in this subject that I am going to ask my therapist if she could recommend a course of study for someone like me, who's interested in really learning the subject but doesn't want another degree.
 

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That's exactly it Sojourner, it's not so much an entity but a process, so the only empirical evdidence will be the outcome of such therapies that try to 'access' the unconscious.

We can monitor the many altered states of consciousness through brainwaves but I don't think this applies to the unconscious as Freud describes it.

It is not just repressed, unbearable memories but ideas and motivations we may not be aware of, in everyday tasks and functions. If everything we did was on a conscious level, we would be drained, we need another part of us to take over certain aspects of our thinking so we can apply more perception and attention to the tasks that need it.

I liked the subject so much I did go and start another degree on it and now up to my eyeballs in work. So I'm still learning and the above is subject to that disclaimer!
 
G

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From a psychoanalytic perspective, the Unconscious is multi-fold.

There is the Dynamic Unconscious (the deepest, most hidden, virtually UNaccessible process)
and
the Repressed Unconscious (where thoughts are hidden from consciousness that are deemed to threatening or disturbing)
and
the Pre-conscious (where all the stuff resides that you are not currently thinking consciously, but that you acn retrieve fairly at will - memories, etc.)

Most importantly, it's true what Sojourner and gfunk said - none of those aspects of the unconscious is a CHAMBER of the mind, not a place, but a kind of invested psychic energy. The difference between conscious and unconscious mental processes is the WAY in which the mind functions, the type of energy invested into the mental function.

The way I conceive of it is to imagine there are two different LANGUAGES the mind can speak (or can "think in", more appropriately). One of Secondary Process and the other is Primary Process.

Secondary Process is logical, linear thought - it's what you are AWARE of doing, it's what you consider "Thinking" to be.

In Primary Process, the mind is functioning very differently. It's the "language' we dream in - using images and concepts to represent different feelings, wishes, drives, urges. There is no linearity - no Sequence to this form of thinking, no past no present no future (and no "negative"). Think of a large pool where lots of items are swirling and floating - none are "first" or "second" - they are just floating and swirling, some closer to other items, some far apart - but no sense of linear or sequential storyline. In that metaphor, the Unconscious wishes and desires and urges are all an infinite sea of objects, bobbing and weaving, some "pressing" for expression (discharge) more than others but it varies moment to moment.

That is the DYNAMIC Unconscious - the deepest recess of the unconscious "language" - i.e., the most PRIMITIVE of the languages, and one that is really not translatable - think of it as information/feelings stored in ancient heiroglyphics from some lost civilization - there is NO way to actually "translate" their symbols into any modern language. The best we can do is look for patterns, repeated images, etc. and try to decipher what it MIGHT mean, but there will never be "conclusion" or proof that we're correct.

In the REPRESSED Unconscious, the "language" used by the mind is not so remote. Imagine that you have a huge office building and there are some Secret Documents that you want to keep there but that you definitely do not want ANYone to ever find and read. So you translate the secret documents into a very remote language, like Bangladesh (figuring nobody in the building is possibly going to know how to read that). So there the documents remain, while you travel the world...they are hidden in relatively plain sight, but INACCESSIBLE to any curious eyes. The Repressed Unconscious "holds" thoughts and wishes that the Conscious mind (your executive) has decided should just not be read anymore...but they are there and they are potentially capable of being uncovered - but learning Bangladesh is not an easy or quick way to decipher something, so chances are that ANY nosey part of the mind would lose interest before figuring out the code)

Then there is the Preconscious, where thoughts and desires are stored that are stored IN ENGLIGH, but maybe they're stored in "old English" (Like Shakespearean language) so the daily moment to moment mind doesn't bother with the words unless it has REASON to "look up" something and concentrate on it long enough to understand it.

Helpful?
Clear as mud? then just repress it all, and it won't bother you anymore (grin)
 

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I don't know anything about it, but my best guess would be that those categories Janine gave are more conventional than real. What I mean is, it makes more sense to me for parts of the unconscious to be somewhere on a continuum along the ambit of those two "chambers", rather than be definitely one or the other.

I think that the unconscious exists, but it seems very hard to understand a structure with much accuracy about what it's like.

Also, didn't Jung and some of his followers claim that there was another section to the unconscious on top of (or rather below) that?
 

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I don't know anything about it, but my best guess would be that those categories Janine gave are more conventional than real.
Where did she say they were "real"?
What I mean is, it makes more sense to me for parts of the unconscious to be somewhere on a continuum along the ambit of those two "chambers", rather than be definitely one or the other.
I think you have misread what Janine wrote. She wrote:
"Most importantly, it's true what Sojourner and gfunk said - none of those aspects of the unconscious is a CHAMBER of the mind, not a place, but a kind of invested psychic energy."
 

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I think you have misread what Janine wrote.
Well I think you're just trying to score points by trying to prove me wrong (again). But if it's a competition to see who's the most pedantic here I'll win hands down every time. :p

I'm pretty sure that by "chamber" Janine was referring to some kind of physically discernable area or something more real than what she described; I was just using the word instead of "category" because I was trying to be a little less boring.

All I was asking was whether or not these distinctions between "dynamic unconscious" and "repressed unconscious" were "real" (not in the physiological sense, clever clogs, but in the conceptual/figurative sense) or whether in reality there's no distinction to be made and the unconcious is more of a continuum - some things being more "deep" and some things less so, but no one thing being simply in one category or another.

This isn't "my field", and I don't really know what to think of it.
 

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I'm pretty sure that by "chamber" Janine was referring to some kind of physically discernable area or something more real than what she described; I was just using the word instead of "category" because I was trying to be a little less boring.
Then it was an unfortunate choice of words, because she specifically said it was NOT a "chamber".

All I was asking was whether or not these distinctions between "dynamic unconscious" and "repressed unconscious" were "real" (not in the physiological sense, clever clogs, but in the conceptual/figurative sense)
I think you have hit the nail on the head. I don't think she means any clear division. So I'm with you. I took the opening eight or so words of her post to be saying that this is the way students of psychoanalysis tend to look at it -- not that they say it is this way -- but, to use her word, it's their perspective.

I want you know that I labored long and hard to not sound like I was beating you about the head. :cry:
 
G

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I'd say that clearly the Unconscious form (process) of thinking is every bit as real as the conscious form of thinking. That's a given to me (but like anything, there are always folks who doubt - and the general "sell" of the concept of an Unconscious has never been easy - humans do not want to think they are making the majority of their choices/decisions without their awareness!)

The Unconscious is not a physical place - or brain locale - nor is conscious thought. What we're dealing with in ANY discussion of "thinking" is a process - or a system - an interconnection of one nerve impulse to another and HOW they link (each dependent on the individual's psychic Self...or central Ego, or whatever term makes sense to each of us).

Think of weather patterns that you see on a large TV weather screen - they show the floating areas of supposed "cloud formations" and then a change in color reflects barometric pressure and then another blip on the screen is supposed to show temperature and then another color moving across the screen depicts ?precipitation? etc. That?s probably very much how the activity of THOUGHT would appear if we could view it inside the mind. Thoughts or memories are not ?things? that exist somewhere inside our heads. They are codes for particular well-woven patterns and how those particular thoughts/memories LINK UP in our individual psyches to connect to other memories or information or emotions?.it?s constantly moving (like the weather screen) and constantly changing. There are repeated ?patterns? ? like with weather in a very rainy region will nearly always have SOME precipitation showing on the screen ? but it?s not that the thoughts/links are ?in there? as things, but they are well-worn patterns that are ?familiar? and hence, easy to link again and again?.they are part of our ?stable? of thoughts/emotions/memories that recur for us individually more often than someone else?s would.

Then the difference between Conscious and Unconscious is just a matter of the TYPE of energy that moves the patterns across the weather screen. And both are constantly running ? the Unconscious is always exerting its influence, 24/7. The conscious SOMEtimes shuts down (as in deep sleep, or under narcotics, etc.) and it can ?resume? function such as during a dream, if a loud noise in the room sort of wakes you but not entirely, you might incorporate a loud BANG into the dream content and not realize until you really woke up that you had combined conscious and unconscious energies there.

ANY theory on the unconscious beyond that above is subjective. Neurology has NO clue where in the brain, or in what form of activity, the sense of Conscious Awareness resides. NO clue. We even had a long discussion about this in a college neuro-science class I took last year ? the scientist teacher said research would not even know where or how to BEGIN to search for it. All they can ?detect? or observe at this point is mental activity related strictly to behavior/action. The ephemeral sense of ?me? or of awareness that I am doing something as opposed to watching someone else do it, that is as much a mystery to medical science today as it was in the cave man era.

MonkeyD asks then about the Regressive Unconscious versus the Dynamic Unconscious, etc?and yes, it?s going to depend on which theorist you ask. For me, the classic psychoanalytic student, I was just offering ONE take on it. And my description in my earlier post is ACCURATE only insofar as it is a good and reasonable description of THAT particular theory on the mind. Ask a Jungian and you?ll get another answer. As a behaviorist and you?ll get another. Ask a devout Christian, and you?ll definitely get another.

The core issue of the existence and nature of the Unconscious always pushes buttons because is raises the questions of motivations, hidden motivations, possible self-sabotage, responsibility, actions of moral choice versus actions of unconscious impulse and where can we draw the line for the person?s ACTIONS (clearly that must be done) and where perhaps we will NOT hold him/her responsible for thoughts or wishes (only for how they choose to act or not act on them)

Hopefully, I have confused everyone sufficiently and I will sign off now, lol
 
G

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Also, and you guys might enjoy this one....where I screwed up in my original post is that I capitalized the word "CHAMBER" - I was in fact, as Sojourn said, emphasizing that the Unconscious is NOT a chamber.

But I should have capitalized "NOT" instead of chamber.

Know why that produced so much confusion?

Because UNCONSCIOUSLY your mind "registered" the capital letters as being positively emphasized, not negatively. So it made the content of the sentence confusing without anyone realizing WHY on a conscious level.

:wink:
 

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Just a side note: Catholicism and psychoanalysis play quite well together (cf. William Meissner, M.D., S.J., Anna Maria Rizzuto, M.D., and others).
 

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One more side note, and this quite personal, I have experienced in my own therapy the emergence of something (from my dreams) that proves to me that Freud, while not God, got many things right.

Even when I told my therapist of my rather graphic dream, I would still say to her then, and still say today, "No, I really don't want one." Consciously, I do not want one, but my dream said quite otherwise. I don't understand, but evidently something really odd happens to little girl children that they carry around with them in their unconscious.

I hope I haven't embarrassed anyone here. 8) If so, just put on your sunglasses like I did.
 

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I think I mentioned this before somewhere, but I remember seeing an article, I can't remember much about it, other than that it was a major newsmagazine, that had something about "new evidence showing that freud may have been onto something." It was some sort of brain scan thing...wow, the details i'm remembering are quite amazing, aren't they :lol: Anyway, if anyone else saw this, I'd be interested to actually read the article.
 

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Ok, I think it was either Time, Newsweek or US News and World Report...it was within the last six months, I believe, and it was the cover story. Im thinking it was Time magazine.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
First of all its good to see you posting again Janine - I thought you were going to be away for a much longer period of time.
Nice to see you back.

You guys have made the unconscious much more palatable with your metaphors and descriptions. That sceptics site sometimes makes me question too many things. I was worried that all the Freudian stuff was discredited meaning that all the posts on this board about this subject were pointless. It makes more sense now, well, relatively speaking :eek:
 

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Hmmmm......... :? And hmmmm again.

I've always taken the existence of unconscious motivation as an empirical reality, but sometimes I'm not too sure. On occassion I think that it's just an excuse to rid ourselves of responsibility. Dunno though, who could hope to know for sure? I'm always wary of suscribing symbolic interpretations to what are seemingly unconscious impulses. Hmm.
 
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