Martin Messier

July 13, 2023

Do You REALLY Know What Conscious-Unconscious Means?

"Conscious" and "unconscious" are two of those terms that we often use without really grasping them completely.

In my opinion, we need AT LEAST five distinctions to make sense of
this conscious-unconscious diad... Let's peel those off to see if my
observations tie in with yours.

Often times, people use the terms "conscious-unconscious" to mean "aware-unaware". 

Here's an example of the phenomenon: you're aware of some processes, like tying your shoes, and unaware of others, like beating your heart.

This distinction also applies to the big existential questions. Today, we're aware that the Earth revolves around the sun but before we were unaware of that.

"Conscious-unconscious" is also used sometimes to mean "foreground-background". 

Think of the various windows you might have open on your computer screen. Your internet browser window is currently in the foreground, while Excel, Word, PowerPoint or any other window might be in the background.

This distinction simply means that some processes are accessible to us, but aren't attended to right now, so they stay in the background. This is obvious when I shift your attention from the computer screen to the weight of your left foot.

See what happened there? We brought something that was in the background to the foreground.

"Conscious-unconscious", in some contexts, also means "programmer-executer."

We talk a lot about this particular distinction in NLP when we say that the unconscious mind has more power than the conscious mind. Our conscious mind gives the instructions, and our unconscious executes them in the background as a stored procedure.

Think of all the programs on your computer that are running in the background. All those programs were installed at some point and designed to be executed "unconsciously".

"Conscious-unconscious" also touches on the notion "masculine-feminine".

The analogy here is that of the seed and the earth. The conscious suggests and the unconscious makes that grow and expand.

While this is similar to the third distinction, it's not quite the same. Programmer-executer has more to do with actions while masculine-feminine has more to do with ideas. A great example of this are hypnotic metaphors.

This means that we control certain aspects of our experience and not others. I think this one is clear enough.

These are just five dimensions that I notice when talking about the conscious-unconscious diad. There might be more. But there are at least these four.

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