Having briefly considered those key elements arising out og the concept of consciousness, the question now arises; what do we mean by the unconscious and how do we know anything about it at all if – as the question implies – it is unconscious. Maybe this is the place to introduce another readily available and easily recognized image to the imagination; in this instance, that of a ball or globe. Its size at this precise moment of time matters not, be it as small as a ball-bearing or as large as a beach ball. At the circumference – or outer edge – lies the conscious; a kind of surface, if you like, where you and I make meaningful contact with everything and everyone that has an existence within/without. Immediately below the circumference (or surface) dwells an area, which we have already referred to as the preconscious or subliminal; and below that, is the unconscious.
So let us now put all this to the test for a brief moment. If you ask me what day it is, or to write down my date of birth, or respond to a question about the colour of the garden gate, I can answer promptly and accurately. Why? Well it is because such familiar and continually reinforced knowledge is, when not on the surface, very near to it in the area that we have referred to as the preconscious. Here it is held by knowledge of and interest in the self, as well as by familiarity with the environment in which I have my being.
Now doubtless you will already have noticed a difficulty arising from the globe concept, as I have sought to deploy it here. Although a circle serves well enough to merely introduce such key constructs as the conscious, preconscious (or subliminal) and unconscious, its ability to clearly instance and illustrate another key concept relating to consciousness, namely that of “attention” or “focus”, is far less convincing, i.e. to which point of the circumference are we referring at any given time? Having thus at any rate introduced the conscious and unconscious in this way, it might now be more profitable to simply change the figure. So let’s try something else.
Here once again is our ‘old friend’ the pyramid, this time being deployed to represent the mind (in purely schematic form, of course). For the purposes of this illustration, the pyramid contains the dynamic content and outcome of each individual, accruing from his/her physical, emotional, social, aesthetic and spiritual growth and development. At its pinnacle, or apex, is conscious awareness, i.e. of ‘ourselves’ and of our world. Very apparently it has emerged from the fusion and distillation in an ordered form, of our combined genetic heritage, awareness and experience of the world, i.e. our conscious awareness of moment-to-moment life.
In the light of what has gone before, i.e. in earlier postings, we can now appreciate how this development, through shaping and honing, has taken millions of years to achieve, in order to now successfully respond to and handle the demands of each moment in time. If the telephone rings, what is witnessed and acknowledged at that focal point, i.e. at the conscious level, fills – for that moment or so – our span of attention. I is also an outcome of our ability to attenuate and interpret a certain sound (as well as other aspects of learning concerning the telephone) in a meaningful way, i.e. from previous experience drawn from the sub-conscious: and if, during the course of our telephone conversation, the fire alarm should sound, its higher status in the hierarchical ordering of the need to respond will readily adapt to meet such new demands of the moment afresh and so on.) Of course, it is clearly the case (as witnessed in the circle schema earlier) that certain aspects of unconscious content will lie nearer to the surface than others and will be held there, sometimes indefinitely, by virtue of interest and motivation. (C)SB.