When I attempt to, let us say, play the piano/trumpet or whatever, knowledge derived initially when a child – say, about the key of D major or concerning chromatic scales etc. – is as available to me today as ever it was in those far off days. Why? Because of interest, motivation and continued practice and deployment. On the other hand, I may well be unsuccessful in my attempt – unless there is some compelling reason underpinning such recall – to remember, say, my tenth birthday, which also took place during that same spell of learning and possibly held much greater significance for me at the time in question. (Just one danger of this kind of analogy is, of course, that it may tend to portray the unconscious as a kind of “sludge pool” where what is not in use or of interest, simply sinks to the bottom and that, we have good reason to know, could not be further from the truth).
Reference to both the unconscious and conscious minds were, of course, well known to philosophers and early-day psychologists of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as also was the phenomenon of the hypnotic trance. It was the celebrated Austrian psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud (1859-1939) in his investigations into the nature of dreams that first opened up a ‘road to the unconscious, although it is also true to state that for some considerable time to follow, doctors and other scientists were all too inclined to bracket Freud and his theories (together with those of spiritualists, hypnotist’s and other – what were commonly referred to as – “quacks” and “charlatans”). Indeed, right up to and beyond the first decade of the 20th century, any talk of an unconscious mind was treated with great suspicion and even downright scepticism.
It is interesting to just very briefly consider Freud’s view of how the unconscious was formed, since it does in fact represent the first serious and coherent attempt to explain unconscious mental activity. Freud’s belief was that conscious activity which proved unacceptable and was the cause of conflict, became repressed· and thus laid the contents of the unconscious mind. Hence, since the conscious is composed of repressed material, it is all clearly of the same quality. However, now being unconscious it is only indirectly accessible, e.g. via dreams or “complexes”·· of which it also revealed their significance and meaning.
Since Freud’s time, it has become increasingly important to view and to regard the unconscious as part of our total nature and not as some subtle or obscure manifestation of the abnormal which is minimally present or even absent altogether in normal people. The unconscious is therefore to be perceived as a natural phenomenon containing myriad aspects of human nature, e.g. the good and the bad; the wise and the foolish; the rich and the poor; the helpful and the harmful; the attractive and desirable as well as the ugly and undesirable. Indeed, it is now commonly held that the brain constantly processes information, much of which we are only partially aware or even wholly unaware. This may be held in store until, for whatever reason or purpose, we need and are able to call it up to the comparatively narrow focus of consciousness. Of course, it is possible, indeed, likely that people do have beliefs and desires which, without some process of skilled assistance (and may be not even then) they are able to bring in to consciousness. Indeed, we saw in ‘graphic’ manner in earlier blog postings dealing with anxiety and depression, how panic reactions and phobias may be occasioned in this manner.
The subject of the conscious and unconscious is of course a highly specialised one, which lies well outside this current remit. I have briefly raised it here since in reality, it is what mind is all about. In blogs now about to be written and posted concerning the “self”, I shall attempt to bring all of these aspects and facets in the makeup of mind, i.e. letters 16 – 23, into focus and perspective.
- Repression may be described as an active attempt to exclude from conscious awareness, for instance, an unwelcome thought. It is an unnoticed response to a conscious situation. It is important to note however, that the conflict hasn’t just vanished. Rather does it remained active below consciousness. According to Freud, it may surprise us by causing unexplained and unwanted symptoms.
- · .The Concise Oxford Dictionary refers to complex as “A related group of repressed feelings or thoughts, which cause abnormal behaviour or mental states”. However, a more appropriate definition is provided by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as follows; “Jung’s term for a group of ideas associated with a particular subject”.
- Note. Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss physician and psychoanalyst (1875-1961).