The human mind

June 28, 2015

The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water - Sigmund Freud

Prior to modern psychology, scientists and philosophers have argued and debated over how the human mind functions. On one side, numerous psychologists have differed in their perspective as to how and what consciousness is. Whereas on the other side, you have scientists who deny the topic of consciousness and prefer to be known as behavioural scientists.

Sigmund Freud (founder of psychoanalysis) believed that personality and behaviour arise from the constant and unique interaction of conflicting psychological forces that operate at three different levels of consciousness: The conscious mind, the sub or preconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. One now might wonder and ask, what exactly are these three levels of consciousness?

Conscious mind
The conscious mind consists of everything inside of our awareness. This is the state of awareness of an external object or something within oneself. The conscious mind includes such things as sensations, perceptions, memories, feelings and fantasies inside of our current awareness. You are aware of something on the outside as well as some specific mental functions happening on the inside. For example, you are aware of your environment, your breathing or the chair that you are sitting on.

Subconscious/preconscious mind
The subconscious or the preconscious mind consists of accessible information. You can become aware of this information once you direct your attention to it. Think of this as “memory recall”. You walk down the street to your house without consciously needing to be alert to your surroundings. You can talk on the cellphone and still arrive home safely. You can easily bring to consciousness the subconscious information about the path to your home. You can also easily remember phone numbers that you frequently use. It is possible that some of what might be perceived to be unconscious becomes subconscious, and then conscious (e g a long-forgotten childhood memory suddenly emerges after decades). We can assume that some unconscious memories need a strong, specific trigger to bring them back to consciousness; whereas, a subconscious memory can be brought to consciousness more easily. The subconscious mind can also be referred to as your ‘autopilot’.

Unconscious mind
The unconscious mind consists of the primitive, instinctual wishes as well as the information that we cannot access. Although our behaviours might indicate the unconscious forces that drive them, we don’t have easy access to the information stored in the unconscious mind. During our childhood, we acquire countless memories and experiences that form who we are today. However, we cannot recall most of those memories. They are unconscious forces (beliefs, patterns, subjective maps of reality) that drive our behaviours. In summary, as stated by Freud that the structure of the human mind can be best explained like an iceberg. The conscious mind is visible and is aware of the environmental events, whereas what is beneath (subconscious and unconscious) are much larger in their capacities. Is it not astonishing how our minds are structured and organised in such a systematic and complex way?