the unconscious mind myth

There is no such thing as an unconscious or conscious mind (probably). This false dichotomy has caused confusion and errors for a long time.

The idea of a conscious and unconscious mind is simply a metaphor or model to help us understand how we think and behave, but people have started to act like it is actually true.

Physically our brain is split into “layers”, which roughly correspond to our physical and psychological evolution, we have (among others) a “reptilian” layer, a “mammalian” layer and a “human layer” (this is an overly simplistic explanation, so my apologies to any neurologists reading this!), so no unconscious/conscious split there.

What we “really” have is stuff (a technical NLP term) that is inside or outside of our conscious awareness and control. We have a limited scope of conscious awareness (it is often quoted that we can cope consciously with 7 plus or minus 2 pieces of information at any one time) and therefore a lot of stuff goes on around (and in us) that we are not currently consciously aware of and are therefore not consciously controlling. This does not mean they are PERMANENTLY outside of our conscious control and somehow locked in the unconscious part of our brain.

Lets taking breathing for example, it goes on whether we think about it or not, therefore it is often outside of our conscious awareness, but we CAN, if we want to take conscious control of it. So is breathing an unconscious or conscious action?

A simple experiment strongly suggests it is evidentially both. I would argue that everything we think and do can (with effort and practice) be consciously controlled if we want or need to and, in fact, the suggestion or belief that certain things are outside of our conscious control or awareness actually limits our ability to change, or fulfil our potential (and is an excellent bit of marketing for the snake oil salesmen out there who sell their services on the fact that only they can “communicate with the unconscious part of your brain” – but this a subject for a different post).

The best metaphor I have heard for the conscious/unconscious split is that our mind is like a huge dark attic with everything in there, our conscious awareness is like a torch beam that we can control to light up certain sections of that attic. They are not 2 separate “parts”.

Abandon the false dichotomy!


About Matt Caulfield