Sigmund Freud’s work shattered the 19th Century idea of self. It threw into doubt everything we knew about our motives. Today we scoff at some of his ‘way out there’ ideas, particularly those that arose from his later career.
As we venture further down the rabbit hole, the ideas become stranger still. Freud didn’t do his original theories any favours as he attempted to sew the pieces together to purport a neat, unifying view of our psyche. His theories are criticized for being too elegant and an over-explanation. Nevertheless, no social perspective has influenced us as greatly as his – the insights into our deeper selves permeate our society today.
Leonard Mlodinow (2012) paints a modern view of the role of the unconscious mind:
“The unconscious envisioned by Freud was, in the words of a group of neuroscientists, hot and wet; it seethed with lust and anger; it was hallucinatory, primitive and irrational, while the new unconscious is kinder and gentler than that and more reality bound. The new view, mental processes are thought to be unconscious because there are portions of the mind that are inaccessible to the conscious due to the architecture of the brain, rather than because they have been subject to motivations forces like repression.” (p 17)
In short, our unconscious is really a normal part of ourselves. The primal instincts remain but are not sitting in the driver’s seat – pedal to the metal. It is far more realistic to understand our unconscious as a second highway within the architecture of the brain, one which helps us to function. But in order to free up the brain to do the job we need it to do, these additional neurological pathways need to remain out of our awareness and so deftly hidden.
Partially accessible to us through hypnosis or subliminal techniques, the unconscious is a safer place than previously thought, one which needn’t alarm us. The unconscious is the very same mechanism which controls breathing, sleep and all the other physiological functions which we cannot or need not concern ourselves with.
Just as our conscious decision making processes work normally and innocently (lawyers and politicians excluded of course), our unconscious also works skillfully, directing motivation and assisting with coping, adaptation, fight, flight and (something akin to) goal orientation. It is the flexibility and unrivaled processing power of the always-on unconscious which makes for a quicker and wider highway for self-improvement.
It will take time for this brighter, more useful unconscious, to steal the spotlight from Freud. However, the modern view has been greatly accelerated by developments in MRI allow us to observe the unconscious mind in action, and demonstrate how stimuli like subliminal audio funnels through the unconscious. The architecture of our unconscious brain mean that we can absorb a lot more information and problem solve in ways which our conscious mind finds bizarre.
It is precisely for this reason that we remain absolutely awe-struck and fascinated at the potential when we tap into this part of us. The unconscious mind has propelled us forward in a myriad of ways – it is our wise guide and 24/7 servant who need not be held at arm’s length with a Freudian fear. It holds our deeper beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It seeks to nurture a positive view of ourselves, and in doing so crafts a kinder and gentler place to live.
We’re so lucky to have no other option but to live in the reality it constantly recreates.
Mlodinow, L. (2012). Subliminal – The Revolution of the New Unconscious and what it teaches us about ourselves. London: Penguin.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- Freud & Jung in “A Dangerous Method” (psychologytoday.com)
- Can you be unconsciously creative? (psychologytoday.com)
- Dreams Maybe Clues From Our Unconscious (dranilj1.wordpress.com)