How Does Unconscious Differ From Consciousness Essay

How Does Unconscious Differ From Consciousness? Essay, Research Paper


How Does Unconscious Differ From Consciousness ?

Consciousness and unconscious are two psychological terms that are commonly used in this field of study. Their importances mainly appear when psychologists deal with their patients because they will surely think about these two terms. To understand these two terms we must know their definitions. This step can enable us to recognize the difference between them.

Consciousness is a psychological condition defined by the English philosopher John Locke as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.” While unconscious in psychology is the aspect of mental life that is separated from immediate consciousness and is not subject to recall at will.

The history of consciousness is interesting because it was recently known just in the early 19th century the concept was variously considered. Some philosophers regarded it as a kind of substance, or “mental stuff,” quite different from the material substance of the physical world. Others thought of it as an attribute characterized by sensation and voluntary movement, which separated animals and men from lower forms of life and also described the difference between the normal waking state of animals and men and their condition when asleep, in a coma, or under anesthesia, the latter condition was described as unconsciousness. Other descriptions included an analysis of consciousness as a form of relationship or act of the mind toward objects in nature, and a view that consciousness was a continuous field or stream of essentially mental “sense data,” roughly similar to the “ideas” of earlier empirical philosophers.

The method employed by most early writers in observing consciousness was introspection looking within one’s own mind to discover the laws of its operation. The limitations of the method became apparent when it was found that because of differing preconceptions, trained observers in the laboratory often could not agree on fundamental observations.

The failure of introspection to reveal consistent laws led to the rejection of all mental states as proper subjects of scientific study. In behaviorist psychology, derived primarily from work of the American psychologist John B. Watson in the early 1900s, the concept of consciousness was irrelevant to the objective investigation of human behavior and was doctrinally ignored in research. Neobehaviourists, however, adopted a more liberal posture toward mentalistic states such as consciousness.

Neurophysiological mechanisms that consciousness depends on the function of the brain has been known from ancient times. Although detailed understanding of the neural mechanisms of consciousness has not been achieved, correlations between states of consciousness and functions of the brain are possible. Levels of consciousness in terms of levels of alertness or responsiveness are correlated with patterns of electrical activity of the brain waves recorded by an electroencephalograph. During wide-awake consciousness the pattern of brain waves consists of rapid irregular waves of low amplitude or voltage. In contrast, during sleep, when consciousness can be said to be minimal, the brain waves are much slower and of greater amplitude, often coming in periodic bursts of slow waxing and waning amplitude.

Both behavioral levels of consciousness and the correlated patterns of electrical activity are related to the function of a part of the brainstem called the reticular formation. Electrical stimulation of the ascending reticular systems arouses a sleeping cat to alert consciousness and simultaneously activates its brain waves to the waking pattern. It was once supposed that the neurophysiological mechanisms subserving consciousness and the higher mental processes must reside in the cortex. It is more likely, however, that the cortex serves the more specialized functions of integrating patterns of sensory experience and organizing motor patterns and that the ascending reticular system represents the neural structures most critically related to consciousness. The brainstem reticular formation should not, however, be called the seat of consciousness. It represents an integrative focus, functioning through its widespread interconnections with the cortex and other regions of the brain.

Unconscious also called Subconscious, the complex of mental activities within an individual that proceed without his awareness. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, stated that such unconscious processes may affect a person’s behavior even though he cannot report on them. Freud and his followers felt that dreams and slips of the tongue were really concealed examples of unconscious content too threatening to be confronted directly.

Some theorists denied the role of unconscious processes, defining psychology as the study of conscious states. Yet, the existence of unconscious mental activities seems well established and continues to be an important concept in modern psychiatry.

Freud distinguished among different levels of consciousness. Activities within the immediate field of awareness he termed conscious; e.g., reading this article is a conscious activity. The retention of data easily brought to awareness is a preconscious activity; for example, one may not be thinking of his address but readily recalls it when asked. Data that cannot be recalled with effort at a specific time but that later may be remembered are retained on an unconscious level. For example, under ordinary conditions a person may be unconscious of ever having been locked in a closet as a child; yet under hypnosis he may recall the experience vividly. Because one’s experiences cannot be observed directly by another efforts to study these levels of awareness objectively are based on inference; i.e., at most, the investigator can say only that another individual behaves as if he were unconscious or as if he were conscious.

Efforts to interpret the origin and significance of unconscious activities lean heavily on psychoanalytic theory developed by Freud and his followers. For example, the origin of many neurotic symptoms is held to depend on conflicts that have been removed from consciousness through a process called repression. As knowledge of psychophysiological function grows, many psychoanalytic ideas are seen to be related to activities of the central nervous system. That the physiological foundation of memory may rest in chemical changes occurring within brain cells has been inferred from clinical observations that: (1) direct stimulation of the surface of the brain (the cortex) while the patient is conscious on the operating table during surgery has the effect of bringing long-forgotten (unconscious) experiences back to awareness; (2) removal of specific parts of the brain seems to abolish the retention of specific experiences in memory; (3) the general probability of bringing unconscious or preconscious data to awareness is enhanced by direct electrical stimulation of a portion of the brain structure called the reticular formation, or the reticular activating system. Also, according to what is called brain blood-shift theory, the transition from unconscious to conscious activities is mediated by localized changes in the blood supply to different parts of the brain. These biopsychological explorations have shed new light on the validity of psychoanalytic ideas about the unconscious.

To be more able to understand unconscious we can take a look to what is psychoanalysis theory. It is a highly influential method of treating mental disorders, shaped by psychoanalytic theory, which emphasizes unconscious mental processes and is sometimes described as “depth psychology.” The psychoanalytic movement originated in the clinical observations and formulations of the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who coined the term. During the 1890s, Freud was associated with another Viennese, Josef Breuer, in studies of neurotic patients under hypnosis. Freud and Breuer observed that, when the sources of patients’ ideas and impulses were brought into consciousness during the hypnotic state, the patients showed improvement.

Observing that most of his patients talked freely without being under hypnosis, Freud evolved the technique of free association of ideas. The patient was encouraged to say anything that came to mind, without regard to its assumed relevancy or propriety. Noting that patients sometimes had difficulty in making free associations, Freud concluded that certain painful experiences were repressed, or held back from conscious awareness. Freud noted that in the majority of the patients seen during his early practice the events most frequently repressed were concerned with disturbing sexual experiences. Thus he hypothesized that anxiety was a consequence of the repressed energy attached to sexuality; the repressed energy found expression in various symptoms that served as psychological defense mechanisms. Freud and his followers later extended the concept of anxiety to include feelings of fear, guilt, and shame consequent to fantasies of aggression and hostility and to fear of loneliness caused by separation from a person on whom the sufferer is dependent.

Freud’s free-association technique provided him with a tool for studying the meanings of dreams, slips of the tongue, forgetfulness, and other mistakes and errors in everyday life. From these investigations he was led to a new conception of the structure of personality: the id, ego, and superego. The id is the unconscious reservoir of drives and impulses derived from the genetic background and concerned with the preservation and propagation of life. The ego, according to Freud, operates in conscious and preconscious levels of awareness. It is the portion of the personality concerned with the tasks of reality: perception, cognition, and executive actions. In the superego lie the individual’s environmentally derived ideals and values and the mores of his family and society; the superego serves as a censor on the ego functions.

In the Freudian framework, conflicts among the three structures of the personality are repressed and lead to the arousal of anxiety. The person is protected from experiencing anxiety directly by the development of defense mechanisms, which are learned through family and cultural influences. These mechanisms become pathological when they inhibit pursuit of the satisfactions of living in a society. The existences of these patterns of adaptation or mechanisms of defense are quantitatively but not qualitatively different in the psychotic and neurotic states.

Freud held that the patient’s emotional attachment to the analyst represented transference of the patient’s relationship to parents or important parental figures. Freud held that those strong feelings, unconsciously projected to the analyst, influenced the patient’s capacity to make free associations. By objectively treating these responses and the resistances they evoked and by bringing the patient to analyze the origin of those feelings, Freud concluded that the analysis of the transference and the patient’s resistance to its analysis were the keystones of psychoanalytic therapy.

Early schisms over such issues as the basic role that Freud ascribed to biological instinctual processes caused onetime associates Carl Jung, Otto Rank, and Alfred Adler to establish their own psychological theories. Most later controversies, however, were over details of Freudian theory or technique and did not lead to a complete departure from the parent system. Other influential theorists have included Erik Erikson, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan. At one time psychiatrists held a monopoly on psychoanalytic practice, but soon nonmedical therapists also were admitted.

Later developments included work on the technique and theory of psychoanalysis of children. Freud’s tripartite division of the mind into id, ego, and superego became progressively more elaborate, and problems of anxiety and female sexuality received increasing attention. Psychoanalysis also found many extraclinical applications in other areas of social thought, particularly anthropology and sociology, and in literature and the arts.

Therefore, consciousness and unconscious are extremely different and here is an example which can explain this difference: the nature of language as a system of signs is such that each sign already bears the traces of all the other signs within it. This is the feature of language, which allows for the possibility of puns and other forms of understanding and misunderstanding. Applied to kinship relations, it is the feature, which allows for confusion and proliferation of roles. Consciousness makes use of conventional signs which are associated with fixed meanings this is why we are able to understand one another, but the unconscious can, through language, “signify something quite other than what it says.” It can be “play as it likes on the sonic materiality of the symbols of language without regard for their real meaning, and can use them to express a quite unconscious meaning’.” Thus, the unconscious can use the natural faults and fissures in language as channels of desire a desire, which, if Freud is right, ultimately must be the anarchical wish for the destruction of civilization.


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