What is consciousness?
The Mind can be thought of as being like an iceberg.
The small part sticking out of the water is your conscious mind. The larger part of the iceberg, that below the surface, has been called your sub-conscious, pre-conscious or unconscious mind.
These concepts are possible best considered as useful constructs for considering what’s going on in the mind which itself is best considered as the sum total of processes going on in your brain.
Consciousness is about awareness.
In terms of the phrase ‘conscious mind’, we are possibly talking about all those perceptions, thoughts, actions/reactions that are being paid attention to by the mind. Conscious attention is limited to between 5 and 9 ‘chunks’ of information.
It is suggested that what is not being given our conscious attention is still being processed in our subconscious or unconscious mind.
A metaphor I use to think about this is that there is a part of our brain/mind processing that filters perceptions and makes ‘choices’ about what ‘it’ decides we need to be aware of on a moment to moment basis. The ‘filters’ will be affected by our emotional state; our memories; our beliefs; our values and our environment.
This then is, in my current thinking, means the unconscious contains the things we are not directly or immediately aware of.
Perhaps then, the subconscious is everything that happens below the level of consciousness BUT, in terms of psychoanalytic theory, houses all of those repressed, denied, hidden aspects of our experience that actually inspire/drive our processing and hence behaviours.
Freud and Jung were two key names in the development of the ideas of the unconscious/subconscious mind. There are current researchers who are less comfortable with some of these early 20th Century ideas. Concepts of The Modular Mind are gaining more and more traction in areas of psychology and neuroscience.
So, the question revolves around the definition of consciousness.
If we assume that we are talking about awareness of self or the idea that we are aware of what we are giving our attention to then - we are in consciousness.
However, if you subscribe to the notion of an ‘unconscious’ (perhaps sub-conscious mind) then it could be argued that we are only aware of what our unconscious/subconscious mind lets seep into our consciousness.
Our perceptions of the outside world (and to the same degree our internal world) are filtered through a kind of pre-conscious, unconscious (subconscious) system which could be thought of as containing our emotions, beliefs, memories, values, attitudes, needs, drives, motivations.
This ‘filtering’ system allows those things which are currently deemed as being important to us to seep into consciousness.
When we are hungry we pay attention to how and where food might be found…
Douglas Kendrick defines seven modules or systems that often overlap each other.
This means we can react quickly to threats, real or imagined.
From a strictly evolutionary perspective, a mate is needed to procreate and pass genes to the next generation. Whether we like it or not some of our behaviours are driven by these basic needs.
If we are going to produce offspring then they do need taking care of. This behavioural module drives the behaviours which encourage cooperation and defence of mates
Behaviours that are driven by social needs for survival.
Behaviours that protect, bind and nurture
Behaviours that maintain or develop or status or standing within a community
Essential to survive and reproduce.
No module is ‘in charge’ or fixed.
In his hypothesis, we shift from module to module very easily, and unconsciously. Thus our state of mind can change often without us knowing it is happening, the unconscious mind/self makes the change and our behavioural responses follow.
In this model, our consciousness is about whatever ‘module’ is currently in use and which has been made prominent by unconscious responses to environmental stimuli.
It may be obvious, but this model takes an evolutionary perspective and as such is not based on any neurological structure that can be found in the brain.
Consciousness remains a hot topic of debate in the worlds of cognitive neuroscience, psychology and philosophy.
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