The Unconscious Mind

The Unconscious Mind

Wisdom Below the Surface

  • Overview
  • Instructor
  • Episodes
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4 h 3 min
31 Episodes

Many believe that following Socrates’ famous command to “know thyself” requires exploring the unconscious. Join us as we study dreams, mental illnesses, poems, paintings, and more, to find wisdom below the surface of our consciousness. Applying what you learn to your own life can have dramatic results: you'll be able to make decisions more quickly and achieve your goals rather than getting in your own way- and you may discover anxieties, aspirations, and even hidden forms of bias that you were not aware of.

What You'll Learn

  • The ways in which our unconscious minds influence our experiences and decisions.

  • How we can access our unconscious to understand and improve ourselves.

  • What the current science and theory say (not "says") about the unconscious mind

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  • Mitch Green
    Mitch Green
    Philosophy Professor and Top 100 MOOC Instructor
31 Episodes

Why unlocking your unconscious mind is important for understanding not just yourself, but also those around you. The process might reveal some uncomfortable truths, but let’s not shy away from them.

Knowledge can take different forms, and we discuss some of the most important of them. Wisdom requires more than knowledge, and we consider why. How unlocking your unconscious is a crucial step on the path to wisdom.

The mind is made up of four main types of states: cognitive, affective, conative, and experiential. Affective states include both emotions and moods, which will both be important in our later discussions.

The unconscious is normally divided into the preconscious and the subconscious. We examine the difference between these two, while also stressing that just because something is non-conscious, that doesn’t mean that it’s unconscious.

In the Age of Enlightenment, the prevailing viewpoint held that everything in our minds is fully accessible. The young Leibniz suggested, with his notion of minute perceptions, that the picture might be more complicated.

By the early nineteenth century, poets, painters, and philosophers were building on Leibniz’s idea, suggesting a source of power, creativity and insight outside the conscious mind. Drugs and dreams were important tools for accessing that hidden source.

Other thinkers were helping to lay out the boundaries of a new field known as psychology. In the process they found evidence for unconscious activities (such as recollection and language comprehension) that help us to manage our daily affairs.

Nineteenth century doctors were perplexed by patients with a bizarre set of symptoms, then known as hysteria, with no discernible physical causes. With the help of hypnosis, some innovative doctors were able to dredge up traumatic memories from the unconscious mind and reduce their patients’ suffering.

Sigmund Freud’s strikingly original view of the unconscious mind is introduced through his concept of parapraxes, which includes but is not limited to slips of the tongue. We relate it to established practice in the methodology of science.

Freud provides a theory of human nature, which if correct would explain why social institutions are needed to keep our primal impulses in check. The unconscious is a repository for such impulses, although they sometimes sneak out.

For Freud, the primary function of dreams is to prevent our sleep from being interrupted, particularly by unconscious desires seeking fulfillment. Dreams do this by providing virtual satisfaction of those desires. But what we experience in our dreams often disguises those desires.

Many of Freud’s claims about the unconscious mind are difficult to test according to modern standards of evidence. Contrary to the way some defenders of psychoanalysis speak, one may challenge those claims without proving them true. Ad hominem attacks on those who challenge psychoanalytic dogma rest on a fallacy.

After an early collaboration with Freud, Carl Jung forges his own path to develop a distinctive view of the human unconscious. Among his central concepts are those of the archetype and the collective unconscious.

Suggesting that the self can become fractionated, Jung also develops the idea of a complex as a cluster of elements of a self distinct from the rest. The Jonah, martyr, and inferiority complex are well-known examples.

Another form of fractionation is between the self and the shadow. Jung holds that in the process of individuation, a person can work to unify these two parts into a coherent self.

Jung advocates close scrutiny of dreams, but argues that we could at best develop imperfect rules of thumb in interpreting symbols. Current theories of dreams’ function and meaning are also discussed, including dreams’ role in memory consolidation, problem solving, and coping with trauma.

Freud’s daughter Anna was a major psychanalyst in her own right, and pioneered new approaches to study of the unconscious mind of children. She also developed the theory of defense mechanisms, isolating phenomena that are widely discussed today.

Overlapping with Anna Freud’s career, Melanie Klein was highly influential in the U.K., developing play therapy as a window into the child’s unconscious mind, and a view of the process of maturation as learning to reconcile seemingly contradictory elements in others.

Current research on the unconscious carries on where Hamilton and Carpenter left off, and emphasizes the role of the unconscious in outsourcing mental processes to aid in efficient negotiating of our environment.

The adaptive unconscious is focused on the here and now, is divided into modules, works well as a pattern-detector, is precocious, and is rigid as compared with how intelligence is executed by our conscious minds.

The behavior of the adaptive unconscious is illustrated by findings establishing unconscious learning, unconscious emotional experiences, and the unconscious elicitation of goals.

Most people think a major windfall such as winning a lottery would make them much happier, and for a long period. But our psychological immune system tends to return us to our affective baseline more quickly than we would expect.

An aspect of the adaptive unconscious with implications for contemporary events is implicit bias. Find out if you have such a bias and what can be done about if you do.

Our emotions aren’t entirely inside of our heads (or hearts) but instead are spread out on the objects we perceive, recollect or imagine. This can occur without our consciously registering it.

Recent findings in neuroscience suggest that our actions can be produced by unconscious events that occur before we make conscious decisions. What does this show about our alleged freedom of will?

About 25% of our waking life is engaged in inner speech, which is experienced consciously but can leave hints to unconscious phenomena. What would you learn if you could see a transcript of your inner speech episodes from a full day?

Now we take stock of what we’ve learned in this course in order start to make some positive changes in our lives. Learning from our dreams, and addressing our defense mechanisms, complexes, and biases are just a few actionable policies that we might pursue.

We “get in our own way” when we allow unconscious motives to distort our information about ourselves and the world. Wishful thinking, cherry-picking evidence, and rationalizing our behavior after the fact are just a few of the many ways in which this occurs.

Contrary to the stereotype of what’s involved in achieving self-knowledge, one effective way of discovering your unconscious mind is to by gazing outward—either by learning to notice how things are somatically marked for you, or by practicing a “self-distanced” approach to oneself.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Properly interpreted, this is sound advice, and we hope the self-examination that this course has equipped you for will enable you to live more wisely, and thus more happily.

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