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Medical Nature of subconscious

  1. Dec 13, 2005 #1
    I do not know if this is a redundant topic, but I was wondering if our subconscious was our memories. People often talk about repitition driving an idea into their mind, i.e. their subconscious. Repitition is also how we learn, how we remember. Our subconscious minds basicly go over what we did and learnt in the past, noticing details we didn't, and making assumptions based on this. When we think on something for days, or weeks, sudden inspiration comes after you stopped actively thinking about it. What is happening is that when you let your subconscious take over it rapidly analyzes everything you know, far faster then your conscious mind could. When it finds the solution, it presents it to you, thus the inspiration.
    This would make it appear as if subconscious is nothing more then how the brain stores information, that is memory, and how it keeps track of and searches this information.
    I'm not much of a phycologist, but this seems logical to me. Any thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2005 #2
    Never let it be said I was unwilling to present my personal conjecture about something I know very little if anything about.

    Perhaps as perception is a largely automated process for gathering information the function of the subconscious is also a largely automated process with the task of mental housekeeping. The conscious mind working in concert with the subconscious specifies where we focus our perception of the ‘outside world’ and what we focus on in regards to our mental content. This enables reasoning in that by focusing our attention, we are then able to apply a large chunk of our mental resources to a specific task.

    I’ve often wondered if how we think on a conscious level in some way influences the actions or our subconscious mind as well when our conscious mind relinquishes control; similar to the way inertia takes over when an object is no longer influenced by an external cause.

    I imagine that the subconscious mind must play a large part in providing emotional output as well.

    That about the sum of my attempt to supply some momentum to this topic.
  4. Dec 16, 2005 #3

    few things I have been told regarding this:

    Freud had the idea of unconcious mind and believed it had great influence on our conscious thought. None of this can be scientifically tested because if you cannot access anyone's unconscious mind then you cannot accomplish anything.

    There is a breakdown of memory into implicit memory (procedural) and explicit memory (facts and events). An interesting note that is usually made on the topic is that someone with complete amnesia due to something like hippocampus destruction will retain the ability to, for example, ride a bike or play piano. They can even learn new procedures.

    I have heard people propose that implicit memory is the unconscious mind though I think people who believe in the unconscious mind have a different idea of it than that.
  5. Dec 16, 2005 #4


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    I don't know if it's appropriate to think of the subconscious purely as a kind of memory. As already noted in this thread, cognitive analysis of information can occur on a subconscious level, and that would imply that there's more going on there than just memory.

    Anecdotes like the "incubation period" where one will stop thinking about a topic, only to have a new idea spring to mind seemingly out of nowhere, imply that complex symbolic information (on the level of language, ideas, etc.) can be manipulated in the subconscious. It is also well established that much information processing on the level of perception and emotion is performed on a subconscious level.

    If you really look into it, it turns out that most of what the brain does is carried out on a subconscious level. For instance, as I type this sentence, I intend to convey some meaning to you. The intended meaning I want to get across is conscious, but what about more detailed things like word choice, sentence structure, and so on? These things just sort of "come to me" as I go along, much like the solution to a vexing problem might come to a mathemetician in his sleep, seemingly out of nowhere; most of the complex information processing involved here is being done on a subconscious level. Even when I pause to try to find the right word or the right sentence structure, what goes on? I stop, keep my intention in mind (consciously) and focus my attention on what it is I would like to get across; in so doing, solutions begin to "come to me" once again. These solutions to the problem seem to bubble up from nowhere; they've been produced largely by subconscious processing (though with guidance from conscious mechanisms in this case). Once possible solutions are presented to me in this way, I can consciously evaluate them and choose the one I think fits best, but much of the work in producing that solution space in the first place was done subconsciously.

    Likewise, when I proceed to typing out my message, what goes on? I am an accomplished typist by now, and so I need spend little to no conscious attention to the mechanical act of typing; once again, I merely have in mind the high level intention of what it is I want to type, and voila, my fingers spring to action. Now the act of typing is of course not a trivial one if one considers all the fine muscle movements that must be made and so on. It is a very information-processing intensive act, and most of this complex motor control goes on "automatically" or subconsciously.
  6. Dec 17, 2005 #5
    it also depends on how you define conscious,subconscious & memory?

    I'm guessing that your definitions of consciousness means active control or attenuation...or perhaps formulation into language. And anything else
    is encapsulation subconsious.

    I'm not really sure what you would define memory as. TO me memory is simply anything that can be stored in the brain including noise-like input patterns(such as real noise, in noisy visual patterns, and sensual noises like vibrations). Some people may define memory as anything that can be labelled as a single entity and a permutation of these entities...like words or visual scenes. OThers could define it as a sequence of events or continuity in time.

    If you choose to define memory as the first def'n, then i would think that
    the subsconcious is then just a "pseudorandom" permutation of your memory. However if you consider memory as a restricted domain of the input space than i don't know.

    as for learning, the repetitions starts out as conscious/active process but over time as the brain stores the sequence of patterns, the bond from stepA to stepB to stepC becomes more automatic(rewiring of the brain, cellgrowth/celldeath) that this becomes the realm of subconscious because you do not need to attenuate to your actions as actively as when you had to as a child.
  7. Dec 17, 2005 #6


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    I think you were directing this question to the OP, but as for what I had in mind-- for the purposes of this thread, what I had in mind is that anything that is accessible to "awareness," e.g. any content that could be the subject of introspective verbal report, is conscious (i.e. Ned Block's "access consciousness"). Any information stored or manipulated by the brain that is not represented in consciousness is subconscious. I think of memory simply as stored information.

    Could you clarify what you mean by this?

    Yes, fMRI has shown that when we first learn a task, essentially the whole brain is active in performing the task-- an indication that conscious effort is involved. Information is being 'broadcast' across wide regions of cortex, many specialist subsystems are being recruited, new neural structures are being formed, etc. Once the task has been learned well, brain activation associated with performing the task becomes very localized, which is more a signature of unconscious processing-- essentially a new specialist subsystem has been created that has taken over responsibility for executing the task, eliminating the need for widespread cognitive resources.
  8. Dec 17, 2005 #7
    There's a preconception about the terms "subconscious" coming from it's frequent pairing with the word "mind". The term "subconscious mind" indicates something where there is always alot subterranean "thinking", going on in some part of our brain that we have no direct access to. That's distinct from something like the activity of the autonomic system, which, although constantly at work outside of our conscious control and awareness, isn't doing something we would characterize as "thinking". Nor would accessing proceedural memories for the fine motor control it takes to hit a key when typing be called "thinking".

    I think the OP had the "sunconscious mind" type notion as an assumption: something that can work out problems, form it's own opinions and beliefs, and generally "think" just as the conscious mind does, except behind closed doors This is the classic "subconscious" that comes out of psychiatry, anyway, where people are said to be operating on subconscious beliefs and motivations, and so forth.

    I don't think this kind of subconscious probably actually exists.

    What Rayne said: "There is a breakdown of memory into implicit memory (procedural) and explicit memory (facts and events). An interesting note that is usually made on the topic is that someone with complete amnesia due to something like hippocampus destruction will retain the ability to, for example, ride a bike or play piano. They can even learn new procedures." is important. There seem to be two distinct kinds of memory. Facts and events are put into, and retrieved from, memory by the action of the hippocampi. Procedural memory is put in place by some other unknown mechanism, but requires, at least, some repetition and practise. You can teach a person with bilateral hippocampal destruction new procedures, and they will remember them. What they will not remember is the facts and events of having learned those procedures. You can teach them to ride a bike on Wednesday. On Thursday, you can ask them to ride a bike for you, and they'll be able to do it. If you ask them when and how they learned to ride a bike, they will honestly admit they have no idea.

    So, the distinction between those two kinds of memory is important to bear in mind when you're wondering about memory and what might be called "subconscious". The act of typing is probably a constant back and forth between subtle conscious decisions and automatic following of bits of procedure from procedural memory. The important processing is probably all conscious, but scattered in bits and pieces as little, subtle decisions that are made as needed about what procedures to call up. The better the typist, the fewer decisions you have to consciously make because you're better able to call up the procedures for whole words, and maybe even phrases.

    As for laying a problem aside only to find you seem to have arrived at the solution "subconsciously" some time later, my assessment of this is not that there has been some "thinking" going on beneath the level of conscious thought, but that you have cleared extraneous, irrelevant, and perhaps contradictory information from your conscious mind in the meantime, stuff that was interfering with thinking clearly about the problem in the first place. It's probably roughly analagous to having to shut your computer off to clear out your RAM when you've got it so overloaded everything starts going in slow motion. Once you've cleared the conscious thoughts that were interfering with finding the solution, the solution can suddenly be clear the next time you think about the subject.
  9. Dec 17, 2005 #8
    what is OP? original poster?

    zooby: i read that procedural learning occurs in the motor tracts Cerebellum/Subs. nigra and the regions of the thalamus, dlPFC.

    hypnagoe: if indeed memory is just collecting all input (meaningful:procedural/events; & meaningless/noise) and storing them.
    not just events or procedural learning. THen to me it would seem as if memory would be the "UNiversal Vector space" or domain of anything that is stored in the brain. And as the brain processes itself in network fashion all of what goes through the network was originally stored regardless of info type(i'm probably wrong, explain later)...thus what ever happens in the subconscious pulls all its info from memory "pseudorandomly"(I do not believe in pure randomness). That is to say an observer who takes a time- slice of the entire brain cannot determine the activity of all the neurons and thus calls it random or perhaps chaotic, whatever lies fundamentally is deterministic. To my knowledge no Neuro-imaging technique can resolve at the neuron scale but rather only at regional scales. Then again my knowledge of that stuff is 3 years old.

    But yeah i'm probably wrong, because the brain never stops collecting info...and so a portion of what happens subconsciously may be polled from the input space/environment(i read that a neuron fires at "ms" scale.) or even the conscious portion that is recycled.
  10. Dec 17, 2005 #9
    Opening Post, Original Post, Original Poster, depending on the context.
    OK. If they've narrowed it down that much, then the material where I found out about this was out of date. (It was primarily the story of a guy who'd had both hippocampi removed. Seizure surgury, I think. It was the first time I'd run into the concept of procedural and fact/event memories as two different kinds.)
  11. Dec 17, 2005 #10
    sub-conscious is that which affects conscious action and cognition and perception, and has not been made consious to the subject of consciousness; or it has not yet been made conscious to the conscious entity, though it forms conscious perception, cognition and action.

  12. Dec 17, 2005 #11
    I think this is a reasonably good characterization of the notion of the "sub-conscious" that you find floating around everywhere, yes.

    As Rayne pointed out, though:

    It can't be proven or disproven and is really just a kind of postulate.
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