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Subconscious; Conscious what's the difference?

  1. Jul 14, 2004 #1
    This, like many of my threads in the past, is just to get a discussion going, and to see what other people think.

    What is the difference between a subconscious process of the mind and a conscious one? Is it degree? Is it qualitatively different? Are there any subconscious processes of the mind? Are there any conscious ones? What separates the two, and how clear is the dividing line?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 14, 2004 #2


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    Just a few practical ideas -- emotions are largely subconcious/unconscious, pain, hunger, teenagers acting out (cf. Freud's theory of errors), having the hair standup on the back of your neck, the problems of depression, mania and other mental problems; the issues and feelings of guilt (cf James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist), post traumatic syndrome (can be result in physical changes in the brain). There's a growing body of clinical research indicating that we may be goverened more by our unconscious than by our conscious mind. (I don't have my references close at hand, but there is a nice discussion of behavioural and neuro-economics in the Newsweek of a couple of weeks ago)

    The difference -- conciousness we think we know from, the unconcious "just happens", and we then are often puzzled. Boundaries? Slippery In the process of raising kids, you will see the whole spectrum of conscious to unconscious behavior.

    Reilly Atkinson
  4. Jul 14, 2004 #3
    The distinction is one of context, words only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context. In general, however, unconscious means unaware on a conscious level. Consciousness, of course, evidently refers to the ability to give things meaning, especially the concept of mortality.
  5. Jul 14, 2004 #4
    I don't understand why you can say that emotions are subconscious. We may not know what inspired them (all thought has to come from some subconscious root at some point in the causal chain), but we surely experience them, and experience is a conscious process. That's what the whole distinction is about. There are unconscious effect of conscious emotional states, though, such as the hair standing up on the back of the neck.

    Unconcscious actions in the brain include (for most people) regulation of certain muscles, the digestion system, and the production of chemicals.

    I think that there is a spectrum: differing levels of awareness.
  6. Jul 15, 2004 #5


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    Don't you get tired of typing this out in every single post? Can't you just become a premium member and use this as your signature?
  7. Jul 15, 2004 #6
    Interesting points. One question: who is this "we", to which you refer? Who is being governed by subconscious and conscious processes?
  8. Jul 15, 2004 #7
    Also interesting. Questions: What "causal chain"? Do subconscious processes build up to become a conscious experience? When are they decidedly "conscious"? Where is the end product? Where the final link on the chain?

    Would you consider the shooting of neurotransmitter across a synaptic space a conscious or unconscious action? How about a lot of such firings? How about a whole bunch of them that happen in response to an external stimulus (like a beam of light stimulating the optic nerve)? What about a whole bunch of them that both processes the incoming stimulus and causes the creature to react or remark?

  9. Jul 15, 2004 #8
    Opposite sides of the coin again, right? "Unconscious" means unaware on a conscious level, and thus something "conscious" is not aware at an "unconscious" level?

    To "give things meaning"? Do you mean the ability to see these letters as anything other than photonic emissions from your computer screen? To assign them meaning? What of the assigning of a color tag ("red" or "blue") to some of the words I use? If it occurs automatically (you don't first see a black and white version of what I wrote, and then decide to "shade it in" consciously...it just appears red or blue), does that make it an unconscious activity?
  10. Jul 16, 2004 #9
    I have an article that's similar:

  11. Jul 16, 2004 #10
    "To become" implies there is a certain level of intention, right? Is intention a subconscious property or conscious?

    You know, Mentat, in my opinion (I may be incorrect) I see subconsciousness and consciousness as essentially the same thing. Could it be that consciousness is a more receptive, more reactive "dendrite" (so to speak) whereas the level of subconsciousness help derive the properties that dictate the receptiveness of consciousness?

    Or decreased awareness? Example: I have just dislocated one of my pharageal joints. I am not aware of the day to day progressions of its healing process (I am aware of the methods my body uses, merely because I have read about it, but I would not be aware of the processes if I was in a time where our body's mechanisms were still unexplained) but somehow my body is aware to some degree and therefore fixing the problem. This is a role of the autonomic (sp?) nervous system. My point is, the subconscious mind is aware, but not as the conscious mind. I am trying not to make a distinction of the two....
  12. Jul 16, 2004 #11
    I could simply assign to a function key. That way I can insert it anywhere I want. Thanks for the idea. :wink:

    The idea that words/concepts only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context, is central to Functional Contextualism. The essential argument goes something like this:

    Let's say two people come from different countries. In one country, the color we know as red is called "red". In the other country, it is also called red, but everyone in this other country is colorblind and actually sees the color red as blue. When the two people from different countries meet, they never even notice that what each sees as "red" is different from the other. The utility of the word red remains intact, and the fact that they see the color differently makes no demonstrable difference in their interactions whatsoever.

    This basic view of words/concepts is not simply philosophical speculation, it has been proven valid not only rationally and psychologically, but also physiologically. By combining Pragmatism with Functional Contextualism, Radical Behaviorists created the first school of thought to successfully bridge the cognitive and behavioral sciences. In other words, they managed to connect the physiological sciences with that of the cognitive ones in the only manner ever proven by possible by modern science.

    This means we no longer have to rely on personal opinion and speculation concerning such questions as this particular thread asks. We now have a scientific method for proving what is the correct answer. I know, for some of you this sounds like it spoils all the fun of arguing over such things, but hey, that's life.
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