The mind of man is a dark and murky place. Its mysteries have been ever advancing for over ten million years of evolution; with one more complex layer piled on the top of a more primitive one, from the most basic and animalistic to the most human and altruistic, as humanity struggled to overcome its animal nature shaped by the wilderness of our origins to the exalted pinnacles of civilization where we aspire to be.
In the immutable ways of evolution, through the long march of time over the endless eons, none of the old mechanisms of the mind have ever been replaced; with the more primitive layers being suppressed by evolution and supplanted by the more modern machinery of thinking.
The bottom line, we cannot fight our human nature; we can only learn to live with it, to follow it dictates and guidelines in bending it to follow our will.
A strategy for problem solving that is not consistent with our nature is destined to be ineffective as a tool in meeting its ultimate goals.
In the quest to understand ourselves, just how do our minds work: the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious? And what is the difference between them?
The concept of three levels of mind has been around for some time now. Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian psychologist was probably the first to study the dichotomy of mind and popularized that study into mainstream society as we know it today.
Freud has bequeathed to us a useful model of the mind, which he separated into three tiers or sections – the conscious mind or ego, the preconscious, and the unconscious mind.
One way to illustrate the concept of the three minds is by using a triangle. If you imagine at the very tip of the triangle is your conscious mind. It occupies only a small portion of space at the top, a bit like an iceberg where only a fraction of it is showing above the water. It probably represents about 10% of your brain capacity. This mental capability is newly developed and untried in the march of our evolution where communication of our thoughts and feelings requires some organization and logic to be transferred onward to others.
Below this is a slightly larger section that Freud called the preconscious, or what some refer to as the subconscious. It is much larger than the conscious mind and accounts for around 50-60% of our brain capabilities. This mental process kept our ancestors alive in their fight to struggle out of the wilds of our first habitats and is usually devoid of logic and science but the preserve of intuition and feeling.
The section below this middle layer is the unconscious mind. It is the mind of the primitive and occupies the whole width of the base of the triangle and fills out the other 30-40% of the triangle. It is vast and deep and largely inaccessible to conscious thought, a bit like the dark depths of the ocean were the basest emotions live.
Our conscious mind is what most people associate with who we are, because that is where most people live day to day. It is the thin veneer of our being. It is the outer edifice of our existence where we expose ourselves to the world. But it’s by no means where all the action takes place.
Our conscious mind is a bit like the captain of a ship standing on the bridge giving out orders to the crew. In reality, it’s the crew in the engine room below deck (the subconscious and the deeper unconscious) that carry out the orders. The captain may be in charge of the ship and give the orders but it’s the crew that actually guides the ship that does the dirty work, all according to what training they had been given over the years to best do so.
Our conscious mind communicates to the outside world and the inner self through speech, pictures, writing, physical movement, and thought.
On the other hand, the subconscious mind is in charge of our recent memories, and is in continuous contact with the resources of the unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind is the storehouse of all memories and past experiences, both those that have been repressed through trauma and those that have simply been forgotten as no longer important to us. It’s from these memories and experiences that our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed.
The unconscious constantly drives the conscious mind via our subconscious, and is what provides us with the direction and meaning to all our interactions with the world, as filtered through our beliefs and habits. It communicates through, insight, feelings, emotions, imagination, mood, sensations, and dreams.
The unconscious deals with all the same tasks as the subconscious – the memory, habits, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. The difference between the two minds, however, is that the unconscious is the source of all these programs that our subconscious uses and the energy that drives us.
It is the place where all our memories and experiences since birth have been stored. It’s from these memories that our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed and reinforced over time.
The unconscious mind is where our optimism is born and the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks that face us or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. It is the unreason of stubbornness, the thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep on thinking, to keep on hoping, to keep on reaching, to keep on working, and to keep on fighting.
It is the drive rooted in the unconscious instinct for survival that has gotten us to where we are now over the countless generations in an endless cycle of birth and death.
It is where purpose if found. It is this purpose that guides up, this purpose that connects us, this purpose that pulls us, this purpose that drives us, and it is this purpose that binds us.
It is where these mystic chords of our passion lie that swell when touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our natures. It will not allow us to shrink from these great missions of our lives and the root of the emotions that life engenders.
It is the part of us that says unto the latest generation that when we are tested we refused to let this great journey of survival end, that we did not turn back nor will we falter to pass the gift of life forward; and with unreasoned eyes fixed on the horizon, we are compelled ever onward to carry forth, restore and maintain that great gift that cannot be squandered and must be delivered safely to future generations.
Our subconscious is dominated by our conscious mind. Controlling and directing it is the key to personal change. This control is like programing an internal computer.
Our subconscious is a bit like the RAM in our computer; the short term working memory in our computer and its job is to hold the programs and data that are currently in use so they can be reached quickly and easily by the computer processor. It’s a lot faster than the other types of memory, such as the hard disk or CD-ROM available on the conscious level. The quality of these memories and programs determines how successful the conscious level will be.
Apart from short term memory, the subconscious also plays an important role in our day to day functioning.
It works hard at ensuring you have everything you need for quick recall and access to when you need it. Things like –
Memories – such as what your telephone number is, how to drive a car without having to consciously think about it, what you need to get from the shop on the way home etc.
Current programs you run daily, such as behaviors, habits, and mood.
Filters (such as beliefs and values) to run information through to test their validity according to your perception of the world.
Sensations taken in via your 5 senses and what it means to you.
If it doesn’t happen to have a filter or reference point in its RAM for some bits of information that come in, then it has a direct line to the storage place of the mind – the unconscious. It will ask the unconscious to pull out the programs that it best associates with the incoming data to help make sense of it all.
The subconscious is also constantly at work, staying a lot more aware of your surroundings than you realize. In fact, according to the NLP communication model we are assaulted with over 2 million bits of data every second. If our conscious mind had to deal with all that you would very quickly become overwhelmed and not be able to get anything done. The conscious selects from the vast storehouse of data and functions to get a job done.
Instead, our subconscious filters out all the unnecessary information and delivers only that which is needed at the time, around 7 chunks of information. It does all this behind the scenes so you can perform our daily work uninhibited. And it does this as logically as it can; based on the programs it has access to in your unconscious.
The subconscious is where most problems are solved. These solutions flash into the conscious mind in a flash of inspiration, logic of the conscious follows the intuition of the subconscious.
It then communicates all the results into consciousness via emotions, feelings, sensations and reflexes, images and dreams. It doesn’t communicate in words, it flashes insights that we feel come out of nowhere to help us solve the problems of the conscious. This communication between these mental layers is where hunches, premonitions, instincts, and guesses are born.
One of the truly great things about the subconscious (and one which we need to take advantage of to affect change) is … it obeys orders; the subconscious can be educated!
People often erroneously think that the subconscious is in charge and we are merely at its mercy. In fact it’s the complete opposite. Your conscious mind gives it the direction, the environment if you like, for which it operates in. The subconscious will only deliver the emotions and feelings of what you continuously think about.
Now I’m not saying it’s as easy as changing what you think of in one moment and your entire life will be changed. In most cases your default programs have too much energy attached to them to change instantaneously. Training the subconscious take both great effort and discomfort. It can be done though – such as after a massive life altering event or if enough pain is associated with the old behavior – but without a major shift like that it is likely the old programs will reemerge.
As an example of how the subconscious mind works, let us look at one of the greatest minds to have ever lived to see what formed it and what made it tick.
Leonardo DaVinci was a great painter, designer, scientist, futurist and thinker. He also had the gift of dyslexia.
One remarkable indication that Leonardo was dyslexic is in his handwriting. Leonardo was constantly sketching out his ideas for inventions. Most of the time, he wrote his notes backwards. Why did Leonardo write from right-to-left, in mirror image? Although unusual, this is a trait shared by many left-handed dyslexic people. Most of the time, dyslexic writers are not even consciously aware that they are writing this way.
Leonardo's spelling is also considered erratic and quite strange. He also started many more projects then he ever finished - a characteristic now often considered to be 'A.D.D.'
The way the world entered DaVinci’s mind forced his subconscious programs to compensate. How this process worked is not known but his genius was not developed on the conscious level. It was a miracle of adaptation.
To make sense of the world, the dyslexic sorely needs to order the confused signals that enter through their senses.
From the earliest age, the dyslectic forms programs and compulsions to impose a synthesis of the product of their senses.
This synthesis is achieved by registering through memorizing all the relevant data involved in a subject, correlating it using inbuilt subconscious programs perfected from birth as a coping mechanism for dyslexia so that no contradictions exist between the input data. When this synthesis is reached, the unconscious responds with a feeling of beauty that reinforces the synthesis behavior.
Dyslexia requires the achievement of order, precision, and harmony in the unconscious mind as a coping mechanism for the imprecision and confusion inherent in the senses of the dyslectic. This compensation mechanism results in unique mental mechanisms and talents to form.
Dyslexia Areas of Strength:
•Art- especially 3-D expression and visualization
•Inquisitive and Imaginative
•Creative and Innovative
•Global thinkers-"think out-side of the box"
•Problem solvers-good at seeing the big picture
•Strong verbal communicators
As an example, of the Dyslexic method, here is how an affected software person would write a tax preparation program.
First memorize all the rules of all the application programming interfaces (API) and the functions of the operating system that will be needed to write the program. These APIs are all committed in detail to the subconscious usually through long experience.
Completely learn all the rules that govern the tax structure to be programed.
Formulate a user experience that best suits the needs of the users of the program.
Inside the head of the dyslectic, a subconscious program works 24/7 to correlate all the associated factors to form a synthesis of form and function. Based on his level of unconscious compulsion to achieve order, the programmer may well dream about the program constantly.
When completed and such a program is examined and evaluated by others skilled in the art, it is considered beautiful in it execution in terms of the level of synthesis and innovation that it achieves.
On the other hand, the opposite of this is termed in the software industry as spaghetti code which is twisted and tangled; Spaghetti code occurs when items are added in disjointed layers without any correlation, ordering, and harmony. It is a nightmare to add to it or maintain this type of program.
In another example, in what is known as DaVinci’s masterpiece in light and perspective, The Last Supper, da Vinci applies his novel, though more complicated understanding of light and optics, translating his scientific inquiry into artistic innovation.
First Leonardo da Vinci’s studied perspective and mastered it. His use of light and optics in painting over long years of practice were it became second nature and was committedentirely into his subconscious.
This subconscious programming ultimately allowed him to excel in the portrayal of reflection, shadow, and luminescence. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper demonstrates this careful study of light and the relation of light to perspective. In the work, da Vinci delves into the true complications of optics and reflections, and its renown guided the artistic study of light by subsequent masters.
From da Vinci’s personal manuscripts, accounts from his contemporaries, and present-day art historians, the iterative relationship between Leonardo da Vinci’s study of light and study of optics becomes apparent, and how his study of the two fields manifested in his paintings.
What gives this painting it unparalleled eternal beauty is the mastery and synthesis of the artistic techniques used to confer the unified and coherent message of the artist.
Albert Einstein was another famous Dyslexic.
The mechanism of Dyslexic subconscious production of insight is illustrated by the Albert Einstein Eureka moment at the Bern Patent office. The truth that was long apparent on the subconscious level eventually flashed into his conscience mind.
Albert Einstein was sitting in his chair at the Patent Office in Bern one day when the breakthrough happened. "Suddenly, the thought struck me: if a man falls freely, he does not feel his own weight. I was taken aback. This simple thought experiment made a deep impression on me," he wrote in 1907. This was two years after the publication of his Special Theory of Relativity and it led directly to his theory of gravity, and still later to his General Theory of Relativity. In effect, Einstein had stumbled upon one of his greatest insights: gravity is acceleration.
Einsteinknew about and utilized his subconsciousabilities to solve difficult problems. Using a sudden flash of insight method, one of the key insights in developing his special theory of relativity came to Albert Einstein while talking to his friend Michele Besso:
I started the conversation with him in the following way: "Recently I have been working on a difficult problem, today I come here to do battle against that problem with you" We discussed every aspect of this problem. Then suddenly I understood where the key to this problem lay. Next day I came back to him again and said to him without even saying hello, "thank you. I've completely solved the problem"
Functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalogram studies have found that problem solving requiring insight involves increased activity in the deep primitive brain at the right cerebral hemisphere as compared with problem solving not requiring insight. In particular, increased activity was found in the right hemisphere anterior superior temporal gyrus.
Subconscious processing may take place while a person is asleep, and there are several cases of scientific discoveries coming to people in their dreams. Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz said that the ring structure of benzene came to him in a dream where a snake was eating its own tail. Studies have shown increased performance at insight problems if the subjects slept during a break between receiving the problem and solving it. Sleep may function to restructure problems formulated in the subconscious, and allow new insights to be reached. Henri Poincaré stated that he valued sleep as a time for "unconscious thought" that helped him break through problems.
A kitchen design or a pluming job can be just as beautiful as a work by Leonardo DaVinci if they achieve a synthesis of form and function.
Everyone has their own talents and abilities that have been formed by their nature and nurture. We must identify who can best do the job needed to be done and let them do it.
The shaping the subconscious mind entails a lifetime of effort, discipline, experience, and practice.
Let Einstein understand the universe, Michelangelo build
William Shakespeare write the plays. St. Peters