Western point of view

Oliver Wendell Holmes has said: “The automatic flow of thought is often singularly favored by the fact of listening to a weak continuous discourse, with just enough ideas in it to keep the (conscious) mind busy. The induced current of thought is often rapid and brilliant in inverse ratio to the force of the inducing current.”

Wundt says: “The unconscious logical processes are carried on with a certainty and regularity which would be impossible where there exists the possibility of error. Our mind is so happily designed that it prepares for us the most important foundations of cognition, whilst we have not the slightest apprehension of the modus operandi. This unconscious soul, like a benevolent stranger, works and makes provisions for our benefit, pouring only the mature fruits into our laps.”

A writer in an English magazine interestingly writes: “Intimations reach our consciousness from unconsciousness, that the mind is ready to work, is fresh, is full of ideas.” “The grounds of our judgment are often knowledge so remote from consciousness that we cannot bring them to view.” “That the human mind includes an unconscious part; that unconscious events occurring in that part are proximate causes of consciousness; that the greater part of human intuitional action is an effect of an unconscious cause; the truth of these propositions is so deducible from ordinary mental events, and is so near the surface that the failure of deduction to forestall induction in the discerning of it may well excite wonder.” “Our behavior is influenced by unconscious assumptions respecting our own social and intellectual rank, and that of the one we are addressing. In company we unconsciously assume a bearing quite different from that of the home circle. After being raised to a higher rank the whole behavior subtly and unconsciously changes in accordance with it.” And Schofield adds to the last sentence: “This is also the case in a minor degree with different styles and qualities of dress and different environments. Quite unconsciously we change our behavior, carriage, and style, to suit the circumstance.”

Jensen writes: “When we reflect on anything with the whole force of the mind, we may fall into a state of entire unconsciousness, in which we not only forget the outer world, but also know nothing at all of ourselves and the thoughts passing within us after a time. We then suddenly awake as from a dream, and usually at the same moment the result of our meditations appears as distinctly in consciousness without our knowing how we reached it.”

Bascom says: “It is inexplicable how premises which lie below consciousness can sustain conclusions in consciousness; how the mind can wittingly take up a mental movement at an advanced stage, having missed its primary steps.”

Hamilton and other writers have compared the mind’s action to that of a row of billiard balls, of which one is struck and the impetus transmitted throughout the entire row, the result being that only the last ball actually moves, the others remaining in their places. The last ball represents the conscious thought–the other stages in the unconscious mentation. Lewes, speaking of this illustration, says: “Something like this, Hamilton says, seems often to occur in a train of thought, one idea immediately suggesting another into consciousness–this suggestion passing through one or more ideas which do not themselves rise into consciousness. This point, that we are not conscious of the formation of groups, but only of a formed group, may throw light on the existence of unconscious judgments, unconscious reasonings, and unconscious registrations of experience.”

Many writers have related the process by which the unconscious mentation emerges gradually into the field of consciousness, and the discomfort attending the process. A few examples may prove interesting and instructive.

Maudsley says: “It is surprising how uncomfortable a person may be made by the obscure idea of something which he ought to have said or done, and which he cannot for the life of him remember. There is an effort of the lost idea to get into consciousness, which is relieved directly the idea bursts into consciousness.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “There are thoughts that never emerge into consciousness, and which yet make their influence felt among the perceptive mental currents, just as the unseen planets sway the movements of the known ones.” The same writer also remarks: “I was told of a business man in Boston who had given up thinking of an important question as too much for him. But he continued so uneasy in his brain that he feared he was threatened with palsy. After some hours the natural solution of the question came to him, worked out, as he believed, in that troubled interval.”

Dr. Schofield mentions several instances of this phase of the workings of the unconscious planes of the mind. We mention a couple that seem interesting and to the point:

“Last year,” says Dr. Schofield, “I was driving to Phillmore Gardens to give some letters to a friend. On the way, a vague uneasiness sprang up, and a voice seemed to say, ‘I doubt if you have those letters.’ Conscious reason rebuked it, and said, ‘Of course you have; you took them out of the drawer specially.’ The vague feeling was not satisfied, but could not reply. On arrival I found the letters were in none of my pockets. On returning I found them on the hall table, where they had been placed a moment putting on my gloves.”

“The other day I had to go to see a patient in Folkestone, in Shakespeare Terrace. I got there very late, and did not stay but drove down to the Pavilion for the night, it being dark and rainy. Next morning at eleven I walked up to find the house, knowing the general direction, though never having walked there before. I went up the main road, and, after passing a certain turning, began to feel a vague uneasiness coming into consciousness, that I had passed the terrace. On asking the way, I found it was so; and the turning was where the uneasiness began. The night before was pitch dark, and very wet, and anything seen from a close carriage was quite unconsciously impressed on my mind.”

Prof. Kirchener says: “Our consciousness can only grasp one quite clear idea at once. All other ideas are for the time somewhat obscure. They are really existing, but only potentially for consciousness, i.e., they hover, as it were, on our horizon, or beneath the threshold of consciousness. The fact that former ideas suddenly return to consciousness is simply explained by the fact that they have continued psychic existence: and attention is sometimes voluntarily or involuntarily turned away from the present, and the appearance of former ideas is thus made possible.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes says: “Our different ideas are stepping-stones; how we get from one to another we do not know; something carries us. We (our conscious selves) do not take the step. The creating and informing spirit, which is within us and not of us, is recognized everywhere in real life. It comes to us as a voice that will be heard; it tells us what we must believe; it frames our sentences and we wonder at this visitor who chooses our brain as his dwelling place.”

Galton says: “I have desired to show how whole states of mental operation that have lapsed out of ordinary consciousness, admit of being dragged into light.”

Montgomery says: “We are constantly aware that feelings emerge unsolicited by any previous mental state, directly from the dark womb of unconsciousness. Indeed all our most vivid feelings are thus mystically derived. Suddenly a new irrelevant, unwilled, unlooked-for presence intrudes itself into consciousness. Some inscrutable power causes it to rise and enter the mental presence as a sensorial constituent. If this vivid dependence on unconscious forces has to be conjectured with regard to the most vivid mental occurrences, how much more must such a sustaining foundation be postulated for those faint revivals of previous sensations that so largely assist in making up our complex mental presence!” Sir Benjamin Brodie says: “It has often happened to me to have accumulated a store of facts, but to have been able to proceed no further. Then after an interval of time, I have found the obscurity and confusion to have cleared away: the facts to have settled in their right places, though I have not been sensible of having made any effort for that purpose.”

Wundt says: “The traditional opinion that consciousness is the entire field of the internal life cannot be accepted. In consciousness, psychic acts are very distinct from one another, and observation itself necessarily conducts to unity in psychology. But the agent of this unity is outside of consciousness, which knows only the result of the work done in the unknown laboratory beneath it. Suddenly a new thought springs into being. Ultimate analysis of psychic processes shows that the unconscious is the theater of the most important mental phenomena. The conscious is always conditional upon the unconscious.”

Creighton says: “Our conscious life is the sum of these entrances and exits. Behind the scenes, as we infer, there lies a vast reserve which we call ‘the unconscious,’ finding a name for it by the simple device of prefixing the negative article. The basis of all that lies behind the scene is the mere negative of consciousness.”

Maudsley says: “The process of reasoning adds nothing to knowledge (in the reasoner). It only displays what was there before, and brings to conscious possession what before was unconscious.” And again: “Mind can do its work without knowing it. Consciousness is the light that lightens the process, not the agent that accomplishes it.”

Walstein says: “It is through the sub-conscious self that Shakespeare must have perceived, without effort, great truths which are hidden from the conscious mind of the student; that Phidias painted marble and bronze; that Raphael painted Madonnas, and Beethoven composed symphonies.”

Ribot says: “The mind receives from experience certain data, and elaborates them unconsciously by laws peculiar to itself, and the result merges into consciousness.”

Newman says: “When the unaccustomed causes surprise, we do not perceive the thing and then feel the surprise; but surprise comes first, and then we search out the cause; so the theory must have acted on the unconscious mind to create the feeling, before being perceived in consciousness.”

A writer in an English magazine says: “Of what transcendent importance is the fact that the unconscious part of the mind bears to the conscious part such a relation as the magic lantern bears to the luminous disc which it projects; that the greater part of the intentional action, the whole practical life of the vast majority of men, is an effect of events as remote from consciousness as the motion of the planets.”

Dr. Schofield says: “It is quite true that the range of the unconscious mind must necessarily remain indefinite; none can say how high or low it may reach…. As to how far the unconscious powers of life that, as has been said, can make eggs and feathers out of Indian corn, and milk and beef and mutton out of grass, are to be considered within or beyond the lowest limits of unconscious mind, we do not therefore here press. It is enough to establish the fact of its existence; to point out its more important features; and to show that in all respects it is as worthy of being called mind as that which works in consciousness. We therefore return to our first definition of Mind, as ‘the sum of psychic action in us, whether conscious or unconscious.'”

Hartmann calls our attention to a very important fact when he says: “The unconscious does not fall ill, the unconscious does not grow weary, but all conscious mental activity becomes fatigued.”

Kant says: “To have ideas and yet not be conscious of them–therein seems to lie a contradiction. However, we may still be immediately aware of holding an idea, though we are not directly conscious of it.”

Maudsley says: “It may seem paradoxical to assert not merely that ideas may exist in the mind without any consciousness of them, but that an idea, or a train of associated ideas, may be quickened into action and actuate movements without itself being attended to. When an idea disappears from consciousness it does not necessarily disappear entirely; it may remain latent below the horizon of consciousness. Moreover it may produce an effect upon movement, or upon other ideas, when thus active below the horizon of consciousness.”

Liebnitz says: “It does not follow that because we do not perceive thought that it does not exist. It is a great source of error to believe that there is no perception in the mind but that of which it is conscious.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes says: “The more we examine the mechanism of thought the more we shall see that anterior unconscious action of the mind that enters largely into all of its processes. People who talk most do not always think most. I question whether persons who think most–that is who have most conscious thought pass through their mind–necessarily do most mental work. Every new idea planted in a real thinker’s mind grows when he is least conscious of it.”

Maudsley says: “It would go hard with mankind indeed, if they must act wittingly before they acted at all. Men, without knowing why, follow a course for which good reasons exist. Nay, more. The practical instincts of mankind often work beneficially in actual contradiction to their professed doctrines.”

The same writer says: “The best thoughts of an author are the unwilled thoughts which surprise himself; and the poet, under the influence of creative activity, is, so far as consciousness is concerned, being dictated to.”

A writer in an English magazine says: “When waiting on a pier for a steamer, I went on to the first, which was the wrong one. I came back and waited, losing my boat, which was at another part of the pier, on account of the unconscious assumption I had made, that this was the only place to wait for the steamer. I saw a man enter a room, and leave by another door. Shortly after, I saw another man exactly like him do the same. It was the same man; but I said it must be his twin brother, in the unconscious assumption that there was no exit for the first man but by the way he came (that by returning).”

Maudsley says: “The firmest resolve or purpose sometimes vanishes issueless when it comes to the brink of an act, while the true will, which determines perhaps a different act, springs up suddenly out of the depths of the unconscious nature, surprising and overcoming the conscious.”

Schofield says: “Our unconscious influence is the projection of our unconscious mind and personality unconsciously over others. This acts unconsciously on their unconscious centers, producing effects in character and conduct, recognized in consciousness. For instance, the entrance of a good man into a room where foul language is used, will unconsciously modify and purify the tone of the whole room. Our minds cast shadows of which we are as unconscious as those cast by our bodies, but which affect for good or evil all who unconsciously pass within their range. This is a matter of daily experience, and is common to all, though more noticeable with strong personalities.”