Friday, November 13, 2009

Conscious and Subconscious

The mind has two kinds of process: processes that we are directly aware of and can observe (conscious), and processes that we are not directly aware of and cannot observe (subconscious). The vast majority of the work that the mind does is invisible to us, or subconscious, but it can be observed indirectly.

The subconscious mind is very fast. Think of how quickly you blink if something suddenly moves near your face.
The conscious mind is slow.

The subconscious mind does parallel processing, and works with many variables simultaneously. After all, it has to coordinate complex motion in tens of muscles just so you can stand up.
The conscious mind does serial processing, and handles no more than a handful of variables at once.

Subconscious processes are automatic.
Conscious processes are deliberate.

The subconscious mind ‘speaks’ to the conscious mind through emotions. The best example I can think of for this is how I feel when I sense that I am being lied to. Usually I don’t even know right at first how I know that I’m being lied to. At first I just feel it. That’s my subconscious telling my conscious to look out.
The conscious mind ‘speaks’ to the subconscious through decision making – literally rewriting the programming that the subconscious is executing.

The subconscious mind runs according to a preexisting program (it’s not writing the logic as it goes, the logic is already there). However, this can get complicated, because one of the things the subconscious can be programmed to do is to look for insights and solutions to problems.
The conscious mind is writing its own program as it goes along.

The subconscious comes preloaded with software – but that software can be rewritten.
The conscious mind comes nearly without software, but it has the ability to start writing its own software immediately.
From these observations I suggest a model of the mind that describes the subconscious mind as procedural and operational, while the conscious mind is programming space. When I say that the subconscious is procedural, I mean that it follows a deterministic instruction set. When I say that it is operational, I mean that it is the part of the mind that is actually executing nearly all actions. I believe this is consistent with the work of Benjamin Libet.


  1. Excellent post. I continue to be impressed by the clarity with which you understand things.

    You would probably enjoy Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide, which is basically a self-help book about whether and how to use the conscious or subconscious mind to make a decision.

  2. Justin, thank you! I'll take a look at it!

  3. very nice article...keep it up. I will be back for more information. pls visit my blog