"The Superconscious" - Nick Kontzie
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The Superconscious

The superconscious is essentially the mind as a whole, made up of the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, and the unconscious mind.

The subconscious is a somewhat misleading name because it is superior in some ways to the conscious. It is aware of all stimuli received by the nervous system, including those of which the conscious is unaware. It is also capable of controlling the body without the knowledge of the conscious mind. These activities which occur without the conscious tend to be activities which have been repeated many times and can be done 'without thinking about it'. In other words, without the need of input from the conscious mind.

There are many examples of these activities, which include those labelled as 'instinct' or 'reflex', as well as other instances which occur when the conscious mind is focused on something else. As theorized by Dr. Nilli Lavie* in 1995, and later demonstrated in experiments by Dr. Geraint Rees* in 1999, the conscious mind has a fixed capacity for perception that, once reached, prevent new stimuli from being perceived. One of these instances of the subconscious taking on activities without the input of or the knowledge of the conscious occurs when the conscious has reached this fixed capacity.

The ability to function independent of the conscious is the cause of what is commonly referred to as 'deja-vu'. The reason this occurs is because the subconscious is only able to observe and perform basic tasks that require no decision-making, so the subconscious and conscious may observe the same event simultaneously. This may make one believe that something had already taken place, when it was simply just observed twice.

An example of the independence of the subconscious mind and of an occurrence that may cause 'deja-vu':

March 30, 2000, while reading a book, I was thinking about a totally unrelated topic. My conscious mind's attention was consumed with this other topic and all visual stimuli was blocked from my conscious mind, I was 'daydreaming'. Although my conscious mind was unable to receive any visual stimuli, my subconscious mind continued to read the book in front of me. Once my conscious mind became less focused on this thought, it became aware that I was reading because of where my eyes were focused. I was reading the wrong page from where I left off because my subconscious mind simply began to input what was in front of me because it cannot make determinations on what is right or wrong.

The reason the above example may cause an occurance of deja-vu is rather simple. If you are unaware that your subconscious mind has done something already and then conscious mind repeats this action, you may feel as though you have done it twice. This can also occur with simutaneous observation by the subconsious and conscious.

Some people find that when studying or performing some type of thought-intensive task, it becomes easier if they listen to music that they like. Although it is unlikely that they actually hear the music for the entire duration of this task because of the limited perception of the conscious, this limits new input from the subconscious because the music is already familiar to them and gives the unconscious less work.

A couple more personal examples of the power of the subconscious to act without the conscious:

I have been able to drive a car on a familiar road while in deep thought, remembering nothing of the actual trip. Having no memory of how I got from point A to point B only left me to assume how I arrived at my destination.

In other instances I have been interrupted while counting something. While the focus of my conscious mind changed to responding to the interruption, I not only kept track of where I was in the sequence, but continued to count. Along with the other examples, this has occurred many times, but in this case it is often difficult to switch the focus on my conscious back the task being carried out by my subconscious. Since the counting is a continuous activity, it is difficult to give the task back to the conscious because it is not at the same place as where the conscious previously left off when it was interrupted. While attempting to switch control of the counting activity back to the conscious, I am able to 'hear' my subconscious performing the activity, but failure of transferring control of the task sometimes occurs, causing the information gathered to be lost to the conscious mind.

Now, to touch on the third mentioned part of the superconscious. The unconscious mind is similar to the subconscious only in that it also does not require direction from the conscious mind. The unconscious determines what information to remember and where it is stored, moving information from short-term memory into permanent long-term memory and determining how it is linked to other memories. Memories can be linked by keywords, images, smells, tastes, touch, sounds, etc.

The majority of the work done by the unconscious occurs when there is little new stimuli, such as when we are asleep, just before we fall asleep, or simply when we relax. The unconscious requires this break from new stimuli to work more productively. Most people are likely to notice that by stopping a thought-intensive activity for a couple of minutes, they will be able to 'think more clearly' because this break allows the unconscious to process information more efficiently. Not allowing your unconscious mind to have these opportunities to process information will cause what is referred to as 'stress' and possibly a 'headache', or even a 'mental breakdown' in more severe repeated situations of 'stress'.

While I am not convince that a fourth entity exists within the superconscious, it may. This fourth entity would theoretically be responsible for unproven abilities of the mind, such as extra-sensory perception (ESP), telekinesis, telepathy, and others. I do not have any experience with these abilities. If the do exist, they are likely controlled by the subconscious mind, making them unknown to most of us.

To summarize, the conscious mind only focuses on input which it deems of interest, and the subconscious mind collects all stimuli. The unconscious is responsible for categorizing the input from both the conscious and subconscious minds and transferring it from short-term memory into long-term memory.


*In 1995, Dr. Nilli Lavie, a psychologist at University College London suggested that we have a fixed capacity for perception, and that once it is 'full' new stimuli cannot be perceived, but until that capacity is reached, perception is automatic.
     Then in 1999, Dr. Geraint Rees of the California Institute of technology in Pasadena concluded that the brain does not pick out relevant stimuli and suppress irrelevant ones, but rather actually prevents you from seeing irrelevant stimuli in the first place. So, it depends on what other perceptual tasks your brain is engaged in at the time as to whether or not something is perceived.

Examples from William James Sidis:

Certain facts from my own personal experience prove that, at least in my own case, this "unconscious intelligence" can both read and remember. In March, 1911, while walking along a street, I suddenly began thinking about Virgil's Aeneid, and my attention became fixed on the expression "alma Venus" that I then remembered having read in that poem. In that expression I thought particularly on the meaning of the first word. After a few minutes (while I was still on the same block) I began wondering why I thought about that expression so suddenly. Looking around, I discovered that, among the things in the field of vision that I had not noticed was an apartment house called "The Alma." I certainly had no knowledge of the process which I know must have occurred, namely, the reading of the word, the memory that it was Latin, and the memory of the particular expression in which it occurred. Since, therefore, this process had occurred, and it was not within my consciousness, it was evidently a subconscious process. Accordingly, the "unconscious intelligence" within my brain can read and remember, and furthermore, it can remember for half a year, since it had been that time since I had seen that passage from Virgil.

Again, in August, 1913, I was walking through a square in which there was a book-store. This book-store was at some distance from where I was walking, so that I could not reasonably notice what was in the show-window without looking quite hard. That night I dreamed of seeing a book with indistinct lettering on the cover. In the morning, passing the book-store at closer range, I found in the show-window a book with exactly the same sort of cover as the dream-book. This shows that I must have seen that book the preceding afternoon, but I certainly did not notice it. I must have seen it subconsciously, and my "unconscious intelligence" remembered it at least till two o'clock in the morning, when the dream occurred. The appearance of the book in the dream shows moreover that the memory was not only of the fact of having seen the book, but that it was also of the way the book looked: even the indistinct lettering in the dream was probably due to the fact that I had passed the store from a distance.

Sources:

Rees G, Russell C, Frith C D, Driver J. Inattentional blindness versus inattentional amnesia for fixated but ignored words.
     Science. 1999;286:2504-2506.

Sidis W J. Unconscious Intelligence
     Symptomatology, Psychognosis, and Diagnosis of Psychopathic Diseases,1st edition. 1914;The Gorham Press - Boston

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