Conscious or unconscious: Which is the real you?

New Beginning, by Angela Marie Henriette

Do you identify more with your conscious or unconscious mind?

– by B. T. Newberg

There are at least two people inside each of us:

  1. There is the rational, deliberate, conscious mind.  It’s the one you can feel or even hear working when you puzzle out a tough math problem.
  2. And then there is the unconscious, intuitive, instinctive mind.  This is the one that does the math, without you ever realizing it, to determine exactly how to high jump over that next hurdle.

The question is, which one is the real you?

This time, instead of a long discussion of context, I thought I’d just keep it simple.

Some food for thought:

  • If you do a ritual believing there is no such thing as deity, yet the emotional response rising up from within is as if there were, which is your true belief?
  • Western thought since Plato has given us the picture of the rational mind as ruler, but Jung observed that we do not create our thoughts, we are handed them.  If it’s the unconscious mind that gives you your thoughts, who’s really in control?  Moreover, which one is more rational?
  • Many psychologists now recognize that cognition is not only in the brain but also in the muscles and organs; that is, much of it is embodied.  This wider cognition is not usually conscious.  For example, you may consciously intend to hit the ball with the bat, but you can only witness whether and how you hit it or not.  Even farther from consciousness is “cognition” outside the body, such as writing.  Some think of this as a kind of cognitive prosthesis, an off-loading of cognition into the environment (see the slideshow below, for example).  If you’re willing to go as far as finding cognition outside the body, then what does that mean for self-identity?  Is the skin-bag still the boundary of selfhood, or are “you” something much wider, much greater?
  • Whichever aspect of the mind you identify with most of the time, are there certain times when you identify with the other more?

I look forward to hearing your comments.

Recent Work

The view from above: A Stoic meditation, by Donald Robertson

What if the universe doesn’t love you back?  by B. T. Newberg

Naturalistic Druidry: A retrospective, by WhiteHorse

Next Sunday

Heather explores the intersection between Secular Paganism, Humanism, and her own life.

Am I a Secular Pagan?  by Heather Van de Sande

Appearing Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

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8 Comments on “Conscious or unconscious: Which is the real you?

  1. Wow. Teo Bishop’s post today about leaving his path inspired me to post about the misgivings I have of my own path. In it, I allude to the rational vs the spiritual or what has become instinctive aspects of my mind, and the war they often rage. The universe is confusing me this morning.

    I think that all thoughts, both rational and subconscious are reflections of learned behavior. I’m not talking about the ability to know how to breath, swallow, and such, rather how you make decisions and perform actions. Take deity for instance. Having been raised Jewish, I was taught to believe in God. I blindly did for 20 years, then dismissed the idea. When I discovered Wicca, my subconscious instinct was to dredge up that belief in deity, which I did for 8 more years. Then the rational mind took over again, and now I really don’t believe in deity, but there is a mental struggle. That struggle threatens my commitment to my Pagan path almost daily.

    I tend to follow a Humanistic Pagan path, but often wonder why I keep up the Pagan part of it at all, rather than just giving in to Dawkins or Hitchens.

  2. One of the most important realizations of my life, the one that caused me to leave my Christian faith of birth and eventually set me on a Pagan path, was that “I” was not one thing, but many. I had many more “voices” than my conscious discursive self. These included my many emotions and aspects of my embodied self. Many of these voices I was not even conscious of. They were instinctual or specific to my personal history. I realized that personal power was not found in my conscious rational mind taming all these other “voices”, but by bringing all these “voices” into a centered unity. I think my “self” can be better thought of, not as any single thing, but as a field, including these many “voices” — and it is possible, I think, that this field extends beyond the limits of my skin. The rational mind is just a tip of the iceberg, and I think it is rarely “in control”. My Paganism is all about listening to these many voices, finding a time and place to treat all of them as sacred.

  3. I have a problem with identifying the conscious mind with rationality (i.e. logical, calculating, ratiocination). Our conscious awareness is full of irrational patterns such as inappropriate emotional responses (e.g. phobias) and superstitions. Further, our unconscious mind supports our rational processes (e.g. the sense data we use for empirical science are gathered and collated by unconscious processes). In other words, rationality and irrationality spill across the conscious/unconscious border.

    In Paganism we seem to make this equation of conscious mind with rationality and unconscious mind with arationality, but that seems to be too simple a picture to portray the complexity of reality.

    • >In Paganism we seem to make this equation of conscious mind with rationality and unconscious mind with arationality, but that seems to be too simple a picture to portray the complexity of reality.

      In more than just Paganism, I think. You make good points. 🙂

  4. It’s an interesting one to ponder (but even thinking about it presupposes the rational conscious mind). From the little of psychology and cognitive science of religion I studied at uni, I get the impression that out minds contain both conscious/rational and unconscious/intuitive centres of meaning which sometimes talk to each other and sometimes don’t. The intuitive, emotional and instinctive bit is older in evolutionary terms. One of the things I like about atheist/naturalist paganism is that it allows the non-rational room to express itself in ways that pure atheism alone does not.

    As for which is the real me, I tend to take a Buddhist type of view (which seems to be hinted at by neuroscience as well) that there is no ‘real’ me, no ghost-in-the-machine sort of ‘I’ and that ‘self’ is an illusion. Which sometimes leads to more existential questioning!

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