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The Unconscious

But the mind of man knows two distinct conditions of activity--the
conscious and the unconscious. Mind is not always wide awake. We
recognize what we call the conscious mind as the ruling force in our
lives. But how many things I do without conscious attention; how often I
find myself deep in an unexplainable mood; how the fragrance of a flower
will sometimes turn the tide of a day for me and make me square my
shoulders and go at my task with renewed vigor; or a casual glimpse of a
face in the street turn my attention away from my errand and settle my
mind into a brown study. Usually I am alert enough to control these
errant reactions, but I am keenly aware of their demands upon my mind,
and frequently it is only with conscious effort that I am kept upon my
way unswerved by them, though not unmoved.

When we realize that nothing that has ever happened in our experience is
forgotten; that nothing once in consciousness altogether drops out, but
is stored away waiting to be used some day--waiting for a voice from the
conscious world to recall it from oblivion--then we grasp the fact that
the quality of present thought or reaction is largely determined by the
sum of all past thinking and acting. Just as my body is the result of
the heritage of many ancestors plus the food I give it and the use to
which I subject it, so my mind's capacity is determined by my
inheritance plus the mental food I give it, plus everything to which I
have subjected it since the day I was born. For it forgets absolutely

"That is not true," you say, "for I have tried desperately to remember
certain incidents, certain lessons learned--and they are gone.
Moreover, I cannot remember what happened back there in my babyhood."

Ah, but you are mistaken, my friend. For you react to your task today
differently because of the thing which you learned and have "forgotten."
Your mind works differently because of what you disregarded then. "You"
have forgotten it, but your brain-cells, your nerve-cells have not; and
you are not quite the same person you would be without that forgotten
experience, or that pressing stimulus, which you never consciously
recognized, but allowed your subconsciousness to accept. Some night you
have a strange, incomprehensible dream. You cannot find its source, but
it is merely the re-enacting of some past sensation or experience of
your own, fantastically arrayed. Some day you stop short in your hurried
walk with a feeling of compulsion which you cannot resist. You know no
reason for it, but some association with this particular spot, or some
vague resemblance, haunts you. You cannot "place" it. One day you hit
the tennis-ball at a little different angle than you planned because a
queer thought came unbidden and directed your attention aside. Again,
under terrific stress, with sick body and aching nerves, you go on and
do your stint almost mechanically. You do not know where the strength or
the skill is derived. But your unconscious or subconscious--as you
will--has asserted itself, has usurped the place of the sick conscious,
and enabled you automatically to go on. For we react to the storehouse
of the unconscious even as we do to the conscious.

Remember that the unconscious is simply the latent conscious--what once
was conscious and may be again, but is now buried out of sight.

The mind may be likened to a great sea upon which there are visible a
few islands. The islands represent the conscious thoughts--that
consciousness we use to calculate, to map out our plans, to form our
judgments. This is the mind that for centuries was accepted as all the
mind. But we know that the islands are merely the tops of huge
mountain-ranges formed by the floor of the sea in mighty, permanent
upheaval; that as this sea-floor rises high above its customary level
and thrusts its bulk above the waters into the atmosphere, is the island

Just so there can be no consciousness except as that which is already in
the mind--the vast subconscious material of all experience--rises into
view and relates itself through the senses to an outside world. We speak
very glibly of motion, of force, of power. We say "The car is moving
now." But how do we know? Away back there in our babyhood there were
some things that always remained in the same place, while others changed
position. The changing gave our baby minds a queer sensation; it made
a definite impression; and sometimes we heard people say "move," when
that impression came. Finally, we call the feeling of that change
"move," or "movement," or "motion." The word thereafter always brings to
our minds a picture of a change from one place to another. The
process--the slow comprehending of the baby mind--was buried in
forgetfulness even at the time. But had not the subconscious been
imprinted with the incident and all its succeeding associations, that
particular phenomenon we could not name today. It would be an entirely
unique experience. So our recognition of the impression is merely the
rising into consciousness of the subconscious material in response to a
stimulus from the outside world which appeals through the sense of
sight. We can get no response whatever except as the stimulus asking our
attention is related by "like" or "not like" something already
experienced; that is, it must bear some relation to the known--and
perhaps forgotten--just as the island cannot be, except as, from far
down below, the sea-floor leaves its bed and raises itself through the
deeps. The visible island is but a symbol of the submarine mountain.
The present mental impression is but proof of a great bulk of past

And so we might carry on the figure and compare the birth of
consciousness to the instant of appearance of the mountain top above the
water's surface. It is not a new bit of land. It is only emerging into a
new world.

"But," you ask, "do you mean to assert that the baby's mind is a
finished product at birth; that coming into life is simply the last
stage of its growth? How unconvincing your theory is."

No, we only now have the soil for consciousness. The island and the
submarine mountain are different things. The sea-floor is transformed
when it enters into the new element. An entirely different vegetation
takes place on this visible island than took place on the floor of the
sea before it emerged. But the only new elements added to the hitherto
submerged land come from the new atmosphere, and the sea-floor
immediately begins to become a very different thing. Nevertheless, what
it is as an island is now, and forever will be due, primarily, to its
structure as a submarine mountain. In the new atmosphere the soil is
changed, new chemical elements enter in, seeds are brought to it by the
four winds--and it is changed. But it is still the sea-floor

Just so the baby brain, complete in parts and mechanism at birth, is a
different brain with every day of growth in its new environment, with
every contact with the external world. But it is, primarily and in its
elements, the brain evolved through thousands of centuries of pushing up
to man's level through the sea of animal life, and hundreds of centuries
more of the development of man's brain to its present complete mechanism
through experience with constantly changing environment.

Hence, when the baby sees light and responds by tightly shutting his
eyes, then later by opening them to investigate, his sensation is what
it is because through the aeons of the past man has established a
certain relation to light through experiencing it. To go further than
this, and to find the very beginning, how the first created life came to
respond to environment at all, is to go beyond the realm of the actually
known. But that he did once first experience his environment, and
establish a reaction that is now racial, we know.

So our baby soon shows certain "instinctive" reactions. He reaches out
to grasp. He sucks, he cries, he looks at light and bright objects in
preference to dark, he is carrying out the history of his race, but is
making it personal. He has evolved a new life, but all his ancestors
make its foundation. The personal element, added to his heritage, has
made him different from any and all of his forebears. But he can have no
consciousness except as a bit from the vast inherited accumulation of
the past of his ancestors, of all the race, steps forth to meet a new

And again you ask, "How came the first consciousness?"

And again I answer, "It is as far back as the first created or evolved
organism which could respond in any way to a material world; and only
metaphysics and the God behind metaphysics can say."

We only know that careful laboratory work in psychology--experiments on
the unconscious--today prove that our conscious life is what it is,
because of: first, what is stored away in the unconscious (i. e.,
what all our past life and the past life of the race has put there);
second, because of what we have accepted from our environment; and
this comprises our material, intellectual, social, and spiritual

Next: Consciousness Is Complex

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