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

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