“Mystery Of Love” by Sufjan Stevens plays on a loop in my mind as a homemade chocolate muffin sits in a bed of its own crumbles on the plate before me. My wisdom tooth is on its way out but the braces that I had as a teenager have given the tooth more than enough space to emerge with only a dull ache. It’s raining outside and every time the skies thunder, goosebumps appear on my skin. Beautiful, isn’t it, how we can listen to songs without listening to them, understand what chocolate tastes like, what pain is and what fear is.
For a long time, the motherboard of experiences of this kind was known as Qualia, although it has been a topic of debate since its inception up to this very day. Science either stands on the side that believes in the denial of its existence or on the side that believes that it is more than just science. We know it better as “consciousness”. I am most saddened as I offer you a definition of something so boundless and profound (after all, as Oscar Wilde has said, ” To define is to limit.”), but alas, I must.
Consciousness can be most fundamentally defined as a state of being aware of and responsive to ones surrounding or a person’s awareness or perception of something. This has been a keen interest in philosophy since before the times of Aristotle or Dante. Neolithic burial practices appear to express spiritual beliefs and provide early evidence for at least minimally reflective thought about the nature of human consciousness (Pearson 1999, Clark and Riel-Salvatore 2001). Preliterate cultures pose evidences of a certain degree of inspection and reflection of conscious awareness, or at least the nature of it. Homer recites a sense of consciousness through the thoughts and actions of Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus and many other characters that color his works. Hamlet in the 1600s portrayed profoundly modern perspectives towards the world and oneself. Descartes, as early as the 1640s, writes, “By the word ‘thought’, I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us.” John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Wilhelm Wundt, Alfred Titchener, B. F Skinner, John Watson, and hundreds more gave their lives to unravel this mystery we call “consciousness” and “conscience”. Many eyes studied this phenomenon; the eyes of Behavioural science, Cognitive science, Evolutionary science, but the picture painted by Sigmund Freud stands most vibrant amongst all other portraits.
Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychoanalyst from the 1800s, introduced three levels of awareness:
Let’s look at this like an iceberg of consciousness. The tip of the iceberg: the Conscious mind contains thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, etc., all of which we are aware of at any given time, can explain rationally after active thought processing. Going a little below the surface of the freezing waters of our mind, the Preconscious is absolutely anything that could be transferred to the conscious mind, almost like a sieve. Right at the bottom, that which cannot be seen from above the surface is the Unconscious mind that safekeeps our feelings, thoughts, urges and memories that don’t usually reach consciousness, since we consider these highly unacceptable or terribly unpleasant.
The Unconscious Mind, out of all three, is rather interesting to look at. This realm holds the significantly inaccessible contents that can surface suddenly in the form of dreams or a slip of tongue. Dreams highlight the slips of the Unconscious Mind through detailed symbolism relevant to each individual subjectively. The memories of traumatic events can surface through dreams and the fears associated with that event can pose as phobias or material fears edited into the script. Secretive elements hidden by the unconscious can also arise in such a manner. Similar is the Freudian Slip, or as we call it, the slip of the tongue which is certain words or phrases spilling out of one’s mouth on accident. Repressed feelings or unresolved sentiments often bubble out in such a way, like a man calling his current girlfriend by the name of his ex-girlfriend.
These disposals of the Unconscious Mind can be accessed by therapists through certain techniques. Dream analysis is a science of its own that is entitled to its own stream of study. Therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists have their client narrate the occurrences of the dreams they get the chance to perceive during their REM cycle and interpret various elements of the dream. The client is then confronted by these interpretations and asked about the relevance of each of them. This practice has contributed to the treatment of various disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Bipolar Disorder etc. Free Association is a fun game that absolutely anyone can play but is also used as a serious approach taken to unravel the unconscious mind. It is simply sharing random thoughts or the first thought that materializes upon the offering of a trigger word (eg.: Corona: Beer or Achilles: Patroclus).
Let’s give you a trigger word, shall we? Write down in the comments the first thought that pops up when you read the word “Conscience“.
Until next time!