Unraveling Conscious, Subconscious & Unconscious Mind

Human mind — what a fantastic phrase! It is the most fascinating biological operating system on this planet, that cannot be simulated on any computer no matter how advanced. Unlike a computer’s operating system, each human brain constructs its own unique operating mind, that later on drives the entire mental universe of that specific brain and none others.

In this brief article we shall dive into the various levels of human mind. These levels are commonly known as Conscious, Subconscious and Unconscious Mind.

Now, do not get baffled by the superficial terms. These sophisticated terms only look complex from the outside because since Neuroscience is still in infancy, we the neuroscientists have been busy ourselves studying the neurological roots of the mind. And what we have discovered is that underneath their blinding shine of sophistication, there lies plain human biology. The biology that constructs your mental universe.

In short, your Conscious mind is responsible for all your perceptual reality. It is the part of your consciousness that enables you to be aware of your environment as well as interact with it.

Now comes the subconscious mind. This one is the part of consciousness that in usual circumstances of your daily life remains hidden right below the surface of your conscious awareness. It is the mind where all your suppressed emotions and desires are trashed.

And in the end comes the unconscious mind. This part of your mind remains asleep throughout your lifetime at the bottom of your consciousness. It is the most primitive mental construct which you share with the reptiles. It holds an innate beast that has been there since your reptilian days.

Now, let me tell you about the amazing neurology behind all these levels of the human mind.

If I ask you, are you conscious right now? You’d go right ahead and tell me — yes. That’s because your conscious mind is constructing an awareness in you about everything around you. And underneath that operation of your conscious mind, there are billions of neurons working in proper harmony. Various brain regions work together to construct your conscious awareness of your environment. In this whole construction process, there are two brain regions that require specific mention. These are the limbic system and the frontal lobes of your brain. The limbic system is responsible for all your emotional responses, that are major elements of your conscious experiences. And the frontal lobes, or more specifically the prefrontal cortex acts as a filter for those emotions as well as your behavioral responses. Emotions and behaviors that the prefrontal cortex deems inappropriate, never reach the surface of your conscious mind. Hence, they are trashed into the depth of your subconscious mind. They remain hidden in the depth of your limbic system.

Over time the pile of subconscious kinky desires and repressed emotions gets heavier. And if this junkyard of your subconscious mind is not cleansed every now and then by bringing the repressed emotions up to the surface of the conscious mind, then it would start affecting the mental and physical health of a person. All the repressed emotions and subconscious desires in time lead to some kind of psychological or physiological breakdown, if kept unchecked. It is what we call Conversion Disorder in clinical terms. Previously it was known as Hysteria.

We get to know the essentials of hysteria from the joint work of Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud, known as Studies in Hysteria first published 1895. The book contains an introductory paper and five individual studies of hysteria — Breuer’s famous case of Anna O. and four more by Freud. But the condition of Conversation Disorder or Hysteria dates back to Ancient Greece.

It can happen to anybody. However women are more prone to having hysteria than men, because of their innate monthly hormonal storms. The harder you try to keep your feelings inside, which you think as inappropriate to express, the more vulnerable you become to conversion disorder symptoms.

Does this mean, you should just express every single inappropriate feeling and desire of yours in public? Off course not. I am not a psycho psychologist to suggest you that.

But here is another way to keep your subconscious mind light and with less junk. You just need to clean your subconscious sewage drain with a close friend or your romantic partner every now and then. You just need to talk your feelings out to someone close. It is that easy. Just spit all of it out, whether it is sorrow, anger or kinky sexual thoughts. It is better to express your repressed feelings to a friend for free, than to pay thousands of dollars to a psychiatrist for the same emotional outburst later in life. You can read more about the emotional domain of the human mind in my book The Art of Neuroscience in Everything.

Now comes the unconscious mind. This part of your Mind goes back millions of years to the reptilian days in our evolutionary history. Several ancient regions of the limbic system house this primitive side of your mind. It holds some of the basic instinctual behaviors such as aggression, territoriality etc.

This primitive part of your mind gives rise to those emotional and behavioral traits that never go well with the modern norms of the society. These traits assisted our hominid ancestors to survive in the wild. But today in this civilized world, that monster from our primeval past is kept strictly dormant under the watch of the frontal lobes of your brain. However, in times of utter distress, this beast wakes up and takes hold of your conscious mind and responds in the form of fight or flight. And when it comes out, it actual enables you to tackle a life and death situation in a way, that you can never do with your usual state of consciousness.

For example, we have countless reports of parents lifting vehicles to rescue their children in life and death situations. In these incidents the primeval beast inside otherwise ordinary people lashed out to save their dear ones. And that fight or flight response resulted in an incredible strength which we call hysterical strength.

Thus, though I am calling this ancient part of our consciousness a beast, I am calling so, considering its beastly features. And if such life and death situations occur, that beast is our nearest biological hope.

So, as you can see, all your conscious, subconscious and unconscious realms of the mind have their own basic biological features. They function in proper harmony with each other to give you a rich mental universe. And now that you know how they function, you can make your mental universe even richer and healthier.

(This Article was first published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, 2015, The Art of Neuroscience in Everything

Abhijit Naskar, 2016, What is Mind?