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subconscious vs unconscious

I have always been taught that subconscious was used when talking about the parts of your psyche that you are not aware of - “the subconscious mind” and that unconscious was a physical condition - “knocked unconscious”

Lately I have been hearing people interchange the two; most of the time it is someone using “unconscious” in place of “subconscious”.

Am I confused here? Are they interchangable?

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I believe Freud used the term "Unconscious Mind" to describe what later became commonly known as "The Subconscious". Perhaps modern English is beginning to correct itself.

good Oct-01-2005

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I'm afraid it's not that simple. Unconscious, or unconsciousness, describes a state, e.g. to be unconscious, and thus can also describe the state of a thought, e.g. we are not aware of our unconscious thoughts. Subconscious however, is only used to describe an unconscious thought that has a conscious effect, for example, seeing food can subconsciously make us hungry, or a deep seated childhood trauma could subconsciously effect our decision making process.


shmuls Oct-02-2005

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Unconscious refers to wether or not a being is 'aware', and thoughts, being objects of consciousness, cannot be properly said to be aware. It's similarly redundant to call a stone 'unconscious' since it has no consciousness to be turned on or off. To call thoughts 'unconscious' as shmuls has is to make the mistake katden has been describing.

The subconscious is a strata of consciousness - ie it is below our consciousness. Thus, we may be unconscious of thoughts that are in our subconscious, but it's grammatically incorrect to describe a thought as being unconscious.

Beg_to_differ Oct-06-2005

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From Wikipedia:

"Probably the most detailed and precise of the various notions of 'unconscious mind' - and the one which most people will immediately think of upon hearing the term - is that developed by Sigmund Freud and his followers, and which lies at the heart of psychoanalysis. (It should be stressed, incidentally, that the popular term 'subconscious' is not a Freudian coinage and is never used in serious psychoanalytic writings)."

good Oct-08-2005

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I have a degree in Psychology and wondered about this during my studies. Here's your answer (I hope).

Unconscious is the term usually used in Psychology to refer to the thoughts we have that are 'out of reach' of our consciousness. A traumatic childhood event that we repress is an example, but it doesn't have to be so serious as this. It could be something very distant like a memory that we can't 'pull out' at our choosing. It's there, but we can't remember it no matter how hard we try. Certain psychoanalytical methods can bring back these memories (such as hypnosis) and can also be triggered by an event (a scent, a familiar place etc).

The important point to remember here, is that we cannot, by choice, remember anything in our unconscious without some special event or technique. This is the unconscious.

The sub-conscious is almost the same, but the very major difference is, we *can* choose to remember. Sub-conscious is used far too often (erroneously) to mean unconscious. It's simply not the case, and you'll find that in Psychology the topic of the unconscious of *far* more prevalant (and important for study) than that of the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is for example the part of your mind that let's you remember your phone number. Before reading this, you were not conscious (thinking right now) of your phone number, but should I ask you for it, you're able to bring it to the conscious level by pulling it from your sub-conscious. The person who told you your phone number for the first time has perhaps faded from memory. It may still be in there somewhere, but it's something you can't remember (maybe), and if so, this is in your unconscious mind. So there you have it.

John_Hasznosi Dec-20-2005

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thanks for clearing that up for me

k1 Oct-27-2006

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Which is it, the subconscious or the unconscious that affects actual behavoir without realizing it. For example, I tap my foot without realizing it.

Josh1 Nov-10-2006

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I'm confused. John, isn't the above description of the subconscious what Freud described as the pre-conscious?

skygirlagain May-31-2007

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It seems to me like this is a very blurry line between unconscious and subconscious. I feel like the word unconscious should refer only to that state of being when you are passed-out or knocked-out, which we can all agree is very different from any state that we are normally in. I would say that any thought that you are not currently aware of is subconscious - below aware, I suppose. If you can become aware of it, either on your own or with help due to some event of therapy, then it can always be in your consciousness at some point, negating the differentiation between subconscious and unconscious given above. It is a peeve of mine to hear people talk about "unconscious" thoughts or whatever because it makes me picture their thoughts passed out or knocked-out, like when I got a concussion playing rugby. It just sounds stupid.

John's answer seems like the "correct" answer, but if we could have any say in language, as we do because we're constantly redefining it (it evolves faster than people), then I've given my two cents.

Jen1 Oct-25-2007

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Although these definitions are a bit vague, it did clarify something I'd assumed was wrong.

I often hear people say, "I unconsciously thought X" or something along those lines. By reading the posts above, I can verify that at least THAT would be incorrect usage of the word, since you can't unconsciously think something.

Annie3 Dec-08-2007

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Can anyone shed light on whether our personnality and behaviour derive entirely from our subconscious, unconscious and conscious minds or whether there is a divine/spiritual side to us that comes from somewhere else. I see the subconscious as a vast data storage file that records all events, experiences and teachings, (programming) mixes them up and produces the essence of who we are.

Dave3 Jan-23-2008

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My two cents worth...

An effective way to learn the definition of these terms is
to do some research by, at the least, reading a Psychological Encyclopedia. Even better would be to read Freud for the meaning of "unconscious"(he really knew and is a good read). "Subconscious" will be harder to pin down, since it is used in both science and pseudo-science very broadly. To ask in a forum such as this is akin to "asking the audience" on the tv show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire;" people will give answers whether they know what they are talking about or not.


Aka_Alias Feb-18-2008

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You might want to get a get a copy of Carl Jungs "Man and his Symbols" It will answer many of your questions. It is only $7.99 plus shipping at amazon.

Lugh Mar-26-2008

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JESSEMONTEZ53 May-19-2008

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The subconscious is the consciousness just below that of which we are presently aware. The subconscious contains our memories and knowledge. While the unconscious holds thoughts or desires that we have no DIRECT knowledge of.

The term consciousness is hard to define in itself as there is no direct evidence of it existing. It is what they call in the psychological field a construct. Which is a concept requiring the belief in something that cannot be seen or touched but seems to exist. The conscious is also a nebulous concept. It goes through a continuous change.

Zach May-27-2008

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One other distinction: for me the subconscious is about performing (unaware) THOUGHTS and the unconscious is about performing (unaware) ACTIONS.

UNAWARE ACTION: "Yesterday I UNCONSCIOUSLY locked the door (having to physically turn the key) when I ducked outside to my car for a moment. When I returned to the door thinking that it was open, I was shocked to realise that I had done this".

UNAWARE THOUGHT: "Yesterday I was baby sitting - playing with toys, kicking a ball around etc. When I sat down to write my essay, I realised that I was SUBCONSCIOUSLY thinking about what I should write, and as a result I finished the paper in 15 mins".

Perhaps these are lame examples, but the point is I believe it would be (grammatically) incorrect to substitute the two words in these examples - i.e. unconsciously thinking about my essay OR subconsciously locking the door.

Hope this is clear.

jamesoggis Jul-03-2008

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Found this site again somehow, and seems like some people are still a bit confused. Here is a quick summary:

Unconscious: You are unaware. If someone asked you to 'remember' something in your unconscious, you can't. It's not reachable by normal means. When you do something without thinking, it was unconscious.

Sub-Conscious: You are aware if you choose to be. Sub-conscious is *not* where you do something without realizing it. Your sub-conscious is the part of your mind you can call on at a whim. What did you eat for lunch yesterday? Before I asked, you weren't thinking about it, it was part of your sub-conscious. If it were unconscious, you wouldn't be able to tell me at all. It wasn't 'conscious' until I asked you. If you're thinking about that salad you ate, then it's now conscious. When you go off to play tennis or whatever later, your mind will put it back into your sub-conscious, just in case you need to remember it again soon.

Phew. Hope that finalizes it.

John_Hasznosi Jul-07-2008

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I like the JUNGIAN definition of unconscious rather than Freud who was too hung up on sexually repressed thinking.

Here goes my take on this:

In evolution we started out as unconscious beings - we were aware of ourselves but only on a natural animal level. We did things mainly out of instinct. Later as we became "civilized' we gained consciousness - we now knew our morality or the difference between good and evil.

Confused by now - of course! This is why in the Bible during Genesis we ate of the Tree of Knowledge - of Good and Evil. We therefore became conscious of right and wrong - something an animal cannot do.

Now Jung took this further and realized that the unconsious is the foundation of all consciousness. Consciousness is a recent invention of nature and is acutally layered upon our more primitive unconscious brain. Our consciousness actually springs out of our frontal lobes of the neo-cortex - it gives us the ability to reflect on ourselves - again something the animals cannot do.

Is this perfect - by no means - which is why people say and do things they really have no control over - like neurotic compulsions and phobias - these spring from the unconscious mind - this is where we go when we dream.

The subconscious is just below consciousness and can fade in and out of consciousness very easily - ever forget something and you know you know it but you just can't remember - it may spring to mind a few minutes or a day or two later. That is the subconscious. Again a term NEVER used in psychoanalysis. Since I have a degree in Psychology and have studied Carl Jung (my hero) for many years I have a firm understanding of the difference but as you can see it is hard to explain.

So are you conscious of your subconscious unconsciousness?

Sorry I could not resist...

Bill1 Jul-10-2008

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Sorry Bill. You start and end sounding pretty intelligent. But, you lost all credibility when you said "This is why in the Bible during Genesis we ate of the Tree of Knowledge - of Good and Evil. "

But of course.

begjop Jul-18-2008

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Very simple unconscious refers to not knowing or perceiving. An action or processes can be unconsciously performed in that you were not aware of and had not planned it. EX: (the painter unconsciously emphasized the most romantic aspects of the landscape) He was not aware of preforming the act of selecting romantic aspects while painting and did so without conscious effort. In the case of a person who is knocked out and considered unconscious they are not aware of themselves. Do not confuse logical ideologies of popular psychology with historical grammatical correctness.

The subconscious is a term coined for a "sub" or lower level of consciousness and a subconscious action supposedly is one performed under the direction of some lower consciousness or less self aware intelligence.

So unconsciously is of no awareness in a person and subconsciously is for derived of the concept of a lower consciousness of a persons mind and is strictly a clinical psychology term.

The confusion lies in the semantics of what one considers the painters awareness. Which is completely different under the clinical and non clinical paradigm. In the classic grammatical sense born of the time when people only viewed the self along the lines of "as thinks a man so is he" or "I think therefore I am" before modern psychology barged in with it's notion of the subconscious mind and of a person being able to have fragments of their mind (One being all perceiving and the other being selectively aware.) there was only conscious mind or ego. He "the painter" was not aware of the action (did not recognize and register it's nature or existence) and thus to him it was unconscious.

In the view of clinical psychology today he "the painters" awareness is in fact that of his conscious and his subconscious mind operating as a whole so nothing he dose of his own internal volition which comes from his consciousness, any part of it, sub or no, is ever unconscious and so the statement that he unconsciously did something is not logical under this paradigm and therefore the notion of unconscious action is an oxymoron.

The term unconscious would be incorrect in labeling what is to be considered clinically to be the "subconscious mind" as the inherent descriptive state of a part of the consciousness or awareness should not be labeled as non aware. What is meant by sub or lower level consciousness though ? If consciousness simply means ones awareness, awareness of self and of the world around them, how can a thinking part of that awareness be below it's own awareness ? The subconscious mind is by some peoples definition in modern psychology a part of the consciousness which is always aware of anything perceived on any level though it itself is not perceived. It is the supposedly hidden driver thinking and doing out of reach of the conscious mind the ego.

Now that said I am not for altering the language to reflect this view of the subconscious as some hidden low level aware part of consciousness. I believe this is false and we will end up having to revert the language again at a later date. I feel the inherent confusion over the terms is a result of a fallacy in reasoning that leads some to assume we though self aware, have a part of our conscious mind (that awareness for which the term consciousness is so very appropriate) an intelligence of which it is not possible to have awareness. This belief in a hidden conscious part of our awareness of which that very awareness is unaware results in all manner of paradox and confusion not the least of which is in linguistic representation.

If you believe however that there is but the conscious mind and that it's behavior is influenced not by some hidden entity of self but rather by "factors" such as neural pathways formed prior, through experience, and as the result of prior cognition patterns formed in prior experiences and then neural chemically reinforced, then it makes more sense. If you acknowledge that the active memory of the events which had generated those behavioral neural pathways may in fact no longer exist even though the pathway dose, or perhaps is not recognized as being associated with the pathway that ends up influencing behavior it is easy to see how this could leave us perplexed as to our unexplained propensity towards certain mental patterns or mental shortcuts which affect our current actions and behaviors. If you consider that even though these patterns later influences on our mental construct may go unexamined by the ego , or un recognized for their true nature then it is quite possible to act or behave unconsciously but never to think so.

The phrase "I unconsciously thought x" is always incorrect in either paradigm. In the old paradigm as the usage of the word unconscious did not exist in the context of describing a part of the mind capable of thought and in the newer clinical paradigm is incorrect as the use of the word unconscious meaning unaware to describe that supposed subconscious (or below conscious) deterministic entity is a misnomer. So in as a descriptive for thought by the unconscious it dose not work and as a descriptive for "the manner in which" you thought it dose not work as if you thought it , it was conscious.

Dose all the confusion boil down to the first person who mistakenly coined the term "the unconscious" for describing the sub-conscious or have we ascribed a notion of a separate hidden intelligence to a mere label for influential factors which though may go unidentified or unrecognized , or whose origins become forgotten and who's formation and undesirable affect on our mental construct escaped us are none the less not proof of a separate hidden consciousness but merely the manifestation of misunderstood non remembered bits of the individually formed and maintained mental construct on which our consciousness operates.

I personally think the term "I subconsciously thought x" is also false as I believe the consciousness of a person is a combination of external perception and internal self awareness as they both may factor into the shaping of the neural pathways which enforce or encourage behavioral patterns of the underlaying defining mental construct.

I do not believe the subconscious is a thinking entity of the mind and feel the instances of people stating that they subconsciously thought something are no more then a description of a brief unremembered influence upon their behavior by the existence of preformed neural pathways which comprise instinctual mental shortcuts laid in place as a result of prior conscious mental activity. These pathways are also affected in plasticity by neural chemical production in the brain which can be influenced by perceived external stimulus such as for example sexual activities, or stressful situations, trauma, or any stimulus which tends to reinforce certain behavioral patterns. Also they may be pharmacologically encouraged. All modification to these pathways in the end are created and reinforced ultimately by the conscious mind itself though they may not at the time be recognized as resulting in a current type of mental construct conducive of certain mental patterns. They may even be undesirable but then again most of us don't go around thinking about the long term psychological ramifications of our prolonged mental states or reactions to stimulus as reinforcing certain neural pathways and erasing others. Most of us don't concentrate on building a healthy mental construct except maybe for psychologists. When these constructs influence our consciousness in ways that result in non beneficial behaviors sometimes even against better reason or our own attempts at objective logic others can always more easily point this out. This is because dose not the mental construct of the mind reinforce and determine the nature of the very mind that is examining it and can determine it ? (You might as well ask which came first the chicken or the egg) Or perhaps could one prefer to think of the mind as determining itself ? You'll have to make up your own mind on that one :)

This explains why realization of unconscious behavior (that is behavior of unknown origin or in unrecognized or miss classified manner) aids in correcting the undesired mental construct and removing through mental effort those ideas influences and behaviors. Dose one use medication or therapy to cure undesired behaviors and states of mind? This would depend on the cause medicate permanently for chemical imbalances or temporarily to aid in therapy but for non chemical imbalances the mind would need to eventually heal itself after being made to recognize it's own fallacy before such behavior is too deeply ingrained. A person can not change behavior unless they really want too and it is made easier to de-construct any faulty mental construct when they recognize it's origin and it's role in un healthy behavioral patterns.

Anyway the point it neither subconsciously nor unconsciously is correct in describing thoughts only in describing behaviors or actions. Which one you choose in that context however will likely depend on your view of the nature of the human consciousness.

Zig Aug-30-2008

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Just on little note on the confusion between unconscious (as in unaware) and unconscious (as in knocked out) that started this whole thread.
I suspect this is a confusion in part caused by a twist in the English language. Other languages, such as German where the term originated, has different words for these meanings. "Unbewußtes" means the unconscious and "bewußtlos" means being unconscious, or knocked out. Directly translated these would be "unconscious" and "consciousless", respectively.
So the confusion does not arise in German (and many other languages).

ni1 Nov-16-2008

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I think that as a human being we can control our uncoscious mind n change our habits in other words the persons who have highly active mind they cannot be sub conscious its my own belief what do u think?

mohsan_umer786 Nov-18-2008

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I think that as a human being we can control our uncoscious mind n change our habits in other words the persons who have highly active mind they cannot be sub conscious its my own belief what do u think?

mohsan_chohadry Nov-18-2008

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subconscious is not the accurate term in this discussion. it is unconscious. get it right people

Jake Jan-07-2009

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Jake, what are you talking about? Apparently, you don't have any idea what this discussion is about. The original question asks about the definition is of BOTH unconscious and subconscious and what the difference is between the two words. YOU get it right. OK???

anonymous4 Jan-11-2009

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make that "...about what the definition is of...."

anonymous4 Jan-11-2009

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Neuroscience says the majority of thought is UNCONSCIOUS, its something like this, can you specify the origin of any of your thoughts directly? You may have some environmental interaction cause a thought or reaction etc, but in the whole of it you are always extracting thought from an unknown void, or unconscious "mind". Look to neuroscience for better explanations of these terms because psychology has trouble with terminology. Especially with defining absolutes like unconscious/subconscious. I mean American psychology has thrown out the use of Neurosis and its a considerable term as far as giving rise to self realization to an individual. But it can also have a negative effect in being used. Neuroscience for new answers in psychology, because psychology has become dogmatic!

Red1 Feb-26-2009

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subconscious an unconscious, would unconscious and non-conscious thoughts be related in any way?

mo Mar-11-2009

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Some excellent comments above that help to explain the problem between the subconscious and unconscious mind; and that have also added terms such as 'non-conscious' and consciousness into the mix.

Here's another way to explain it, with a few divergences.

The unconscious mind, or unconsciousness, is the bottom layer ('primitive', 'basic' or 'animal' part of the mind). It produces the other two layers, where the subconscious mind, or subconsciousness, is the middle layer; and the conscious mind, or consciousness, is the top layer. The three layers designate the degree of self-awareness an individual has of its own thought process.

That's the image of the mind or psyche so to speak, the realm of psychology where thought and knowledge traverse all three layers.

Mo, 'non-conscious' thoughts are the problematic ones that might reside in any of the bottom two layers of the unconscious and subconscious mind. In other words, the thoughts about whether a thought is unconscious or subconscious, are actually conscious thoughts about problematic, 'non-conscious' thoughts, for example.

Beg to differ:
Your understanding of awareness is a bit ambiguous where you said, 'Unconscious refers to wether or not a being is 'aware', and thoughts, being objects of consciousness, cannot be properly said to be aware'. That statement seems to advocate a form of thought control by a being that is aware OF ITSELF as opposed to a being that is not aware, or unaware, of itself.

The second part of your explanation is also confusing where you said: 'The subconscious is a strata of consciousness - ie it is below our consciousness. Thus, we may be unconscious of thoughts that are in our subconscious, but it's grammatically incorrect to describe a thought as being unconscious.'

Surely, the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious are, all three, strata of A CONSCIENCE; a conscience being that which is literally 'with science' or 'with knowledge', as in the Latin etymology of its grammar with the word 'conscientia'; the Latin prefix 'con-' meaning 'with', and the Latin suffix 'scientia' meaning 'knowledge' or 'skill'.

Philosopher Apr-05-2009

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In Psychology: Frontiers and Applications, some of Sigmund Freud's theories have been presented. One says, "The conscious mind consists of mental events that we are presently aware of. The preconscious contains memories, thoughts, feelings, and images that we are unaware of at the moment but that can be recalled." The preconscious consists of the facts that are not in awareness, but have been stored latently for use at another time. The unconscious captures information that the consciousness is unable to perceive and then shows itself when a person is in a state of unconsciousness such as dreaming. (3)
The preconscious and unconscious are almost like the left and right of the personality. What is in the preconscious can be made conscious at any moment; what is desired can be perceived to be. The unconscious takes information that it receives that it does not want to make appear in the present state of awareness and it pushes it down, like a guard for the mind.(5)
The unconscious is able to make transitions into the conscious, though, and this is how psychologists and scientists are able to be aware that it does in fact exist; impulses such as a slip of the tongue, dreams, or other hidden behaviors. When two people are arguing one person might let something slip out that they've held inside for so long. Psychoanalysts believe that such acts are results from "holes in our armor for conscious control and true feelings" (3).

Josh1 May-21-2009

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Cool discussion! I will go with unconscious(ly) when it is something the mind doesn't know as opposed to subconscious which appears to be stuff you know but aren't thinking of right now.

chair Oct-18-2009

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I came to this site looking to distinguish the terms subconscious from unconsious (as I found I had used the terms interchangeably in my writing and questioned my understanding of them). There is some great discussion here - so firstly I want to say than you everyone.

I am really interested in this field more from a neuroplasticity perspective as I am a coach. I work with people to help them understand how their 'unawareness' of their self limiting beliefs and inner critic (that voice that tells you you are constantly not good enough) impact to cause their lives to be a particular way (and they usually don't like theway their life is and want to change it).

I would appreciate the wise opinions of people who post here. Do you believe as a coach I am working with my clients' unconscious mind or what?

To provide an explanantion of how I work - I ask clients solutions focussed questions which encourages mindfullness and whole brain thinking. I keep people out of their worry mode thinking - and they have constant epiphanies about what they really want and what they need to do.

Often they get 'aha' moments when they realise something for the first time; but I also believe they have been thinking secretly about things which they feel safe to express out loud for the first time to a coach who will not judge them.

Cheers Kerene

kerene Jan-10-2010

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There is also what Jung calls the "Collective Unconscious" which in his definition is the memories of mankind passed down through from generation to generation through the subconscious. There are many beliefs to this day associated with this fact.

Ken3 Jan-30-2010

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According to Freud, there are three levels of awareness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The conscious is obviously what we are aware of at the moment. The preconscious contains material just beneath the surface of awareness that can easily be retrieved, i.e. middle names, last night's supper, etc. The unconscious contains thoughts, memories, and desires that are well below the surface of conscious awareness but that nonetheless exert great influence of behavior.

These definitions came straight from my AP Psychology textbook, and I am a 10th grader taking this class at the moment.

The term subconscious is used a lot to describe the unconscious, but it is improperly utilized. I looked everywhere in my textbook for the term subconscious, but it is not stated. Therefore, if you are looking to speak from a psychological perspective, I suggest you do not use the term subconscious. But I guess it's hard to tell the world of people who do not know much about psychology to properly use its vocabulary.

Andrea2 Mar-28-2010

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Ok for some odd reason I came back here after years of making a post. Someone mentioned that Freud used the term 'Pre-Conscious' and never Sub-Conscious and they're absolutely right.

What I'd like to clarify a bit just to put this confusion to rest once and for all:

You hear of the 'Sub-Conscious' used all the time in books and magazines/movies etc and what they really mean to say is 'Unconscious.' It's easy to imagine what 'Unconscious' means. It doesn't mean that you're knocked out. But to use that image as an analogy, if you *were* knocked out and someone asked you a question, you wouldn't be able to answer. Your mind is shut off.

That is the unconscious memory. It is shut off from us. We can't remember by choice, what is in the unconscious. It's as if it wasn't there. If I ask you to remember your third day at school in kindergarten, you probably can't remember that--if the memory still exists at all (because we do *not* always remember everything we experience, even in the unconscious (Freud thought we did, but we don't)).

The original question is what is the difference between sub-conscious and unconscious. The answer is, the sub-conscious is generally a term invented by magazines and non-psychologists who believe they're talking about the unconscious. Unfortunately they're not up to speed with their Psychology.

That said, my post before was actually describing the 'pre-conscious', not the sub-conscious. I'll put my foot in my mouth here and say that yes, actually, during our studies in Psychology, sometimes the 'wrong' term of sub-conscious has been used. However, the term sub-conscious is usually used to mean 'pre-conscious'.

In summary:

Unconscious = You can't remember whatever it is you're trying to, no matter how hard you try (unless you get special help).

Sub-Conscious = Used by people in every day life when they mean 'Unconscious'. This is totally wrong. However, it has also been used by some psychology students or even professors to mean "Pre-Conscious'.

Pre-Conscious = Memory that *is* accessible. If you want to spell your name out, most people can do that from memory. If you choose to recall something you can. This is the Pre-Conscious.

My advice: Never use Sub-Conscious. It's misleading and confusing. Most of the time, when you see someone write or say 'sub-conscious' they're talking about the unconscious.

John_Hasznosi Apr-27-2010

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There is no such thing as the "subconscious mind." There is no clinical theory that sets forth the "subconscious mind," rather it is a "Hollywood" term.

Sigmund Freud in his theoretical works used three constructs to explain the human mind: conscious mind; pre-conscious mind; and unconscious mind. Read Freud's works.

If you hear anyone using "subconscious mind," you know instantly they do not know what they are talking about. Think of those who said the world was flat?@#$
It is that simple.

crivenbark Jun-12-2010

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In the movie Inception, they used the term subconscious a lot. Reading thru the comments here, it seems that they are referring to the unconscious?

joelorleans Aug-09-2010

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In Inception subconscious is pre-conscious but not in psycology.

lacrossestrick Aug-16-2010

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Thanks guys, I was very conscious at the start of this thread now I'm unconscious.

Steve1 Oct-27-2010

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Subconscious, is when we like to program ourselves to remember something or to do something. It is also a child-like spirit in its playful ways.

Unconscious, is a sub-level below our Subconscious, its conscious-unawareness. It's when we totally forget due to time, or its to painful to want to remember it(trauma), repression, yada yada.. "Don't go there you'll only bring out the BEAST in me!!"

Manahuna Nov-14-2010

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Okay, there seems to be a consensus developing in this thread: The word unconscious is a more clinical, academically acceptable term with a relatively narrow meaning of not available to the conscious, encompassing both "knocked out" and "unaware". The word "subconscious" is a more popular term, less rigorously defined. Unlike "unconscious" it implies some connection to and ability to move from and to awareness.

A quick perusal of wikipedia seemed to confirm this; the article for unconscious was relatively well developed and supported, while the article for subconscious "tasted like fairy floss", as one person on the discussion page aptly put it.

My interest is along the lines of the current pop culture self help idea of getting in touch with things within my mind/body which are drivers of my perceptions and behavior but which are not usually at the level of awareness. I do believe it possible to access and mold this subconscious through conscious actions, so I think I will use the word subconscious in my discussions, even though it's a word that academics don't find rigorous enough. The movie 'inception' is a good example of what I'm talking about when I will use the word subconscious.

The Freudian term preconscious seems to mean roughly the same thing as subconscious and is a bit more academically rigorous, but because it is not widely used outside of Freudian analysis, I think I would confuse people by using it for my pop-culture understanding.

T1 Dec-21-2010

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If one sits quietly and watches oneself think, without trying to control the stream of thoughts, one can observe several things. First, the thoughts seem to be loosely---sometimes very loosely---connected to previous thoughts, or to various outside stimuli (sensations---sounds, itches, scents, aches, what-have-you).

Second, thoughts do not come from nowhere. There does seem to need to be a causal chain.

Third, the thoughts come welling up unbidden, from "somewhere" (usually called the subconscious, as though giving it a name tells us anything).

Finally, you quickly lose the notion of watching yourself and you go into a daydream.

I don't know what profound conclusions one can draw from all this, but one thing is sure. None of it happens when you are unconscious.

fmerton Dec-25-2010

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People,please stop saying "sub-conscience"-no such thing.

davegallin Jan-02-2011

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Repression. The appears here first in this thread [I think]. When thoughts are repressed they reside in the Unconscious. We need help and focus to retrieve these.
Subconscious confuses the conversation in psychology.
Following Freud his paradigm and the German usage will help to retain the terms: conscious, pre-conscious and unconscious.
But the last word that clears the matter: repression.

Moshe Apr-12-2011

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So would a myotactic reflex be unconscious?

During the reflex, you are not aware of it happening, but afterwards you know what happened in the physical sense.

For example, you step on a tack with you right foot and you withdraw your right leg (flexor reflex). Concurrently, an opposite pattern of activity in the contralateral limb occurs, the crossed effect action of a flexor reflex (as the right leg flexes and withdraws, the left leg extends and is thus better able to support the body.)

During this action, you are not aware of the pathways activated, which I didn't go into; however, after the action occured, the person was aware that a reflex occurred because they stepped on the tack.

jim2 Apr-22-2011

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It seems to me, after reading all that is posted, that no one, really, has a concrete concept of what "unconscious" and "subconscious" is. The same problem that i had with 90% of my college professors, including some clinical psychologists and psychiatrist that i have talked to.In laymans terms when you faint (syncope)you are "unconscious"and when you tie your shoes while thinking about the fact that you are late for work( not paying complite attention to what you are doing) you are doing it "subconsciously". In psychology this terms mean something completely different.Read up on Sigmund Freud on "Psychodynamic Theories"and Carl Jung view of the "unconscious"and read "Layman's Guide to Psychoanalysis by Eric Berne, M.D.

DelusionOfGrandeur Jun-19-2011

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Just for interest, it seems that even Freud was ambivalent. So what's new!

Here's an update from my 2003 Oxford Dictionary of Psychology:-

SUBCONSCIOUS - Operating or existing outside of consciousness. In psychoanalysis, a term used by Freud in a very few early publications to denote the unconscious but quickly abandoned because of its ambiguity.

UNCONSCIOUS - Lacking consciousness or awareness of mental experiences such as perceptions thoughts or emotions; lacking deliberate intention (an unconscious slip).
In psychoanalysis, a part of the mind containing repressed instincts and their representative wishes, ideas and images that are not accessible to direct examination....repression prevents the contents of the unconscious from entering either the conscious or pre-conscious....After 1920 Freud abandoned this topography of the mind in favour of a structural model based on the concepts of id, ego, and super-ego.
Two brief comments:
1. Freudian notions of a barrier between unconscious and conscious sub-systems clearly run into some difficulty where dream content is admitted into consciousness, apparently busting the 'barrier' hypothesis. The science does not really meet today's standards.
2. For a lively read see Eysenk re the collapse and fall of the Freudian empire.

Best wishes (conscious and unconscious) to all reading this.

LongTone Jun-28-2011

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Very interesting discussion. After I ignored the demanding comments to quit using Subconscious, considered why new words are created in languages or morphed from root words, enjoyed that the German language does not have this problem because a distinction has been made in that language, it appears to me that a common understanding of the levels of consciousness have yet to be fully developed and defined, or maybe so, but just not with common knowledge. I find it curious that in the latest hundred years of our humanity we have not more clearly defined the aspects [levels] of consciousness. Neuroscience may be making strides in this direction. Maybe we have and I need a reference for more reading. New words are generated when existing words just don't accurately apply. The common knowledge of the new word depends on how/when we use and present it. Thanks for your thoughts!

ignorantandmisguided Sep-16-2011

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To answer the original question, katden, you (and most other people) were taught wrong.

When people say "subconscious," they are trying to describe what is actually called the "unconscious." There is no distinction in meaning--these are two different words that two different sets of people use to describe the same thing. One is correct, and the other is not.

"Unconscious" is the word that Freud, Jung, and every other legitimate peer in in the psychology profession uses. "Subconscious" is what you say if you know nothing about psychology other than what TV taught you.

So the only difference you have to worry about is, uneducated people say "subconscious," and those who know better use "unconscious."

Beth Nov-18-2011

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Beth, very correctly framed, but please play nice. It's incorrect to be rude when teaching, the unconscious ruptures the intended consequence. The Zen of Lacan is instructive. Transference is true like gravity, it keeps us down but safely anchors us. Escape velocity is hard but necessary and inevitable,

Moshe Nov-19-2011

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Heck, I still hav trouble between conscious and conscience!

Here ya go ... knocked out, knocked witless (dazed, but not out), and the unwitting mind (not knowing, not realizing).

AnWulf Nov-19-2011

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Fantastic thread and really helpful. I think subconcious is as stated earlier a "hollywood" term and that unconcious is the correct definition.

Allegrajay Sep-04-2012

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Much of what has needed to be said academically has been said, however I would add a few things to the debate about *usage*. Unconscious is indeed the correct term, and unless for reason someone is talking about the 19th century works of Janet, Subconscious is never correct; things are either unconscious or subliminal.

However, perhaps in a cynical way, Subconscious is a useful way of differentiating between those who don't know of what they speak, and those that do. If I'm hearing some brand new psychology theory and want to know if the person has all their facts straight, if they say 'subconscious', it's generally a dead give away that they haven't done their study. Many in the general public would think that we're just being academic and pedantic, but a basic rule of psycholinguistics is that language shapes thought. And the ideas that Subconscious creates in the listener's head are usually the opposite to what psychology actually teaches, and much time during a process like therapy goes into undoing the rather damaging view of the psyche that Western man usually has for himself, propagated by such erroneous ideas like the so-called Subconscious.

In the end, none of my respected associates would ever use the term, but politely demonstrate the ideas of the unconscious mind instead. There are however fast-buck merchants with little regard for the reader/listener trying to sell their ideas with little regard for the impact they are creating. If I knew a practitioner who clearly understood the difference and the impact of language on thought and used 'subconscious' anyway, this is not someone I'd be comfortable about. But for those who are ignorant of the terminology, when you see claims like 'unlock the power of the subconscious mind', it's a sure-fire way of knowing these people don't know what they're talking about.

nhoJ Nov-21-2012

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I, too have noticed and agree, and yet seemingly bona fide intelligent people are the ones using the two words interchangeably. It seems as though we are not the only ones who question the proper terminology. Yes, I sometimes have too much time on my hands. In a somewhat recent parent teacher conference with my grandson's teacher, the grammatically atrocious sentences that flowed from the teacher's mouth left me with a sorely bitten tongue. Grammar and syntax are just not a priority any more. We are swimming against the tide, I'm afraid.

john green Jan-26-2013

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Language is organic and dynamic. Whatever the origin of a word, the time may come when added color and texture are desired. UNCONSCIOUS, as less than conscious because being knoked-out is clearly different than less than conscious because operating at a subliminal level. SUBCONSCIOUS seems to fit quite well as a new word for the task given the similarity of sound - certainly much, much better than QUAZIIWGHPI or CASSOTTAGUS.

domingo Feb-10-2013

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domingo, the problem isn't so much to do with sound or pedantry, but the idea that it creates in people's minds. If it were some random Latin word that had no meaning to the layman, this really wouldn't be an issue, but 'subconscious' instantly evokes connotations in the English speaker's mind. In psychology we need people to actually *understand* themselves, and when it comes to 'subconscious', it's genuinely impossible to properly understand the structure of the psyche (and I'd even dare venture that the erroneous term has actually done a lot of damage over the years in the way it misleads people).

Freud called for its rejection in his paper 'The Unconscious', largely to do with its ambiguity and misleading nature. In a later work, he said that when someone spoke of this so-called subconscious, that he had no idea whether they were speaking qualitatively or topographically, but chances are that neither would the very person saying it. The only clear distinction was conscious and unconscious, said Freud.

Jung further decried the term when he said that the unconscious is not only below consciousness (hence the 'sub' part), but can also be above consciousness too (but that explanation is too long to fit in this reply).

Indeed, so erroneous and misleading is this term that when I introduce someone to a map of the psyche and its dynamics, most of the time they say, "oh, so it's the opposite of what you'd think", in comparison to their erroneous conscious/subconscious paradigm. Unlike 'subconscious' would suggest, the unconscious exists prior to, during, and after consciousness. The conscious ego itself is merely a smaller complex that grows from the infinitely larger unconscious, and is entirely capable of being dissolved back into the soupy and primordial unconscious.

To use an astronomical example, 'subconscious' creates in people's minds a model much like the old idea that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and the Sun, stars, and other planets all revolved around it (with the Earth here representing the conscious ego). Whereas in reality, the Earth revolves around the Sun, which in itself is merely part of a much larger galaxy; much like the conscious ego is a tiny part of the psyche within the much larger unconscious. I guess you could subconscious is 'ego-centric'!

However I do understand people's hesitation to adopt 'unconscious' as a noun, due to the connotation of being comatose. I heard a psychotherapist side-step the issue beautifully by using the term 'non-conscious', which is really what the term 'unconscious' is implying in this case. If the emerging psychotherapeutic consensus was to adopt the term 'non-conscious', I for one would be happy to go along with it. However, I would never be happy with adopting 'subconscious', as it's so incredibly misleading and potentially damaging when people form philosophies of life around it.

nhoJ Feb-11-2013

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Use brains;
911 Operator. "Is the heart attack victim conscious or Unconscious?"
Dude's wife; "He's unconscious, he looks dead!!!"
So, unconscious means UNAWARE and NOT "AWAKE".
Did any 911 operator say "Is the victim subconscious?". Of what, his weight?
Subconscious as stated above.

CJ1 Mar-14-2013

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Some Extracts ... I Hope will be Useful


Knowing and perceiving; having awareness of surroundings and sensations and thoughts.
Remained conscious during the operation
Conscious of his faults
Became conscious that he was being followed
Learning a Bicycle


Just below the level of consciousness.
I see the subconscious as a vast data storage file that records all events, experiences and teachings, (programming) mixes them up and produces the essence of who we are.
The subconscious is a term coined for a "sub" or lower level of consciousness and a subconscious action supposedly is one performed under the direction of some lower consciousness or less self aware intelligence.
Your lifetime storage of knowledge (a human brain file system) :-)
Driving a Bicycle. Relates to your nervous system that you mind handles your body subconsciously.


Very simple unconscious refers to not knowing or perceiving. An action or processes can be unconsciously performed in that you were not aware of and had not planned it.
Not conscious; lacking awareness and the capacity for sensory perception as if asleep or dead.
That part of the mind wherein psychic activity takes place of which the person is unaware.

Hemant Mar-30-2013

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I feel that anyone deriding the use of a word in every commonly-used dictionary (that word being "subconscious") should attempt to step down from their obnoxiously high horse. It is perfectly reasonable to say that the term is not typically used in academic or clinical circles, but it is not respectful to look down on people who use the term correctly as defined by a dictionary. We should all try to be respectful of different realms of society and discussion, and if education is required, can we try to educate without condescending?

With that said, here is my twopence worth, coming from someone with zero background in academic or clinical psychology :D

Subconscious - the origin of this word as an adjective precedes Freud, as it was first used by De Qunicey, in 1823, to mean "not wholly conscious". Although this description is fairly ambiguous, I would use "subconscious" as an adjective to describe thoughts/actions that take place 'passively' in the mind... in other words, the person does not make a deliberate effort to think or do what is being thought or done, and is not aware of any intent that exists.

Unconscious - again the adjective is older than the clinical/academic usage, originating in 1712 to mean "unaware, not marked by conscious thought". To me, this would mainly describe memories/thoughts that cannot be triggered by the conscious/subconscious (although possibly could be accessed through methods such as hypnosis/pharmacology). For example, a repressed memory could be described as unconscious. I think it could also be attributed to actions such as snoring, or the reflex of a crossed leg kicking out due to a tap below the knee... these are done without thought or intention; they are unconscious actions.

I find myself most closely agreeing with those who have laid out the three strata of conscious, subconscious, and unconscious, although I accept that the main point of this is trying to visualise how our thoughts work, rather than serving as a complete explanation.

Again, I have not studied any of these areas in any great detail, and my opinions are purely based on trying to make sense of the terms through a combination of life experience, dictionary definitions, reason, and ultimately "what makes sense to me".

In general, I have thoroughly enjoyed this discussion, and I hope we can steer away from sneering over people that apply words in a way that does not conform to one's own. Derision is not debate :)

Stu_ck Apr-20-2013

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@Stu_ck - it seems to me that something similar happens with the expression "begs the question". It's original use in logic is very precise, but not obvious from the words themselves - something vaguely similar to a circular argument, I think. Meanwhile the rest of us use it in a different way, much closer to the literal meaning of the words, something like "suggests or demands the question", usually followed by "of ...".

Only a tiny minority know of the original meaning, let alone use it, but you get a few people being hyper-critical of those of us who use it in its more popular meaning. But there's no reason why both can't co-exist. I find it a kind of intellectual snobbery, really.

There is nothing surprising in psychologists using unconscious and subconscious in a different way from the rest of us: there is often a difference between the way specialists and lay people use certain words. "Classical music", for example, means something different to a musical historian than to the general public. Should I say that anybody using the term to apply to anything except a certain style of music composed between c1750 and c1820 is using it "incorrectly"? Of course not!

For the minority to insist that the majority are wrong because we don't understand the finer points of some arcane debate, is for me, to misunderstand how language works.

Mind you, it even happens with linguists. I read an article recently by a prominent linguistics professor lambasting people who say that an adjective "is a word that describes a noun", calling them " twaddle-repeaters". His point being that they "modify" nouns, but "describe" things denoted by those nouns. However true, I think that is a technicality that would escape most non-grammar freaks. (Oxford defines adjective as "a word naming an attribute of a noun, such as sweet, red, or technical.")

His own definition of an adjective is - "A category of lexemes characteristically denoting properties of persons or objects (old, big, round. blue, good). The prototypical adjective can be used both attributively and predicatively (hot soup, The soup is hot), participates in the system of grade (occurs in the comparative and superlative), and takes adverbs as modifier (extremely hot, very useful)." Totally accurate, but I don't think I'll try it on my students just yet.

Warsaw Will Apr-20-2013

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But what are we to do when it's a case of, "that's really not how it works"?

Snobbery aside, generally when a member of the public explains what they mean by their interpretation of 'subconscious', usually the explanation they give is precisely why we don't use the term (as we can see numerous times above, but for politeness' sake, I won't point out where). To use the least snobby analogy I can think of, using 'subconscious' in place of 'unconscious' is a bit like using 'white shoes' and 'black boots' interchangeably - it simply doesn't work and is completely misleading. And when you do learn about the structures of the psyche in psychology, you quickly realise that you really can't go on using the term in good conscience as it's like saying up is down, black is white, and so on.

I understand the reason people want to use 'subconscious', I really do, but it just doesn't work on any technical level, regardless of snobbery. It seems to me that subconscious makes things more convenient for English, but for as long as it stays around in our language like the thorn that is to therapists, it will continue to wreak damage to research and patients alike as their concept of the psyche is dangerously misled.

Or... we could all just get used to the idea of unconscious as a noun.

nhoJ Apr-20-2013

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@Warsaw Will: As an ESL teacher, I couldn't agree more about your interpretation of that particular linguistics professor's definition of an adjective... to think that some people consider the finer points of English inaccessible :D

@nhoJ: thank you for your perfectly reasonable cross-examination of the use of "subconscious"... you are respectful in the way that you make your point. However, you haven't convinced me of the fact that the term "subconscious" is misleading... I accept that students of psychology have an aversion to this word but I am still to be convinced that its concept is invalid. You say that it doesn't work on any technical level, but I truly would welcome an explanation that is satisfactory to the layman, other than "you wouldn't understand, so why bother" (with respect, that hasn't been your tone)

PS, I completely accept the word "unconscious" as a noun, in terms of the thoughts that we cannot typically access, although I fear that may have been a joke that was over my head? Am I paranoid? :D

Stu_ck Apr-20-2013

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I am a CCHT and have had nearly 15 years of study and experience on this. All I really know for certain is that if a person falls asleep during a session it may or may not help at all because their minds have turned off to the point of being unconscious to suggestion. Unconscious is litteraly at a state they are OUT! Unreceptive. They are in the Delta state. They can be in the subsconcious state and still function and that would be Alpha or Theta. But not the unconscious Delta. Beta is waking consciousness, Alpha is deep relaxation, midway between wakefulness and sleep, Theta, is a light sleep but still in awarensss, Delta, deep dreamless sleep in other words, in an unconscious state of mind. It is never good to talk about someone while they are sleeping because you do not know the state on mind they are in and could inadvertlay make negetive suggestions that they beleive about themselves.

Renee1 Apr-22-2013

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Stu_ck, I'm in the middle of an assignment and can't give a decent (read: long) answer for a few days, but don't worry, I will get back to you ASAP.

Renee, the opinion of a hypnotherapist is interesting here. I'm unaware of what a CCHT course consists of. In your training, did you decently cover the works of Freud, Jung, and so on, ie. was in depth coverage given to the psychodynamic founders? And I suppose most importantly, did your training cover the generally credited fathers of hypnotherapy with Charcot and Janet? It was the latter two who came up with subconsciente, or 'subconscious' in the 19th century, and the psychodynamic theorists who disproved it in the the early 20th, postulating instead the 'unconscious mind'.

If you've covered the material in depth - noting that they almost all used hypnosis themselves - do you feel Freud et al. were incorrect in their assertions and alternative models, and from a hypnotherapist's POV, have you a counter-argument of your own?

nhoJ Apr-23-2013

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no problem, nhoJ... get that work done! :D

Renee, thanks for the different perspective, which adds something else to think about. I'll try to be more conscious of what I say in front of the [possibly not] unconscious! Actually, that raises an interesting question as to what state a sleeping person is in, as opposed to someone who has been knocked out unconscious.

Stu_ck Apr-23-2013

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While I'm beavering away on my assignment, in the meantime, if you're genuinely interested in the subject, check out Carl Jung's 'Man and His Symbols', available for a few bucks on paperback on Ebay, etc. It's an introduction to Analytical Psychology for the general public. Modern psychology is a pretty dismal and barren place as far as the unconscious mind is concerned; that book is from the '60s, which is one of psychology's coolest periods!

nhoJ Apr-24-2013

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Cool, thanks. I appreciate the suggestion. I will try to track it down.

Stu_ck Apr-24-2013

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Hi all, I'm just wondering about what to use when writing about an automatically done action, ie the locking your door without realising it thing. I dont have any knowledge in psychology so Ill be the first to admit I have no idea about what half of this stuff means so I just read about thirty comments and then scrolled to the bottom. If the answers already there, in laymans, uneducated people terms, than I apologise. Now apparently subconscious actions dont exist (or the subconscious doesnt exist, either way)- does that mean I could say "I unconsciously locked the door and only realised when I returned." On a basic level, is that correct? Thanks very much,

Leah17 Apr-25-2013

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Sure, nothing wrong with that; although if it feels strange, maybe with 'unconsciously' somewhere different in the sentence... other than that, yeah, all good.

nhoJ Apr-25-2013

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Hi nhoJ, thanks for the reply. So would it be classed as wrong if I used subconsciously? I've just seen it before in other (non-scientific, fiction) pieces and wonder if I could still get away with using it. To me, I just thought unconscious means to not be aware of anything since you're out cold, so it doesnt make sense to try do something unconsciously, unless youre sleep walking or something lol.

Leah17 Apr-25-2013

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Put it this way, in the pop-culture sense, where liberty is taken with science on a daily basis, no, you can say 'subconsciously' as much as you like. When you start learning psych and realise 'subconscious' is a mistaken concept, it's annoying at first when you hear it everywhere, but you hear it so often you quickly resign yourself to the fact that the general public will probably always be saying it, and believing in the mistaken concept like other myths such as "you only use 10% of your brain" (you actually use pretty much all of your brain throughout the day).

On our first day of psych 101, we had a myth-busting session and it was pretty demoralising: say you know ten things about psychology - chances are that one of those things is correct. Unsurprisingly, many psych students drop out quite early, because we don't study what most people seem to think we study. Pretty depressing, huh?

So it depends, if you're happy enough with the myths of pop-psychology, and just want to weave a good story and don't mind talking down to your readers, knock yourself out. It's in the general English dictionaries, regardless of its incredible scientific inaccuracy. If on the other hand you want to be accurate and scientific, no. :-/

If you want to address things at different levels, the two correct terms are unconscious(ly) and subliminal(ly). Unconscious means something is completely out of conscious awareness, or incompatible with the conscious mind, and so on (more on that later). Subliminal on the other hand generally refers to attention and focus on stimuli - unlike something unconscious, something that is subliminal (such as a very subtle soundtrack that goes unnoticed) can generally be made aware of simply by conscious redirection of focus (ie. "Hey, go back to that last scene, did you notice the music in the background?).

To confuse your terminology even further (!!!), there's a difference between awake and conscious, and as noted above, asleep and unconscious. But I'm saving that for my larger reply to St_uck when I finish my assignment. As noted above, 'subconscious' and 'subconsciously' make things more convenient for English, but don't actually hold water in scientific sense; plus, they imply a structure of the psyche almost in reverse to its true form.

Actually, if I were a sci-fi writer, I'd love to popularise the proper terminology, because once looked at, the world of the unconscious and the conscious mind that grows from it is actually far more interesting. :)

nhoJ Apr-26-2013

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@nhoJ I'm looking forward to the end of your assignment ;)

@Leah17 In my opinion, if you are not looking to write a clinical or academic psychology essay, then you could quite justifiably use "subconsciously" in your example, given its dictionary definition. If you came home and didn't realise that it was you who had locked the door, then perhaps "unconsciously" would be more appropriate?

However, I should stress that this is just my reading of the situation, from an interested layman's point of view, rather than an academic one. For example, "nhoJ" has clearly studied the subject in detail and can give an excellent reading from that point of view. I hope I didn't complicate things for you :)

Stu_ck Apr-26-2013

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G'day Stu_ck,

Apologies on my delay, I finished my assignment a week ago, but came down with a dose of Man-Flu! ;)

Anyway, I've been mulling over how best to answer this, and I figure the best way would to be give a quick version that explains things in a qualitative sense, and then expand on things with a structural/topographical viewpoint. I'm not sure I can put things in layman's terms, but instead I will assume intelligence in the reader, and seek to explain any technical terms I use as best as possible without resorting to the bastardising effect of analogies, as well as maybe refute some myths along the way. If any terminology or concepts remain unclear, please highlight them and I'll try to explain them further, yeah?

This is going to be LONG. ;)

So, the quick explanation. Firstly, I must introduce the Freudian terms of Primary Process Thinking, and Secondary Process Thinking. Primary process thinking is the primitive, undeveloped, natural thinking of humans prior to the development of the conscious ego that comes with mental development over time (the ego being the basic conscious part of the psyche, responsible for reality testing, executive functioning, logical thought, and so on - more on that later). Primary process thinking is the natural state of the infant, is instinctive, 'irrational', and is the inherent language of the unconscious. Primary process thinking runs parallel with secondary process thinking, and when the conscious ego is dormant during sleep, secondary process thinking drops out completely in most cases and our body and psyche run purely according to primary process thinking - the natural, instinctive, primordial language of ourselves as an organism. Ever noticed how dreams are so chaotic, unstructured, and illogical? This is primary process thinking: the language of the unconscious.

Now, secondary process thinking on the other hand is the specific product of consciousness. It is the kind of thinking that is logical, rational, structured, and so on. Work out a tricky sum in your head, for instance, and that whole process was an example secondary process thinking: the language of the conscious. Such thinking takes time and development; the sort of thing that is inculcated by method during schooling for instance. Whereas primary process thinking (unconscious) is primitive, secondary process thinking (conscious) is sophisticated.

Now that you understand these terms, to give the quick answer, 'subconscious' implies only secondary process thinking: a secondary-process conscious-mind, and another secondary-process 'subconscious' mind below that. Anyone who has given even the slightest bit of analysis to the way they think, dream, and so on, can clearly see that such thinking is inherently ridiculous (particularly when looking at the bizarre nature of dreams, which are anything but rational and logical).

Now that we've explored things from a qualitative viewpoint, let's expand on things from a structural/topographical viewpoint.

Firstly, when I show someone a working model of the psyche, their usual reaction is, "oh, so it's the opposite of what you'd think". I don't mean this in a snobbish sense (well, maybe a little), but the general public actually had a more accurate view of the psyche *before* they thought they knew something about it. True, their thinking may have been mystical and perhaps only implicit, but it didn't have the profoundly misleading ideas that have sprung from pop-psychology. If you were to ask the layman, the general structure they would have in mind would be first the conscious mind, and from out of that comes the 'subconscious'. But in actual fact the structure works this way:
First we have the body -> from out of this comes the unconscious -> and from out of the unconscious comes the conscious mind.
On the subject of the body and highlighting primary process thinking, intuitions are an example of this (intuitions being unconscious thoughts, or 'hunches'). And it is quite apt that we call these "gut feelings", as recent research reveals that the gut has about the same number of neurons as a cat brain, and the heart has an even greater number, iirc. Perhaps the poets were right....

Before I further continue, I must introduce the term 'complex'. Bastardised pop-psychology has the term shed in a purely negative light, and beyond that, most people couldn't actually tell you what a complex is. A complex is merely a cluster of associations around a central theme. For instance, if we were to take the cliche of 'mother' as a complex, around that central node of 'mother' would be attached such things as: female, older, the colour of her hair, and so on. Complexes can be positive, negative, or simply neutral in their associations, and thinking without them would be impossible.

Now that's out of the way, let me return to the conscious 'ego'. The ego - the chief agent of secondary process thinking - is itself merely a complex; a complex that grows out of the unconscious, much like a tree grows from soil. The ego takes time and development, and is arguably not even fully grown until adulthood. The conscious ego is merely an extension of the unconscious, and is entirely capable of being overwhelmed by it, and being re-absorbed into the unconscious (and even being replaced with an alter-ego - a competing cluster).

To not grasp this concept of conscious, rational, secondary process thinking, makes the understanding and diagnosis of such disorders as schizophrenia damn near impossible (and as such, my advice to people seeking a therapist is that if they speak of a 'subconscious', they should really just walk away and find someone else who actually has a working concept of the psyche).

So, we've addressed the chain of events in consciousness, and the implications of structure, so let's now address the 'sub' part of 'subconscious'.

As Jung noted, 'subconscious' is misleading because not only is the unconscious below consciousness, but it can also be above it. If we set aside the misleading 'conscious' part of 'subconscious' and just let things be, then not only would we have to invoke the term 'subconscious' for the things below, but also 'superconscious' for the things above (and note that all three of superconscious, conscious, and subconscious are given the unhelpful tag "conscious").

I had trouble making sense of Jung's explanation of the 'above' in that paper, but if you've ever had something like a spontaneous vision impose itself over your actual regular, seeing-with-your-eyes vision (as I have), such phenomena would be above consciousness, despite their contents being unconscious - without willed volition. What too of auditory hallucinations? Food for thought....

Continuing on the theme of 'above', let us concentrate on visual processing. The Gestalt psychologists in particular did much research on the automatic mechanisms regarding vision. Just look around you right now: did you see a bunch of random visual stimuli and go consciously go, "okay, straight line up, some across, certain colours: that's my monitor; oblong frame beside me, it's painted white: must be my door frame....." (and so on), or did just open your eyes and an entire visual field appeared before you, and you knew what you were looking at? Despite the fact that you were "conscious" or more accurately *awake* during the process, all of this processing was done outside of your conscious awareness. It was not conscious, it was *unconscious*. And such a vast amount of visual information would have been well beyond the capabilities of your psychically tiny conscious ego - I guess that would qualify as *above* consciousness. Consciousness is but a narrow searchlight within the murky darkness of the unconscious.

Right, we're likely all getting tired and grumpy now, so I'll finish up with topography in particular.

Freud was probably one of the most vocal advocates in rejecting the term 'subconscious', but ironically, it's Freud with whom the term is most associated (by people who've never Freud - he'd probably turn in his grave if he knew). Nevertheless, let's give the term the benefit of the doubt and re-explore it after seeing Freud's map of the psyche.

Imagine these in a pyramid of three sections:

The Conscious is likened to the tip of an iceberg, with the much greater portion of the iceberg lying below in the illustration representing the Pre-Conscious and the Unconscious. The Pre-Conscious is things outside of conscious awareness but readily available to consciousness when needed, such as your address, mother's name, and so on. The Unconscious is outside of conscious awareness, consisting of things forgotten, repressed, and so on. Now if we give the people who say "Freud's Subconscious" the benefit of the doubt and run with it, to what part of the psyche are they referring? Is it the Pre-Conscious, or the Unconscious... or is it both? Who could say, given that he rejected the term outright?

And lastly, let's look at Jung. Jung expanded on the idea of the unconscious, going much further than Freud. Apart from other unconscious components of psyche than just Freud's id (which I won't go into), Jung introduced the concept of the Personal Unconscious, and the Collective Unconscious. The personal unconscious is actually made of things that originated in consciousness, but the collective unconscious consists of the archetypes and instincts; the things that are your genetic inheritance as a human that are universal to all humans and guide your conscious development. Now if consciousness comes out of this, and is in particular shaped by this inherited collective unconscious, how could such a thing have originated and extended from your conscious mind? I've sometimes seen it re-phrased as the "Collective Subconscious", but such a thing would be a contradiction in terms and completely illogical.

Phew. I think that's it for now. Thank you all for your patience, I hope you don't mind such a LOOOOONNNGGG post, and if you'd like me to further expand on any of these things, let me know.


nhoJ May-04-2013

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Hi nhoJ, sorry that I've also been away... I didn't forget and have just thoroughly read your excellent post. I just wanted to recognise your trouble and effort, and I think I will do a couple of re-reads and formulate some follow-up points/questions. Thanks!

Stu_ck May-15-2013

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Cheers, man. :)

nhoJ May-15-2013

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Thoughts like ...your Birth Date, Parents and Grand Parents' Names, First School Teacher's Name and Face, etc are GENETICALLY stored in Personal UNCONSCIOUS ARCHIVAL...which when required comes INSTANTLY through CONSCIOUS mind...bypassing SUBCONSCIOUS mind...on FAIL SAFE MEMORY genetic order.

No man can forget this Personal Unconscious Memory for Life.

It could also help ONE to transfer Memory to Personal UNconscious Genetic Practice...whereby One can instantly Recall the Memory without Subconscious memory too holding the same Data in different Zone of Brain.
Good Luck to those who DARE to Practice this ART of Memory Recall,

Kishore Kaikini May-21-2013

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On what literature is this based, Kishore?

nhoJ May-21-2013

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I love so many of the answers to this question... they go something like, "stop using the term subconscious you moron!" What's funny about that to me is that the whole study of the mind is simply to try and figure out why we do/think/feel the way we do, etc. However, it has always been, and seems to persist in the field of psychology, to demand that terms be used that are hard to relate to and understand. This question hits that nerve dead-on.

Why I do NOT run with Freud on this one and why I have Hollywood behind me (haha) is simply that we (not psychologists who want to make things seem very difficult) know there are simply 3-layers of the mind to be dealt with.

I. CONSCIOUS: Me writing this right now and you reading this right now.

II. SUBCONSCIOUS/PRECONSCIOUS: You already knowing you're going to thumb up this article without even having thought about it.

III. UNCONSCIOUS: When you were five, someone dropped a large psychology book on your head which caused the need for 17-stitches on the top of your head and so your mind repressed that memory to never be brought back up again.

Now, what's the problem? We have a "workbench" that the mind uses that is IN BETWEEN those two layers. This level of consciousness is tapped into from Layer I and also accessed from Layer III. Now, in the English language, what is the proper term to describe "UNDER" a layer? What is a good term to describe "BETWEEN" two layers? Well, for me, in English, the term "SUB" is way more descriptive than the term "PRE" which conjures more of a "BEFORE" than a "BELOW" or "INBETWEEN". So, I will not be utilizing what that mother-loving psycho Freud said (said laughingly with love) but will instead be using the much more sensical "SUBCONSCIOUS" to mean the workbench the mind uses to access UNCONSCIOUS thoughts when they surface as well as remembering temporary data like phone numbers etc.

Super D May-22-2013

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Well Super D, I must say that's not really all that scientific, but in that breakdown, I would use sub over pre. I'm not sure you'll get the whole psychology movement on your side though.

Psych This May-22-2013

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Super D, you're argument is backfiring in terms of the confusion issue. You want to clear it up so that it works in English, and so it appears, functions *relatively* well alongside psychology as well. So the 'subconscious' to you is the Preconscious material of your address, phone number... things readily available to consciousness. Cool, that sounds sounds workable....
...wait a minute! You now have to explain to whoever's listening, "but wait, my idea of 'subconscious' isn't the thing that's going when you're dreaming, that's another thing entirely". Generally when it comes to the unconscious/'subconscious' mind, people are mostly interested in relation to dreams - particularly their bizarre nature and symbolism - and this is not the part of the psyche you were just talking about.

If you object to the dorky sounding nature of Preconscious (and fair enough), and wanted to simplify it for the general public, I'd have this:
Conscious - as discussed
Basic everyday working memory
Unconscious - as discussed, however, note this the dreaming part in all of this

To substitute for Preconscious with simply "your basic memory" (or something similar) would have no conflict with psych, and be just as useful. Let the Freudians say Preconscious if they really have to, and in the meantime, it'd still be conscious and unconscious, which would make the psychologists very happy.

nhoJ May-22-2013

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You are not aware or don't remember doing something; but "you" still did it.

You did something unconsciously but the driving force behind your unconscious act was the subconscious mind.

My take on this; examples and meaning.
undo, unwind, unclear, uncertain :: reverse, opposite, negative.
submarine, subset, subplot :: inner, under(this is ironic), lower

If the context is you then:

Consciousness that is not quite yours; but it is still there operating under at lower levels. There is no information about your own consciousness being off or on. It is just your lower/inner/under consciousness.

Your consciousness is not there/off/in reverse state. There is no information about the state or existence of the subconsciousness.

Some people have a tendency to conflict similar concepts when one is alien or strange to them. I guess their low IQ can't handle the difference; so they remove all instance to the concept they don't get.

stst Jul-12-2013

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This indeed makes sense when trying to reconcile things from an English-language standpoint, but when you're trying to impose this upon the actual facts and scientific literature, it really starts to veer into the realm of post-hoc reasoning. As for your last paragraph, don't be childish.

Firstly, as I asked Kishore, on what literature is this opinion based, stst?

If you were to examine the literature, particularly the work of the psychoanalytic community of the first half of the twentieth century and recent fields such as neuropsychoanalysis and other disciplines that study the interaction between psyche and neuroanatomy, you would see that conscious thought is a very narrow spectrum, which in Freudian language is called Secondary Process Thinking.

This 'subconscious mind' you propose has been thoroughly dispelled by psych literature (although I can't account for the misinformation found in Self Help/Pop Psychology), as you will see in earlier arguments. To say otherwise is to impose the violently misunderstood concept of Secondary Process Thinking in the areas outside of consciousness, and to force Secondary Process Thinking in the place of the unconscious mind's Primary Process Thinking.

If I understood a whimsical argument by Jung correctly, about the only time a 'subconscious mind' could be said to exist is when an alter-ego is forming in the unconscious; one that can threaten and overtake your current consciousness. Thus, if you do have a subconscious mind, you should be very worried indeed!

I've already stated this, but to quote Freud directly:
"If someone talks of subconsciousness, I cannot tell whether he means the term topographically – to indicate something lying in the mind beneath consciousness – or qualitatively – to indicate another consciousness, a subterranean one, as it were. He is probably not clear about any of it. The only trustworthy antithesis is between conscious and unconscious".

If you're going to be childish and bring "IQ" into it, then when it comes to authority of information, I think I'll take Freud and the body of psych literature over the opinions of an anonymous person on the internet.

nhoJ Jul-12-2013

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Sorry, should revise a badly worded sentence above. It is violently misunderstood to impose the concept of conscious Secondary Process Thinking into the areas of unconscious Primary Process Thinking.

nhoJ Jul-12-2013

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The meaning of "subconciousness" should not become a trauma like phenomena that belongs to the unconsciousness part of the scientific community.
-That was my bashing.

Btw, don't waste your time scientific "literature" and "facts". They are subjective and often shaped by money, institutions or government. Some call this "institutional thinking". Focus on scienetific methods and what methods where used to prove what.

stst Jul-12-2013

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The unconscious is not merely a place of trauma, stst, and it never has been. There are some views that Freudians view the unconscious this way, but this is a gross over-simplification that becomes completely inaccurate (I should state that I'm not a Freudian by the way, but he did get certain broad strokes right in this area that we still use today).

Fair enough on 'institutional thinking'; I could focus on the scientific methods that got us here, but it would take more room than this entire thread and take me weeks to compile. Have you read the long answer I compiled for Stu_ck? Is there anything you take issue with there?

nhoJ Jul-12-2013

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I love the fact that this question was posed in 2005 and the thread is still up for discussion in 2013 :)

Sammiroo Aug-21-2013

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Get over Freud and Jung. This conversation has been going on for centuries. Though, it's been framed using slightly different terminology through perception and awareness.

Personally, I've understood consciousness as spectrum of degrees of awareness:

Your conscious is composed of what you are currently aware of.
For example: reading these words.

Your subconscious is whatever you are not currently aware of, but have the ability to become aware of.
For example: memories, dreams, your phone number, language not in use, etc...

Unconsciousness is whatever you do not have the ability to become aware of.

I guess, if I were breaking it down, I'd take "conscious" to mean "skill of perception." This would make "sub-concious" mean something like "less skilled perception," and "unconscious" to mean "no skill of perception."

rs Oct-14-2013

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Whoah, whoah, hold up there, rs. For now, I'll ignore your hubris, but saying 'get over Freud and Jung' is like saying 'get over Einstein, time isn't a real thing'.

Freud may be unpopular today, but Jung certainly isn't, and while many parts of Freudian theory may be scoffed at today (such as infantile sexuality and the like), many other parts have survived scientific rigour and form the backbone of neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology in general (for instance, the difference between Primary and Secondary Process thinking which qualitatively allow us to differentiate between conscious and unconscious). Jung on the other hand is still very popular and there's little that researchers nowadays feel he got wrong, but rather, it's spooky how much he seems to have got right.

For instance, some of the most exciting neuroscientific research I've seen was on dreamers, and how they were surprised to find that our visual cortex isn't really running when we dream (which is weird, 'cos we can see, right?), but rather the associative visual cortical areas were running, meaning we really do dream in symbolism. To which the neuroscientist said '...if Freud and Jung could see these results, they'd be tickled pink'.

Yes, this debate has been going on for centuries - albeit with differing terminology - but the term 'unconscious mind' predates 'subconscious mind', and it was only when hypnotherapists Charcot and Janet introduced the term 'subconscious mind' in the late 19th century that a spanner was thrown in the works, and we're having this conversation today. Freud, Jung, and others at the time were in the generation that followed, and thoroughly disproved the faulty concept. Unfortunately it's the misperceptions of self-help and other 'folk psychology' -as it was known at the time in German- that persist that continue the idea, along with other misperceptions such as 'we only use 10% of our brains', or that people can either be 'left or right hemisphered'.

Psychology operates through a body of established literature, which we further build upon through further research. Freud and Jung's work is already established literature, and we do not ignore it. Some parts of Freud may have been disproven over the last century, but other parts have been strengthened, particularly the differentiation between conscious and unconscious material. Our established body of literature is what matters to us, not the whims and fashions of the general public, and unreferenced, unresearched self-help and other folk or 'pop' psychology does not make up this literature. Although I'd dare say that a century on, perhaps it's time for a review of said research on this subject, as even university lecturers nowadays are making large mistakes over even basic material as they haven't even read the material they claim to be teaching! ;) There are other parts of more modern research that could be used in argument against 'subconscious', but by and large, it hasn't been seen as necessary, because the arguments established in the body of psychology literature have thus far been sufficient.

Anyway, as to what you refer to as 'subconscious', this doesn't fit any theoretical framework, not even that of Charcot and Janet who coined the term. The material you gave in example is "pre-conscious" to use unfashionable Freudian language, and in more everyday terminology simply fits under differing forms of memory. You also differentiate between unconscious and so-called 'subconscious' material, and if you look at the original post of this thread (ie. are the terms interchangeable?), this is not helping to simplify matters. Like Freud noted, I'm not sure if you're speaking qualitatively or topographically, and chances are that the one saying it is 'unaware of any of it'.

What you refer to as unconscious material is partially correct in that we are simply unaware of it, but unconscious material can be made conscious through varying techniques, and it's upon this idea that psychoanalysis was formed in the first place, and other psychodynamic disciplines. Heck, probably 90% of psychodynamic therapy is making conscious what was unconscious, and helping the client deal with and integrate this material.

Through dreams in particular we get a direct glimpse at unconscious material, however, if dream material were 'subconscious' (indicating a subterranean consciousness), then our dreams would look like every day life, rather than the bizzare worlds we see in them.

nhoJ Oct-14-2013

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Here is how I define it and identify with it personally.

Unconscious thinking: to meditate/ REM sleep
Subconscious thinking: to be unaware of conscious thought
Conscious thinking: to be aware of your thoughts

Kittykatmeowwww Feb-25-2014

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The subconscious was a term utitlized in Freudian theories whereas unconscious was popular among Jungians. The unconscious is a place for example...where the symbolisms for dream interpreting are held... and the conscious state while dreaming itself. The subconscious is basically not referred to in modern psychology theories since 1960's Germany. I recommend reading Jungs' "Man and His Symbols" for an outstanding investigation of the intertwinement of these terms.

A;LA;IHU Apr-30-2014

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Sorry, but I have a copy of Freud's 'The Unconscious' two feet away from me that states this isn't the case (Freud catagorically calls for a rejection of the term in it - check it if you want verification), although it is a common mistake made by those who've not actually read Freud. I think the journalist who compiled Man And His Symbols made the same mistake in earlier editions - although in the edition I have here, if the mistake was included, it's since been removed.

nhoJ Apr-30-2014

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Is this a translation? Or the original German?
Do the math. Then the language!
It adds up!

Moshe Apr-30-2014

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Both Freud (Austrian) and Jung (Swiss) wrote in German, and Jung's theory is derived from Freudian theory, before their ideoligical split. However, on the unconscious and its terminology, the men were in agreement (although the Preconscious is not something that appears in Jungian theory, however I don't think there's any real conflict there). If I have this correct, I think in German it goes:
Unconscious - das Unbewusste
Preconscious - das Vorbewusste
'Subconscious' - das Unterbewusste

A quick wikipedia grab:
"The erroneous, pseudo-Freudan use of subconscious and "subconsciousness" has its precise equivalent in German, where the words inappropriately employed are das Unterbewusste and das Unterbewusstsein".

nhoJ Apr-30-2014

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I was knocked unconscious in a fall . I was unconscious for five days . But during that period I talked to various people .. I don't remember anything I said to others . What is the medical terminology for that unconscious talking .. Was I unconscious despite being able to talk ??

Houston Frazier Nov-25-2017

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to Houston Frazier-
if you cant actually access those memories it should be defined as unconscious going off the discussions above but its quite an odd thing...
in my honest opinion, i believe if at the time of these discussions you were alert and aware, there was a state of 'consciousness' (maybe not 100% though) but due to the state of your mind at the moment (your concussion) these moments became unconscious.

besides that ^^

in my current understanding of the two terms put into "i was (subconscious/unconscious) when i (action)" subconscious is when you do the action without conscious thought and soon notice the action but unconscious is when you do an act which you never remember or realise unless it is pointed out to you which then makes it go from an unconscious action to completely conscious and if you continue the action after becoming conscious of it, it usually becomes subconscious as you aren't necessarily thinking about the action but are not conscious of it to a degree. for example: "i unconsciously tap my foot" becomes "i subconsciously tap my foot" once someone points it out and you become aware of it.
thats just my view thought and im happy to be proven wrong :) im no scholar and this is just an opinion so id love some insight of other views on the matter

maybe Mar-02-2020

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"are not conscious of it to a degree" should be are conscious of it to a degree
my bad

maybe Mar-02-2020

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Subconscious Mind: Old term that refers to BOTH Preconscious and Unconscious Minds.

Subconscious Mind = Preconscious Mind & Unconscious Mind.

Alejandro Jun-25-2020

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In fact Freud separated the subconscious into a preconscious, which contains latent (just below the surface) memories, and a personal unconscious, which contains repressed and forgotten memories.

Alejandro Jun-25-2020

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The word 'subconscious' is usually frowned upon in academic settings because it is often unclear if it is talking about the unconscious or the preconscious levels.

Alejandro Jun-25-2020

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