A snowball on the tip of an iceberg

I’ve just started reading a new book and already six pages into it, I’m delighted:

“According to the modern perspective, Freud’s view of the unconscious was far too limited. When he said (following Gustav Fechner, an early experimental psychologist) that consciousness is the tip of the mental iceberg, he was short of the mark by quite a bit – it may be more the size of a snowball on top of that iceberg. The mind operates most efficiently by relegating a good deal of high-level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious, just as a modern jumbo jetliner is able to fly on automatic pilot with little or no input from the human, ‘conscious’ pilot. The adaptive unconsciousness does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner. It is a necessary and extensive part of a highly efficient mind and not just the demanding child of the mental family and the defenses that have developed to keep this child in check.”

The book is “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson. More to come, I’m sure.


4 thoughts on “A snowball on the tip of an iceberg

  1. Pawel says:

    Hi Dan, Have you seen any studies that actually attempt to measure how large part of brain activity consist of conscious/unconscious thinking (in terms of energy consumption). And would it not be more relevant to study how many of our daily decisions are taken consiously vs unconsiously. Of course, we then get into the trouble of defining decision, is my next heart beat a decision of my unconciousness?

  2. Hey Pawel, sorry for not replying sooner. It’s due in part to the fact that I haven’t been very active here as of late, and in part to my not having a good answer to your question. I don’t know of any such quantative studies but the more I read “Strangers to Ourselves” the more I begin to believe that what we normally mean by “conscious” decisions are merely a small fraction of all the decisions we make, and also that there is a huge unconscious element even to our “conscious” decisions. The two most important things I’ve learned so far from this book are that consciousness is an even smaller part of our mind than I thought and consciousness vs unconsciousness isn’t a question of higher-order vs lower-order processes. Our unconsciousness is quite capable even of “higher-order” stuff like planning and deduction, it seems. More to come once I finish the book!

  3. Pawel says:

    I just saw a discussion on effects of advertising on people that cant recall that they actually saw the ads, i.e. subconsciouss processing. This was on a member only forum though- NextGenerationMarketResarch Group (Linkedn) so join if you want to read or I can c/p it for you.

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