Books about the unconscious

I have read some or all of the books listed and I am reviewing them now in 2018.  But the most recent one has been the most powerful and memorable and helpful.  That is the book "Incognito" by David Eagleman. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

  1. Cordelia Fine's A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives
  2. Shankar Vedantam's The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives
  3. Prof. Timothy Wilson's Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

  4. Also Prof. Wilson's "Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

  5. Wray Herbert's On Second Thought: Outsmarting Hard-Wired Habits
  6. Before You Know It by John Bargh

I often find myself reviewing Ornstein's hypothesized sensitivity of our human wiring.  He thought we seemed to be put together in a way that organizes our minds and perception systems according to
  • Recency - what was I just doing?
  • Comparison - is this our biggest pumpkin ever?
  • Vividness - is this extra-real in some sense?
  • Meaning - does this mean I will be rich?  Eaten alive?

He makes clear that he means that these types of awareness are part of many levels of our nervous system, not just the high levels up in the brain.

But I am quite aware that my thoughts come from somewhere.  Sometimes, they are about things I don't see any point in thinking about right then.  When I am lusting after cashews but trying to concentrate on paying bills, I resist getting diverted to nuts.  

Where did the thought of nuts come from?  Who ordered that thought front and center?  I have not read anything that really makes clear what part of me sends pre-thoughts to the parts of me that create conscious thoughts.  I am still on the lookout for good, reliable, evidence-based explanations of the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, the unconscious mind and connections and communication between them.

A hot topic in neuropsychology and related subjects these days is "brain plasticity".  The discovery that the brain has parts and subsections but that it does "re-wire" itself as a result of training, learning, experiences is fairly recent.  Recently, reading "Rewire Your Brain" by John Arden, I saw that because we are complex beings and because we have important individual histories that shape us, there are probably several different sources that contribute to what gets thought.  Quite a while back, I learned about "emergence", a way of describing a phenomenon that comes not from a single basic source but EMERGES from a collective, whether it is a group of atoms or bees or vibrations. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

thinking about unconscious/subconscious minds

Malcolm Gladwell wrote "Blink" in which he explained many positive aspects of making decisions rapidly and based on intuition and gut feeling.  Daniel Kahneman received a Noble prize for his work on human decision-making.  He wrote "Thinking: Fast and Slow". I haven't read it yet but I bet he explains both sides, the immediate gut-based decision and the slower, rational, analytic kind.  From what I have read of Timothy Wilson, Wray Herbert, Cordelia Fine, Shankar Vedantam, and Sheena Iyengar, I have learned that my gut decisions are often related to basic mind patterns found in most human minds of 20 or 30 years or more.  The human subconscious helps us find our thoughts and the assistance is not unbiased or completely even-handed.  

Wray Herbert starts his book with a discussion of experienced skiers moving into a valley that was clearly ready for an avalanche and getting caught and killed by just such a disaster.  He attributes the event to the pattern or "heuristic" of our unconscious minds to accept what is familiar less critically than what is new and strange.  Shankar Vedantam makes clear that much of what we think, what we attend to, which ideas come to mind is related to what went on and is going on in our subconscious/unconscious minds.

Here are some of my posts on our subconscious/unconscious minds:

fear, fun and filoz: Help from the unconscious mind
Nov 22, 2010
She explains that it is possible to work with the unconscious and have its efficiency assist your will. Make several clear statements, maybe in writing, to yourself about not eating cookies or whatever you are working on. Include ...

fear, fun and filoz: Not aware of myself
Dec 30, 2011
Wilson starts off distinguishing Freud's version of the unconscious from more modern conceptions. ... The first book I read on modern thinking about the unconscious mind was The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam.

fear, fun and filoz: Out in the countryside of the mind
Sep 30, 2011
Prof. Timothy Wilson's Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. Wray Herbert's On Second Thought: Outsmarting Hard-Wired Habits I often find myself reviewing Ornstein's hypothesized sensitivity of our ...

fear, fun and filoz: Some books grab our attention
Apr 22, 2010
I have been looking for something on the unconscious mind and this is pretty good. Vedantam is a science reporter for the Washington Post and of course, he writes well. He establishes that there are many parts of us that are ...

fear, fun and filoz: Writing from me to me
Jan 16, 2012
I have had the idea that I have a purpose and a goal but it is just now becoming clear to me that Wilson's Strangers and his more recent Re-direct form the beginning of a clearer picture of my unconscious. Wilson cites ...

fear, fun and filoz: Good-looking people like you enjoy reading this
Feb 15, 2011
Besides the thoughts and sensations we are aware of, our unconscious or subconscious mind is continually at work, sending impulses to us on how to form words we want to use, keeping our heart beating, our gut digesting, ...

fear, fun and filoz: Now, what did I do?
Mar 09, 2011
They don't have to think since their body and unconscious mind knows what to do and how to do it. That sounds economical of energy and thought, and it is. However, if the execution is too automatic, it is possible that very ...

fear, fun and filoz: four or five or more spaces we are always in
Jul 25, 2011
We could also decide to separate out the conscious from the unconscious or subconscious. What I "have on my mind", preparing dinner, say, may be quite different from the anticipation I am feeling about seeing a promising ...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Urges, conscious thought and responsibility

As I think, read, write and talk about the mind, I find I am increasingly aware of what I have been reading about the unconscious.  Several books and papers discuss the current status and the history of the concept.  I am surprised to find that many sources see the concept as murky, ill-defined, maybe even controversial.

I have listed most of the authors I have read on the subject in the 6/21/12 post.  I got good additional understanding from each.  For my own thinking, the source of words that I write or type, the words that I speak and clear-cut examples of actions that are habitual with me are good examples of the unconscious at work.  So are some rapid thought/action combinations, as in sports, where I might not be exercising a habit but I am clearly reacting faster than I can consciously think.  Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Timothy Gallwey, the author of The Inner Game of Tennis, are both good sources on the idea of our heads working for us but not in a conscious, deliberate, explicit choice way.  Cordelia Fine is a good source on the lower and more basic parts of our minds that always see ourselves as fine people and the world as revolving around us, even when our conscious adult minds know this is a big fiction.  

Many different authors and thinkers emphasize that all our sense data is a fiction that our minds create as perceptions of the world but are actually only abstract models.  They tend to work pretty well for us but are not complete and accurate truths.

I noticed a while back that Michael Gazzaniga, a noted brain and mind researcher, has a book called "Who's In Charge?"  I guess that as we find more detail and develop more understanding, it becomes easier to say that what I do may come from unconscious sources and not my deliberate choice.  In an interview, Gazzaniga said that science and medicine are closer to being able to treat criminal behavior and tendencies, for example, and may get to the point where the treatment is highly effective.  That book and "Free Will" by Sam Harris, as well as other sources, bring up the question of how much responsibility for, and how much control we really have over, our thoughts and actions.