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The Unconscious is a rich concept with a multi-faceted history. For Freud it began as that part of the mind that contained our repressed anxieties, and later it developed into the site of repression for the Oedipus complex, which is the illicit desire to sleep with one's mother and kill one's father. Still later, when Freud developed his structural model, it became the site not only of the Id, but also the Superego, which is the civilizing "instinct" that represented the legacy of the parental voice, making both inaccessible to the functioning Ego.
For Lacan the unconscious was "structured like a language," and in reality it was language, that is, that element which is already given and is not really available to subjectivity. For Jung the unconscious contains both personal material that has been repressed or simply forgotten, but more importantly it contains the collective unconscious, an accumulation of inherited experiences of all humankind that guides and advises our conscious mind. For cognitive psychologists it consists of processes and information that operate, without need for our conscious intervention, to enable us to make sense of the world.
Many others reject the whole notion of an unconscious mind, regarding it as merely a social construction, denying the need to invoke mental processes that are not accessible, and arguing against the validity of such non-falsifiable theories. Still, various observers throughout history have argued that there are influences on consciousness from other parts of the mind, invoking notions such as intuition. Other terms that relate to semi-conscious states or processes include: awakening, implicit memory, subliminal messages, trance, and hypnosis. While sleep, sleep walking, delirium, and coma may signal the presence of unconscious processes they may be different from an unconscious mind.
Those who acknowledge the spiritual nature of human beings note that spiritual senses permit people to communicate with the spiritual world, providing access to information and processes that can be understood as a deeper level of each mind. However, for many people their spiritual senses are so dulled that they are generally unaware of them and their "spiritual mind," thus it has been relegated as the role of the unconscious.
The idea of an unconscious mind originated in antiquity  and has been explored across cultures. It was recorded between 2500 and 600 B.C.E. in the Hindu texts known as the Vedas, found today in Ayurvedic medicine.    In the Vedic worldview, consciousness is the basis of physiology   and pure consciousness is "an abstract, silent, completely unified field of consciousness"  within "an architecture of increasingly abstract, functionally integrated faculties or levels of mind." 
William Shakespeare explored the role of the unconscious  in many of his plays, without naming it as such.    In the nineteenth century Gothic fiction also treated the unconscious mind in such works as Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The unconscious in philosophy
Western philosophers, such as Spinoza, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, developed a western view of mind which foreshadowed those of Freud's thought. Schopenhauer was also influenced by his reading of the Vedas and the Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah. Freud drew on his own Jewish roots to develop an interpersonal examination of the unconscious mind    as well as his own therapeutic roots in hypnosis into an apparently new therapeutic intervention and its associated rationale, known as psychoanalysis.
Articulating the idea of something not conscious or actively denied to awareness with the symbolic constructs of language has been a process of human thought and interpersonal influence for over a thousand years. Freud and his followers popularized unconscious motivation in a culture of the individual and within a philosophical tradition that emphasized the Subject, which posited a self viewed as both separate and sufficient.
The resultant status of the unconscious mind may be viewed as a social construction–that the unconscious exists because people agree to behave as if it exists.  Symbolic interactionism discusses this further and argues that people's selves (conscious and unconscious) are although purposeful and creative are nevertheless social products. 
Unconscious process and unconscious mind
Neuroscience, while an unlikely place to find support for a proposition as adaptable as the unconscious mind,  has nonetheless produced some interesting results. "Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have found that fleeting images of fearful faces—images that appear and disappear so quickly that they escape conscious awareness—produce unconscious anxiety that can be detected in the brain with the latest neuroimaging machines." The conscious mind is hundreds of milliseconds behind those unconscious processes.
While these results represent research into the unconscious processes of the mind, a distinction has to be drawn between unconscious processes and the unconscious mind. They are not identical. The results of neuroscience cannot demonstrate the existence of the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind and its expected psychoanalytic contents       are also different from unconsciousness, coma, and a minimally conscious state. Psychoanalytic theory is, at best, a metanarrative on the way the mind functions, and not the result of scientific findings.
The psychoanalytic unconscious
Structure of the unconscious
Consciousness, in Freud's topographical view (which was his first of several psychological models of the mind) was a relatively thin perceptual aspect of the mind, whereas the subconscious was that merely autonomic function of the brain. The unconscious was considered by Freud throughout the evolution of his psychoanalytic theory a sentient force of will influenced by human drive and yet operating well below the perceptual conscious mind. For Freud, the unconscious is the storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, and psychic actions. While past thoughts and memories may be deleted from immediate consciousness, they direct the thoughts and feelings of the individual from the realm of the unconscious. In this early view, the psychic struggle exists between the instinctual forces of the unconscious against the social demands of the conscious mind.
In this theory, the unconscious refers to that part of mental functioning of which subjects make themselves unaware. 
Freud proposed a vertical and hierarchical architecture of human consciousness: the conscious mind, the preconscious, and the unconscious mind–each lying beneath the other. He believed that significant psychic events take place "below the surface" in the unconscious mind., like hidden messages from the unconscious–a form of intrapersonal communication out of awareness. He interpreted these dream events as both symbolic and actual significance.
In his later structural theory, as a response to the development of the ego theories of his former protégés like Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, Freud divided the mind into the conscious mind or ego and two parts of the Unconscious: the id or instincts and the superego. In this later construct, the unconscious part of the mind was expanded to include not only the instinctual desire of the id, but also the superego which represents the legacy of parental conditioning. In this model, the ego is mediator between id and superego.
The meaning of the unconscious
In Freud's earlier model, the unconscious does not include all that is not conscious, but rather only what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what the person is averse to knowing consciously. That is, the part of the unconscious that is in conflict with conscious awareness. For Freud, the unconscious was a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression. However, the contents did not necessarily have to be solely negative. In the psychoanalytic view, the unconscious is a force that can only be recognized by its effects–it expresses itself in the symptom.
In a sense, this view places the self in relationship to their unconscious as an adversary, warring with itself to keep what is unconscious hidden. The therapist is then a mediator trying to allow the unspoken or unspeakable to reveal itself using the tools of psychoanalysis. Messages arising from a conflict between conscious and unconscious are likely to be cryptic, in the form of slips of the tongue or symptoms that require decoding. The psychoanalyst is presented as an expert in interpreting those messages. Unconscious thoughts are not directly accessible to ordinary introspection, but are supposed to be capable of being "tapped" and "interpreted" by special methods and techniques such as random association, dream analysis, and verbal slips (commonly known as a Freudian slip), examined and conducted during psychoanalysis.
This model was problematized by the structural theory, which viewed the superego as another element of the unconscious. In this view, the ego is a staging ground for the battle between the unsocial, even anti-social, demands of the id and the superego, representing the parental, social conscience. On adopting this model, Freud began to eschew talk of a "psychoanalytic cure." The role of the analyst remained to make what was unconscious conscious, but Freud realized that the result of this knowledge would not be a cure.
Jung's collective unconscious
Carl Jung developed his unconscious concept in an entirely different direction than Freud. He divided the unconscious into two parts: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is a reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed. This material is unique to the individual, a product of their personality and experience. There is a considerable two way traffic between the ego and the personal unconscious. For example, our attention can wander from this printed page to a memory of something we did yesterday.
The collective unconscious is the deepest level of the psyche containing the accumulation of inherited experiences. It is common to everyone. The collective unconscious has a better sense of the self ideal than the ego or conscious self has, and thus directs the self, via archetypes, dreams, and intuition, to self-actualization. Jung called the unconscious the great friend, guide, and adviser of the conscious.
Lacan's linguistic unconscious
Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic theory, based on the rise of modern Structuralism, contends that the unconscious is structured like a language.
The unconscious, Lacan argued, was not a more primitive or archetypal part of the mind separate from the conscious, linguistic ego, but rather, a formation every bit as complex and linguistically sophisticated as consciousness itself.
Lacan argues that if the unconscious is structured like a language, then the self is denied any point of reference to which to be 'restored' following trauma or 'identity crisis'. In this way, Lacan's thesis of the structurally dynamic unconscious is also a challenge to the ego psychology of Anna Freud and her American followers.
Lacan's theory is based on the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson, based on the function of the signifier and signified in signifying chains. This has left Lacan's model of mental functioning open to severe critique, since in mainstream linguistics Saussurean models have largely been replaced.
The starting point for the linguistic theory of the unconscious was a re-reading of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. There, Freud identifies two mechanisms at work in the formation of unconscious fantasies: condensation and displacement. Under Lacan's linguistic reading, condensation is identified with the linguistic trope of metonymy, and displacement with metaphor.
Lacan applied the ideas of de Saussure and Jakobson to psychoanalytic practice. However, while de Saussure described the linguistic sign as a relationship between a signified and an arbitrary signifier, Lacan inverted the relationship, putting in first place the signifier as determining the signified, making it closer to Freud's position that human beings know what they say only as a result of a chain of signifiers, a-posteriori. Lacan began this work with Freud's case study of Emma (1895), whose symptoms were disenchained in a two-phase temporal process. Lacan's approach brought Freud in greater proximity to the structuralist and post-structuralist theories of modernity. For Lacan, modernity is the era when humans begin to grasp their essential dependence on language.
Today, there are still fundamental disagreements within psychology about the nature of the unconscious mind. Outside formal psychology, a whole world of pop-psychological speculation has grown up in which the unconscious mind is held to have any number of properties and abilities, from animalistic and innocent, child-like aspects to savant-like, all-perceiving, mystical and occultic properties.
The unconscious may simply stand as a metaphor that ought not to be taken literally. There is a great controversy over the concept of an unconscious in regard to its scientific or rational validity and whether the unconscious mind exists at all. Among philosophers, is Karl Popper, one of Freud's most notable contemporary opponents. Popper argued that Freud's theory of the unconscious was not falsifiable, and therefore not scientific. He objected not so much to the idea that things happened in our minds that we are unconscious of; he objected to investigations of mind that were not falsifiable. If one could connect every imaginable experimental outcome with Freud's theory of the unconscious mind, then no experiment could refute the theory.
Unlike Popper, the epistemologist Adolf Grunbaum has argued that psychoanalysis could be falsifiable, but its evidence has serious epistemological problems. David Holmes  examined sixty years of research about the Freudian concept of “repression,” and concluded that there is no positive evidence for this concept. Given the lack of evidence of many Freudian hypotheses, some scientific researchers proposed the existence of unconscious mechanisms that are very different from the Freudian ones. They speak of a “cognitive unconscious” (John Kihlstrom),   an “adaptive unconscious” (Timothy Wilson),  or a “dumb unconscious” (Loftus & Klinger)  that executes automatic processes but lacks the complex mechanisms of repression and symbolic return of the repressed.
Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Bouveresse argued that Freudian thought exhibits a systemic confusion between reasons and causes; the method of interpretation can give reasons for new meanings, but are useless to find causal relations (which require experimental research). Wittgenstein gave the following example (in his Conversations with Rush Rhees), "if we throw objects on a table, and we give free associations and interpretations about those objects, we’ll find a meaning for each object and its place, but we won’t find the causes."
In the social sciences, John Watson, who is considered the first American behaviorist, criticized the idea of an "unconscious mind," along similar lines of reasoning, and focused on observable behaviors rather than on introspection. Other early psychologists, such as the experimental psycholgist Wilhelm Wundt, regarded psychology as the scientific study of immediate experience, and thus the study of human consciousness, or the mind, as long as mind is understood as the totality of conscious experience at a given moment. Wundt denied the role of unconscious processes, defining psychology as the study of conscious, and therefore observable, states.
Other critics of Freudian unconscious were Hans Eysenck, Jacques Van Rillaer, Frank Cioffi, Marshal Edelson, and Edward Erwin. Some stress, however, that these critics did not grasp the real importance of Freud conceptions, and instead tried to criticize Freud on the basis of other fields.
In modern cognitive psychology, many researchers have sought to strip the notion of the unconscious from its Freudian heritage, and alternative terms such as 'implicit' or 'automatic' have come into currency. These traditions emphasize the degree to which cognitive processing happens outside the scope of cognitive awareness and how what we are unaware of can influence other cognitive processes as well as behavior.      Active research traditions related to the unconscious include implicit memory (for example, priming or attitude) and non-conscious acquisition of knowledge (such as work by Pawel Lewicki).
Unconscious mind in contemporary cognitive psychology
While historically the psychoanalytic research tradition was the first to focus on the phenomenon of unconscious mental activity (and still the term "unconsciousness" or "the subconscious," for many, appears to be not only deeply rooted in, but almost synonymous with psychoanalytic tradition), there is an extensive body of research in contemporary cognitive psychology devoted to mental activity that is not mediated by conscious awareness.
Most of the cognitive research on unconscious processes has been done in the mainstream, academic tradition of the information processing paradigm. As opposed to the psychoanalytic tradition, driven by the relatively speculative (that is, empirically unverifiable), theoretical concepts such as Oedipus complex or Electra complex, the cognitive tradition of research on unconscious processes is based on relatively few theoretical assumptions and based on empirical research. Cognitive research has demonstrated that outside of conscious awareness, individuals automatically register and acquire more information than they can experience through their conscious thoughts.
Unconscious processing of information about frequency
Hasher and Zacks demonstrated that outside of conscious awareness and without engaging conscious information processing resources individuals register information about the frequency of events. Moreover, their research demonstrated that perceivers do that unintentionally, regardless of the instructions they receive, and regardless of the information processing goals they have. Interestingly, their ability to unconsciously and relatively accurately tally the frequency of events has appeared to have little or no relation to the individual's age, education, intelligence, or personality. Thus, this ability may represent one of the fundamental building blocks of human orientation in the environment and possibly the acquisition of procedural knowledge and experience.
Another line of (non-psychoanalytic) early research on unconscious processes was initiated by Arthur Reber, using so-called "artificial grammar" methodology. That research revealed that individuals exposed to novel words created by complex set of artificial, synthetic "grammatical" rules (such as GKHAH, KHABT, and so forth), quickly develop some sort of a "feel" for that grammar and subsequent working knowledge of that grammar, as demonstrated by their ability to differentiate between new grammatically "correct" (consistent with the rules) and "incorrect" (inconsistent) words. Interestingly, that ability does not appear to be mediated, or even accompanied by the declarative knowledge of the rules—individuals' ability to articulate how they distinguish between the correct and incorrect words.
Unconscious acquisition of procedural knowledge
The gist of these early findings (from the 1970s) has been significantly extended in the 1980s and 1990s by further research showing that outside of conscious awareness individuals not only acquire information about frequencies ("occurrences" of features or events) but also co-occurrences (correlations or, technically speaking, covariations) between features or events. Extensive research on non-conscious acquisition of information about co-variations was conducted by Pawel Lewicki, followed by research of D. L. Schachter (who is known for introducing the concept of implicit memory), L. R. Squire, and others.
In the learning phase of a typical study, participants were exposed to a stream of stimuli (trials or events, such as strings of letters, digits, pictures, or descriptions of stimulus persons) containing some consistent but non-salient (hidden) co-variation between features or events. For example, every stimulus a person presented as "fair" would also have a slightly elongated face. It turned out that even if the manipulated co-variations were non-salient and inaccessible to subjects' conscious awareness, the perceivers would still acquire a non-conscious working knowledge about those co-variations. For example, if in the testing phase of the study, participants were asked to make intuitive judgments about the personalities of new stimulus persons presented only as pictures (with no personality descriptions), and judge the "fairness" of the depicted individuals, they tend to follow the rules non-consciously acquired in the learning phase and if the stimulus person had a slightly elongated face, they would report an intuitive feeling that this person was "fair."
A non-conscious acquisition of information about co-variations appears to be one of the fundamental and ubiquitous processes involved in the acquisition of knowledge (skills, experience) or even preferences or personality dispositions, including disorders or symptoms of disorders.
A note on terminology: "unconscious" vs. "non-conscious"
Unlike in the psychoanalytic research tradition that uses the terms "unconscious" or "subconscious," in the cognitive tradition, the processes that are not mediated by conscious awareness are sometimes referred to as "non-conscious." This term (rarely used in psychoanalysis) stresses the empirical and purely descriptive nature of that phenomenon (a qualification as simply "not being conscious") in the tradition of cognitive research.
Specifically, the process is non-conscious when even highly motivated individuals fail to report it. Few theoretical assumptions are made about the process, unlike in psychoanalysis where, for example, it is postulated that some of these processes are being repressed in order to achieve certain goals.
- Carl Jung's concept of a collective unconscious
- Jacques Lacan's assertion that "the unconscious is structured like a language."
- Unconscious communication
- Psychology of religion
- Subconscious mind
- Humanistic psychology
- Philosophy of mind
- More modern history is detailed in Henri F. Ellenberger's Discovery of the Unconscious (Basic Books 1970)
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- For example, dreaming: Freud called dream symbols the "royal road to the unconscious."
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