Fundamentals of Mind and Brain – Part 2 of 4
Difference between Conscious, Subconscious & Unconscious Minds

Many people use the terms subconscious and unconscious mind interchangeably. What is the difference between them?


(…continued from How Mind Emerges From the Brain)

Most people understand what the conscious mind is, but are confused between subconscious and unconscious mind. Many use these terms interchangeably. Following is the first ever fully causal explanation of the same:

As explained in previous post, when a thought or a process is executed by the right hemisphere, it is in conscious state. E.g. you are conscious that you are reading this.

When it is executed by the left hemisphere, it is in non-conscious state. E.g. the digestion of food you have eaten is an unconscious process.

When it is distributed between both hemispheres, it is in subconscious state. Its subconscious level is proportional to how much of it is processed in the left hemisphere – the more it is processed in left hemisphere, the higher the level. E.g. the thought or process transiting from intentional state to habitual state. It can also happen when contextual recall of a memory is not easily accessible to the right hemisphere, e.g. while in the market, you forget or faintly remember an item you had decided to buy from there.

Difference between Conscious, Subconscious & Unconscious Minds

Subconscious Perception: In normal cases, the non-conscious left hemisphere sends all new data from the ongoing interaction to the consciousness generating right hemisphere for the purpose of decoding it by forming perceptions. One can call a thought or a process to be received by subconscious perception when the left hemisphere processes such data and sends its result directly to the right hemisphere. In such case, the right hemisphere becomes aware of the result without being conscious of how it became aware of it.

E.g. when Jay’s friend shows him a bike he wants to sell, pupils of Jay’s eyes dilate (i.e. become larger) proportional to his interest in buying the bike.

In such case, the result of his pupils being dilated is processed by his friend’s non-conscious left hemisphere as his level of interest in buying the bike, i.e. larger the pupil, more the attention, more the interest, which is based on the fact that the attention a person pays to something is proportional to his/her interest in it.

The reason for pupils dilating is that other than controlling amount of light entering the eyes, pupils also dilate as a reflex in proportion to the degree of attention a person is paying (more under the post Please Pay Attention).

The reason why the data of Jay’s pupils being dilated is processed by his friend’s non-conscious left hemisphere and its result directly sent to his consciousness generating right hemisphere is because, based on the optimizing aspect of the evolutionary process, it does not make sense to send raw data of such a simple process like dilation of the eyes to his right hemisphere in order to form a perception.

As a result, he becomes aware of how much Jay is interested in buying his bike without being conscious of how it became aware of it.

The same is the reason why eyes are called a “window to the soul”.

Difference between conscious subconsciou mind

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