The Unconscious Mind

Apparently, the brain is the least understood by the medical community of all the human body parts.

Some doctors say that a healthy brain is partly dependent upon physical exercise and a proper amount of sleep. Apparently good things happen to our brains when we are sleeping. John Ratey of the Harvard Medical School and author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2013) states: “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning”.

A healthy brain includes the conscious and the unconscious. Unconscious thinking includes the processing of memory, learning, thought and language without being aware of it. Reciting the alphabet from A to Z can be done without much thinking but try reciting the alphabet from Z to A.

Recently the scientific community has regarded the unconscious mind as an active and essential component in the process of decision making.

It is accepted that experience is a necessary element in the performance of many skills and occupations. The benefits of experience may lead to automatic or unconscious action.

David Brooks in his book, The Social Animal: the Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement (2011), argues that the unconscious mind is probably more important than the conscious mind. Brooks says that decision making is an inherently emotional business (page 17). He says “Reason is nestled upon emotion and dependent upon it. Emotion assigns value to things, and reason can only make choices on the basis of those valuations (page 21).

Brooks says that we are “primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness”. That is, we may act without forethought. Consider the natural impulses of a North American car driver when faced with driving on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom. The unconscious impulses of such a driver are all wrong in the UK but are correct when driving in North America.

Brooks states that “most of what we think and believe is unavailable to conscious review. We are our own deepest mystery. Not knowing ourselves, we also have trouble fully understanding others.” (page 245). This view of our thinking abilities should result in a degree of modesty. Brooks states that such modesty “begins with the recognition that there is no one method for solving problems”.

Consider the statement, “How rarely reason guides the stubborn choice” by Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, in the biography by W. Jackson Bate, p. 306.

If David Brooks is right that we lack a full understanding of ourselves, it justifies a degree of humility regarding many of our opinions and beliefs.


  1. John Gregory posted an interesting article on this site entitled “Brainspray and the Law” or some such. Quantum leaps beyond.