The Mind

The Conscious and the Non-Conscious

The Mind is generally perceived as a combination of the Conscious and the Non-conscious (variants — Near, Sub/Pre and Un-conscious)

The Mind has to deal with the Needs of the individual.

In order to meet our developing Needs we have to learn competences and other habits. Habits greatly reduce the effort required to deal with “tasks” that recur fairly often — walking, etc

William James, the American philosopher and Psychologist described the overwhelming importance of habits as follows —

All our life, so far as it has definite form, mass of habits practical, emotional, and intellectual, — systematically organized for our weal or woe and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever that may be”.

We depend on “Habits”, but this relies on our Conscious ability to realise the way in which to learn these habits, including very much on the good fortune to obtain a mentor.

Unfortunately, we are as likely to learn Bad Habits, potentially debilitating habitual behaviours, such as depression, and often leading to addictions.

From ref650 — Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson

Humans have 3 Core Needs or Operating Systems —
• Safety ————Avoiding Harm
• Connection —– Attaching/relating to others
• Satisfaction —– Using our Rewards system.

These Operating Systems are defined by their function and not the evolved anatomy — Each operating system has its own set of capabilities, and they can be running at the same time.

They are complex, and each individual has a different version of the range of Needs.

Each has two modes of responding to circumstances:

  • The Responsive Mode — Controlled, Mindful
  • The Reactive Mode —Stressed. Emotional — Insecure people, and those affected by trauma are more prone to this mode.

Consciousness is arguably one of the best things about being human.— ref739d

Consciousness is what we are aware of, both in terms of ourselves and the external world.

The Attention Schema Theory (AST) seeks to explain how consciousness evolved — ref280ref885

AST  proposes that Consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing the nervous system — Too much information constantly flows in for it to be fully processed.

The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, Consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence.

The Cortex has developed something called covert attention. You don’t need to look directly at something to covertly attend to it. Even if you’ve turned your back on an object, your Cortex can still focus its processing resources on it. Your Cortex can shift covert attention from, say, the text in front of you — to a nearby person, to the sounds in your backyard, to a thought or a memory ….

Covert attention is the virtual movement of deep processing from one item to another.

Unlike earlier developments that model concrete objects like the eyes and the head, the Cortex has to model something much more abstract. According to the AST, it does so by constructing an Attention Schema — a constantly updated set of information that describes what covert attention is doing moment-by-moment and what its consequences are.

It is implied that the covert attention is the what the  Non-conscious is seeking to draw attention to from its complex store and on-going monitoring of Needs, Habits, Competences, etc.


Consciousness requires us to learn new competences and other habits — truly essential for day to day living — walking, talking, etc.  These habits are flexible in their use — such as for walking in different terrains.

Each habit improves with practice and may be lost if neglected. This has been described as “Use It or Lose It”.

So, Learning is an essential aspect of our nature.  Learning is enabled by processes known as Neuroplasticity — ref23.

The habits are stored in the Non-conscious and need to be ahared with the Conscious as required.

The Non-conscious has by far the larger role in our lives, as can be seen from the various capabilities indicated by the following selection –

Concisely refererence — Fig253b  ref1041

From ref897  Our conscious thinking, perceiving, and learning accounts for only a small fraction of our total mental activity, with the rest being entirely Non-conscious.

The  Non-conscious Mind is thought to be composed only of what it has absorbed from the external environment, and to be responsible for the following processes —
1.     Non-conscious learning and the development of personality traits
2.    The  Non-conscious influence that our Non-conscious learning has on our judgments, decisions, and emotions (both feelings and reactions); and
3.    The various organizations and reorganizations that occur spontaneously in  Non-conscious knowledge systems.

As point three above  suggests, our Non-conscious knowledge systems are far from rigid; they constantly change, and we change with them, leading to what we interpret as the growth and alteration of the personality.

Generally, these changes can be seen as a computer re-ordering itself to become more and more efficient in its processing of the external environment,

But in some circumstances, the same processes may lead to the state of mal-adaptation that we refer to as mental illness.

There are indications  that our Non-conscious will adapt to our use of dishonesty — ref867

However, there may be instances for second thoughts — with a trade-off between honesty and self-interest — ref868

Referring back to human Needs, it was noted that

They are complex, each individual has a different version of a range of Needs, and each could have one of two responses —

  • The Responsive Mode — Controlled, Mindful — goal or intent directed
  • The Reactive Mode —Stressed. Emotional — Insecure people, and those affected by trauma are more prone to this mode.

From  ref1045 — George Mandler, a cognitive psychologist, identified three goal-directed tasks for Conscious thought.

  1. Learning. People typically concentrate their awareness when trying to learn something new. Not until a skill is well practiced does it become automatic — unconscious.
  2. Making judgments. People think consciously about alternatives and choices.
  3. People use conscious mental processes to deal with unexpected situations that cannot be handled with automatic, well-learned routines.

Mandler used driving an automobile as an example. When first learning to drive, a person must pay full attention to every action. Conscious­ness accompanies the process by which we integrate lots of information and hold it in place or grasp it while learning.

After much experience, driving becomes familiar and no longer requires full attention. An experienced driver can drive on auto-pilot, letting the mind wander.

Driving on autopilot is a fine example of Automaticity  — this is an intelligent action without focused attention. 

Consciousness returns to the act of driving when the driver must make a decision such as which way to turn at an intersection. This is what Mandler called making judgments.

Mandler’s third category is trouble­shooting. Even when driving on autopilot, an experienced driver will snap back to full attention if something unusual or surprising happens.

For example, if an animal appears at the side of the road, attention is drawn to it. Full consciousness seems to accompany the process of rallying resources and making a decision about what to do.

However, when people are thinking about day-to-day events without focusing on any goal-directed task, a circuit of densely-connected brain areas is active —  This is called the Default Mode Network (DMN) — DMN was discovered in the late 1990s

The DMN is less active when people have their attention drawn to a specific goal-directed task.  This may be because competence habits are widely used in goal-oriented activities.

This is described below as the “Doing Mode”.

DMN is a large scale brain network of interacting brain regions known to have activities that are highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain  —  ref1044 — neuroscience/default-mode-network

However, when people are daydreaming, thinking of past experiences, or trying to under­stand other people, the DMN is active.

The DMN might best be regarded as “the seat of ordinary thinking” .  That type of thinking can be defined by what it is not.  It is active when —

  1. When people are daydreaming
  2. Thinking of past experiences, or
  3. Trying to under­stand other people
  4. It is not concentrating on an external task, and
  5. It is not taking in the present moment without judgment

However, there is a variant for success in thinking- called positive-constructive-daydreaming — ref1034

Individuals can choose to disengage from external tasks, decoupling attention, in order to pursue an internal stream of thought that they expect to pay off in some way. The pay off may be immediate, coming in the form of pleasing reverie, insight, or new synthesis of material, or it may be more distant as in rehearsing upcoming scenarios or projecting oneself forward in time to a desired outcome. Projection backward in time to reinterpret past experiences in light of new information is also a possibility. All of these activities, which take place internally, sheltered from the demands of external tasks and perception, offer the possibility of enormous personal reward. These mental activities are, in fact, central to the task of meaning making, of developing and maintaining an understanding of oneself in the world. … Certainly a large share of mind wandering occurs without permission or awareness. But some mind wandering occurs because we actively choose to decouple from external tasks and perceptions and focus instead on an internal stream of thought with full awareness both of the choice being made and the contents of consciousness.

Along with Intelligent cognitive rest  — ref1033


In the 1980s, Psychology started its own meditation movement — Mindfulness

The term “Mindfulness” is one of several translations of the Buddhist concept of Sati. In Buddhism this meant monitoring memories and experience to prevent worldly concerns such as desire and craving.

From — ref985
Mindfulness is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Mindfulness has been defined by Kabat-Zinn as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and open-heartedly as possible.

Mindfulness Meditation has reduced activity in the DMN.

This may be because the Meditation process enables us to learn new habits — crucially those needed to relieve us of having to consciously deal with what we have acquired through the Meditation.  Habits greatly reduce the effort required to deal with “tasks” that recur fairly often.

As Mindfulness research entered its fourth decade, attention shifted from demonstrating significant effects to exploring mechanisms — Researchers looked for Neural Mechanisms of attentional control that might be influenced by meditation.   Mindfulness Meditation involves a breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation.

Mindfulness is about the Being-Mode, whereas humanity has generally been increasingly obsessed by the Doing-Mode — ref1039

Credentiala   Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D LPC  — PhD in Counselling Psychology

Qualities of “Doing” Mode
• Awareness of how things “are” and how they “should” be
• Goal-oriented efforts to “fix” things
• Increasingly harder efforts towards reaching goals
• Most actions tend to happen automatically
• Lack of conscious awareness in the present moment

The stages in learning for the Doing-Mode can follow this sort of pattern —

  • Unconscious incompetence: I don’t really know what I want – Will this do what I want – Will I ever understand?
  • Conscious incompetence: I’m getting a vague understanding.
  • Conscious competence: Why didn’t I see this before.
  • Unconscious competence: I hardly notice how easy it is – I’m actually getting better at other things!

Once an activity such as driving is well learned, we can do it automatically.

However, when first performing a learned activity, we must pay attention or devote Conscious awareness to the task. Even after the activity is automatic we must continue to pay attention.

Qualities of “Being” Mode
• Connection with the present moment
• Acknowledgement of how things are in the moment
• Willingness to allow things to be just as they are… no efforts to alter/change experience
• Openness and acceptance of pleasant, neutral, and negative emotional states
• Calmness, stillness, and a sense of being centered

Returning to Needs, Responsive Mode and Reactive Mode

  • • When people are daydreaming
    • Thinking of past experiences, or
    • Trying to understand other people, but
    • It is not concentrating on an external task,
    • It is not taking in the present moment without judgment

These are Responsive Mode activities, whereas many of us respond in a Reactive emotional way due to stress, anger, etc. or because of moods, or worse.

Human personalities are very much to do with emotions — we need these motivations to realise our basic needs.  Many reactions mode actions are due to misunderstandings, and these can be dealt with by “Emotional Intelligence” — ref915 emotional intelligence 5 aspects

Fig 220, ref788

See also ref359 — emotional intelligence toolkit


Psychology has moved steadily from speculation about behaviour toward a more objective and scientific approach as the technology available to study human behaviour has improved — ref1040 — Evolution of psychology

By the 1920’s Psychologists were advised to focus exclusively on measurable, observable behaviour.

By the late 20th Century psychologists were once again grappling with the issue of Consciousness.  New tools, notably brain scanning techniques and theories of Cognition, offered new approaches to studying Conscious and Unconscious mental activity.

From ref999  — Brain imaging techniques can be used to show brain structures or functions. An old technique, Electroencephalography (the EEG) yields more information now with computer enhancements. PET scans show fluctuations of brain activity in real time as a person thinks or acts.

Another technique, — MRI —  was originally used to visualize tumours and soft tissue structures of the brain. A variation called functional MRI (fMRI) became the most commonly used brain scanning technique in Cognitive Neuroscience —  It can spot small, brief areas of activity.