What or who is it that gets you out of bed when you wake up in the morning? Turning off the alarm clock before you’ve even woken up? Showering, getting dressed, doing all this that happens completely automatically without the slightest thought or intention?

You might answer: It happens completely unconsciously.

We look up the word unconscious in the Swedish Dictionary and find the following definitions
1/ who lacks the ability to perceive something
2/ who has no understanding of something or knowledge of something.

Then the questions arise:
1/ If you lack the ability to perceive that the alarm clock has rung, how come you turn it off?
2/ If you do not understand or know that it is morning and that you need to get up to get to work, why do you do it?

You are perhaps suggesting that it happens subconsciously, ie – again according to the dictionary – something you are not actively aware of but which affects your behavior beyond the control of your will.

But somewhere inside you there is still the will to get up and get to work on time, right?

Freud spoke of unconscious psychic processes and coined the concept of the unconscious for that part of the personality that contains memories, desires and impulses that have been repressed from consciousness and appear only in covert or indirect form. The terms unconscious/the unconscious and subconscious/the subconscious have often been used as synonyms. They are concepts that are still used today.

Many people choose to stick to these concepts, but some point out at the same time that it is about something other than Freud’s unconscious. Gladwell uses e.g. the concept of the adaptive subconscious and defines it as a kind of internal computer with the capacity to process large amounts of information that can lead to quick decisions and actions that are experienced as intuitive. He writes: “The adaptive subconscious mind is very good at making judgments about the outside world, warning people of dangers, setting goals and efficiently performing complex actions”.

This is a good description of what this entity within us is capable of, but the term subconscious can be misleading as it implies that it is an entity that is below consciousness instead of being considered a part of it.

Freud’s concept of the unconscious was revolutionary in its time, but in principle the same objection applies as against the concept of the subconscious, as the term implies that this instance lacks consciousness.

If you are unaware of something, it means that you are ignorant of it, that that knowledge is nowhere within you. But in what has been called the unconscious there is a knowledge even if, as long as we are still in ordinary waking states of consciousness, we have no direct experience of it.

Unconscious knowledge is thus a contradiction. If you are unaware of something, you do not have that knowledge anywhere within you.

In fact, what we call our subconscious/unconscious possesses a wealth of knowledge and, as Gladwell points out, can think, make judgments, and use this knowledge in action. It can both perceive and have understanding and knowledge of something and therefore cannot be called unconscious or be below consciousness. We can instead call this instance our inner part and, by analogy with this, we call the so-called conscious part our outer part.

It is important to understand that it is not only forbidden thoughts, feelings and impulses that end up here in the inner part after they have been rejected by the part Freud called the conscious. Above all, it applies to all those behaviors that have been repeated enough times and which are then generated in the form of automated behaviors. We perceive with the help of our senses and we process our impressions, we think, feel, imagine and react with the body, move it and move without at the same time reflecting that we are doing all this.

Most of what we know and can do is in the inner part of us. The human brain is apparently designed so that the inner part can
• receive more information than the outer
• store it
• process parts of it on its own, ie without the help of the outer
• translate it into different types of behaviour.

Most of the information that comes to us from the outside goes via the senses directly into the inner part and is stored here. Therefore, the inner part possesses a greater amount of knowledge and experience than the outer part, while the outer part, which has less capacity, is protected from overload.

The Danish science journalist Nørretranders is aware of this when he writes that the “bandwidth of consciousness” is simply not large enough for much of what passes through our brain to reach consciousness. But when Nørretranders writes about consciousness, he is obviously referring to what is here called the outer part of consciousness. To use his expression, which is useful in the context, it can be said that the outer part of us has a certain bandwidth while the inner one has another larger one.

We thus receive a lot of information from the outside without the outer part of our consciousness noticing that we are doing it. When incorporated, it is stored somewhere within us and it can become useful knowledge and experience even if it is inaccessible to the direct experience of the outer part. But how can we know that it exists?

Although the knowledge possessed by the inner part is latent or inaccessible from the perspective of the outer part, at least in ordinary waking states of consciousness, it makes itself known e.g. in the form of symbolic images in dreams, creative whims and symptoms of various kinds. But above all, it is clear that it controls most of our thoughts, beliefs and the way our body moves and reacts. Most of our behaviors are automated, which means that they are controlled by the inner part and happen spontaneously, i.e. automatically.

An example of how our behaviors are automated is when we learn to ride a bicycle. When we learn to do that, we concentrate on keeping our balance while pedaling in the right direction, etc. When the outer part of us has learned to do all this to a high enough degree, we can simultaneously enjoy the sun, look at the landscape, talk to the person cycling next to etc. because cycling has become automated, i.e. the inner part of us has taken over and made sure that we can keep our balance, pedal in the right direction etc. without the outer part of us having to give it much thought. Likewise, most of what we learned has been automated. Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, body movements and reactions that we have repeated enough times in our outer part are then automated in the inner part.

Of course, the behaviors that are automated are not always positive. If negative and other unnecessary thoughts are repeated enough times, they become automated in the inner part and leak out again in the form of various symptoms. During these thoughts there may be repressed experiences which may also give rise to symptoms.

If we start from the view of consciousness as a unit, which also includes what we have traditionally called the unconscious or subconscious, we can state that we can be in different parts of ourselves or at different levels within ourselves depending on which state we are in in:

• In a normal waking state, we experience that we are mainly present and active through our outer part. Therefore, we quite naturally identify with it more than with anyone else. But our experience that our outer part is the main actor does not really correspond to reality. In fact, it is the inner part that is, although not to the same extent as in hypnotic states and during sleep.

• In sleep, we have our starting point in the inner part. The outer one is not active at all. It doesn’t even know it exists. It is obvious that it is the inner self that is the main actor. The screenwriter, director and producer behind the dreams is our inner part. In dreams, the inner part tries to process the experiences that are stored here, in more or less symbolic form.

• In hypnotic states it is also obvious that we have our starting point in the inner part. But unlike in sleep, we are also in the external and are active both through our external and our internal part, even more so through the internal. As the outer part observes, it hands over the command to control more and more of our behaviors to the inner part.

In hypnotic states, we learn to move ever deeper into our consciousness and will increasingly view things even and eventually above all from the perspective of the inner part. We can then state that the inner part is at least as conscious and wise as the outer part. The outer and inner parts work in different ways and complement each other.

Our outer and inner parts are like strings on one and the same instrument. In ordinary waking states of consciousness, we usually only hear the tones of the outer part. In hypnotic states we can still hear them but also the tones of the inner part. We then hear more of the notes that are played and that were actually played all along.


1 Guy Claxton uses the term undermind in the book Hare brain, tortoise mind: How intelligence increases when you think less. The Ecco Press 2002.

2 Malcolm Gladwell: Blink: The Intuitive Intelligence. Stockholm: Norstedts 2006. Orig. title is The power of thinking without thinking.

3 So-called subliminal perception

4 Tor Nørretranders: Mark the world: A book about science and intuition. Stockholm: Bonnier Alba 1991 (p. 226).

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