"Properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psychic; its inner nature is just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world........"
- Sigmund Freud
Something that I have become aware of is that the majority of our lives are lived unconsciously. It is the unconscious portion of your life that is the undercurrent which directs your life.
10 Million VS. 40
Through the use of the latest functional MRI technology, it has been approximated that our brain processes about 10 million pieces of information every second. Of that 10 million, how many do you think you are aware of through your five senses? Forty, ten million vs. forty. Clearly, most of what is occurring around and within you, you are oblivious to.
Your unconscious brain sees what you don’t
To help you understand how your unconscious brain runs the show I will use the amygdala as an example. The amygdala is the part of our brain which handles threats and fear. It is the guard dog of our brain which triggers the body for fight or flight. It is a powerful instrument. How powerful, there have been studies done with people who suffer from cortical blindness which demonstrate just how powerful an instrument it is. Someone who is cortically blind has eyes that function properly, but a portion of their brain, the optical cortex, does not process images correctly. Some are partially cortically blind others are completely cortically blind. The subjects in this experiment were completely cortically blind. They were shown a series of pictures. One of these pictures was a threatening and fearful face. Remember, these subjects could not see the picture, but their amygdala saw it, and it reacted. They felt fear. So if people who are technically blind are visually responding to threatening stimuli, imagine how much your amygdala is continually triggered, and you're unaware of it.
The next threat is just around the next corner
Another experiment that demonstrated the power of the unconscious on our conscious lives was an experiment conducted with people who are partially cortically blind. In this study, the subjects viewed a series of three different pictures in random order. The three pictures were a flower, a spider, and a ring shape. The pictures were shown in the area that the subjects could process the image and in the area that they could not. As you might expect, the picture of the spider caused the amygdala to be triggered. However, the interesting finding was that when the picture of the spider was shown in the blind area, the amygdala had double the activity. The reason there was double the activity is that the frontal cortex was not involved. Once the amygdala is triggered, it then reaches the frontal cortex, which is when we become conscious of the threat. That is if we become aware of it. Remember we only are aware of forty of the ten million cerebral activities that are processed every second to navigate through the world.
What can I do?
To deal with the unconscious, we have to approach it from a different angle. We can't directly address something we can’t directly know. One of my favorite adages is “I don’t know what I don’t know.” We can, however, do some rewiring of the brain. There are specific exercises and methods to address unconscious fear that will be covered in the upcoming weeks.