Concious v Unconcious Mind

In his book ‘The Social Animal’, David Brooks observes that we are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness: emotions, intuitions, character traits, culture, social norms, impulses, judgements and desires. This is the unconscious part of the mind. The unconscious mind does virtually all of the work, where the conscious mind merely confabulates stories to make sense of what the unconscious mind is doing of its own accord.

He suggests that the conscious mind is like a General standing atop a platform, who sees the world from a distance and analyses information given to it. The unconscious mind is like a million scouts, travelling throughout the environment around them, sending back messages to the General. These scouts coat the information with emotions: they come across an old friend and send back a surge of affection, they experience unfairness and send back a surge of anger.

Brooks acknowledges that a wise General can train the scouts. The conscious mind can influence the unconscious mind. This is how you can train yourself to not be ruled by Shouldland. People are emotional creatures. To become a fully aware, free individual, the emotions of the unconscious mind need to be properly educated.

In most people, the conscious mind gives itself credit for all of the things it doesn’t really control, creating a view of the world that highlight those elements it can understand and ignoring the rest. The result is that most people go through their lives not really having conscious control of their behaviour, they are led by their unconscious mind which is greatly influenced by forces outside of themselves.

This is where people’s biases come from. This is how people come to live in Shouldland. Their unconscious mind is in control of their conscious mind, telling them that these emotions, intuitions, culture, social norms, impulses, judgements and desires are who they are.

In life, like when selecting from a menu in a restaurant, we get to choose what we order, but we don’t get to choose what we like. Preferences are formed below the level of awareness, so without an educated, trained unconscious your choices are not really your choices. They are the decisions pre-programmed into your mind by your tribe, essentially choices made for you before you were born.

Brooks indicates that human decision making has 3 basic steps:

1. Perceiving the situation.

2. Calculating what to do.

3. Doing it.

We have been taught that step 1 is easy, it is in step 2 and 3 that we need to focus on. “Anyone can perceive, we need to concentrate on working out what to do and how to do it” is commonly acknowledged as how to get things done. This is incorrect. It is the perceiving that needs to improve to end up with a better outcome.

Someone free from Shouldland can perceive situations without the bias, the filters, that others have in front of them to distort what they observe. Once the perception is done well, the calculating what to do and the executing of decisions are much easier to do. The correct perception will have guided proper behaviour.

In the battle between the conscious mind v unconscious mind you can give the conscious mind the upper hand by working hard to deliberately eliminate the biased, old-fashioned perception of things, through the intentional repetition of rejecting Shouldland. You may not yet possess ‘free will’, but you do possess ‘free won’t’. With effort, you can override your should perceptions, at least until they become automatic.

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