current science tells us...not much
Most of us today have vast amounts of information available at our fingertips via the Internet. If we want to know what dimethylaniline is or the nature of a Kondratiev wave, we can find answers to these questions in seconds despite having no background in organic chemistry or Russian theories of economics.
Common ignorances of the past are easily dispelled... Age-old ideas such as the subservient role of women, to the nature of reality - if you sail too far from home you will fall off the edge of the Earth, seem ludicrous today.
Yet as an informal student of psychology, I've come across a popularly accepted idea about the nature of the human mind that is as widespread as justifications were for cultural norms like segregation. We tend to be blind to our own ignorance. Even pious religious people during the 1950s felt there was nothing wrong with requiring African-Americans to sit at the back of the church during services...
So is it any wonder that in the year 2012, popular science tells us that we have only a small amount of conscious control over our own minds and behaviors? Pick up any contemporary book today on the psychology of breaking bad habits, or believing in yourself, and you will be fed a short litany of nearly impossible obstacles to overcome in order to change.
These obstacles are grouped into one of three major categories:
- Negative environmental influences.
- Your flawed genetic heritage.
- Subconscious impulses beyond your control.
All together, these factors affect the bulk of what you do and how you do it every day. Like a bacteria in a petri dish , what becomes of your life really depends on how you are poked and prodded by the environment, genetics, and ingrained mental programming. In animals we call this "instinct."
Human instinct therefore is our predictable response to environment/genetics and subconscious impulses.
We are byproducts of where we live, of our DNA, and of our impulses if we don't fight them, yet:
- For a few hundred dollars you can travel by plane to any point on the planet today, pick your environment.
- With epigenetics and a little genetic engineering you can change the very nature of your body.
But the subsconscious...what can we do about the subconscious?
Popular suggestions include positive affirmations, hypnosis, meditation and visualization, dream control techniques like lucid dreaming etc. If practiced effectively, they all promise to instill a positive sense of well-being and "anything is possible" in the deep recesses of the brain that can transform your life. Think of the book The Secret here. Its much maligned, but its only one of many like it...
There's only one problem with this thinking about changing your world view.
The subconscious mind does not really exist and it never has.
The concept is attributed to Freud, but he didn't promote it himself and in fact discouraged the idea. Emerging evidence suggests that the human mind is always in a conscious state.
The idea seems crazy, because you have to ask yourself, how you do things like tie your shoes, drive a car or stir something on the stove when you are not really thinking about it? Isn't that the subconscious at work? And doesn't the subconscious govern our innner motivations, our Id and Ego? Doesn't it take control when we sleep?
The simple fact is that most psychologists don't like the term subconscious, and refer instead to the "unconscious mind" or "lower brain functions" for activities like this or for mental control of our "autonomic functions", heartbeat, breathing etc.
The "unconscious mind" however, is also a completely bogus concept. You believe it exists, because you've been told so since you were a little kid, just like Santa Claus.
True unconsciousness however is nothing more than what we affectionately call...death!
Even people in a comatose or "Persistent Vegetative State" have now been shown to have some conscious awareness of their surroundings. They are alive, so that should not come as a shock to the medical community (but the discovery has been quite a revelation).
Recent research also suggests that while sleeping, the human mind is actually fully conscious, but partially detached from sensory input. This may be the true reason for dreaming. The mind takes stored memories and stimulates itself in the absence of outside stimuli while in a resting state.
This is why brainwave patterns when we are imagining something are exactly the same as brainwave patterns when we are seeing that object for real.
Let's say I'm right about this whole subconscious hoo ha and ten years from now medical science confirms the idea of the subconscious being as phony as a three dollar bill.
- If you really have conscious control over your autonomic functions like breathing, blood pressure and heart rate, how much does this facilitate self-healing? It would make the benefits of the "placebo effect" mild by comparison. Buddhist monks have already demonstrated control over such functions, so why can't the rest of us?
- How much would the awareness that you are fully conscious as long as you are alive affect your ability to change habits, to get rid of bad ones and form new ones? Aren't habits just an excuse we dump in the lap of the "imaginary" subconscious?
If the mind is "a terrible thing to waste" why does modern science and popular psychology tell us that we really have little control over it, or our environments, or our own bodies? If you subtract these factors, your concscious control over events in your life is maybe, at best 25% of the total influencing factors taking place, maybe far less.
If you had 100% control over your own life however... And if all the quantum mechanics mumbo jumbo in these same psychology books about the universe being a giant artificial hologram is also true (if you think it, it can happen, like in the Matrix).
Then... Whoa daddy! Movie magic time. Manifest piles of gold bullion on the coffee table, levitate yourself to the neighbor's for dinner...
Or...just put down that extra donut when you're not really hungry...
Without the crutch of the subconscious mind holding you back, well, you can sail as far as you want, sit where you want in church... All sorts of new possibilities reveal themselves.
As for me, what I'd really like to do is start an effective cloning program for my favorite celebrities, if I can first master teleportation, and find a suitable planet to start a colony on. If I could just convince my pesky, imaginary subconscious to get out of the way so I could get down to work!