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What if there is no unconscious thinking process at all?


Book Intro: The Mind is Flat by Nick Chater.

All our life we have been told by Psychologists that we do thinking at two levels conscious level - which we are aware of and the Unconscious level - which is happening all the time but we are not aware of. All of us are aware of conscious thinking. Conscious thinking is again of two kinds, the first is the diffused thinking, that is not really thinking about any particular topic but lots of thoughts keep coming, we are jumping from one topic to another and at the end of it, we don’t remember what we were thinking at all. This is the most common type of thinking that happens in our life and perhaps dominates our life. While we are on a commute, while we are waiting for someone, while we are idling and not engaging in any kind of intense activity, this diffused thinking keeps happening. We are aware that we are thinking but don’t pay much heed to it as the thinking is all over the place. The second kind of conscious thinking we do is the focussed variety. We are focussed on a particular issue and are thinking through about it. While we are aware that we are thinking, we can also recall what we were thinking. This kind of thinking we use for solving issues, make decisions, planning, and sometimes just exploring a topic. When we are studying also we use this kind of focused thinking.

Unconscious thinking We have been under the impression that, another breed of thinking occurs and that is unconscious. We are not aware of them. If we are not aware of them, how do we know we have been thinking at an unconscious level? Because sometimes we have seen solutions flashing to us for problems we had thought of consciously, could not find the solution and relegated the problem to be solved later. When we get sudden flashes of insight or solutions to something we had thought of earlier we tend to think some form of thinking must have gone on under the surface below the radar of our consciousness. These incidents are perhaps the only clues we have to unconscious thinking process.

Illusions of depth I was reading a book called, The Mind is Flat by Nick Chater, professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, which takes the view that the mind has no depth, it is shallow and that the only thinking that we ever do is Conscious thinking. Chater believes that there is absolutely no unconscious thinking happening at all. This notion tears apart the rubric of psychology and psychiatry which have been built on the foundations of unconscious thoughts and unconscious processes. Chater is saying that brain generates current behaviour based on past experiences but there is nothing like a lot of churning happening at the unconscious level. The depth is only an illusion to us. Chater is not saying we don’t have old memories or we don’t use those memories, what he is saying is that our current behaviour all the time is based on our past experiences, the current needs etc but the he slays the notion that our current behaviour is at times the result of a lot of mental thinking that we have been doing at level we are not aware of.

Worth a read Go for a read of the book for its fascinating take on the illusions of mental depth. This is the first time I came across a book that dismantled the idea of unconscious process in our mind. It made a fascinating read as it completed turns the ideas that we hold currently about how the mind works.

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