When I was working on my undergraduate thesis an important foundation of my project was trying to give some account of what an idea was. This led to me tackling what seemed to me the underlying question of what a human was. The explanation that I eventually came up with was that we are defined by having a self experience, which let me give some account of ideas and beliefs. When I was editing my project I presented it to other students, and the critique of one of those students was that I did not give an account of unconsciousness (since I essentially tried to define us as experience, the place of unconsciousness in my account of human nature was rather ambiguous). For a long time I wasn’t sure how to incorporate unconsciousness into my account of human nature, but I have now thought of a way to do so.
One of the key concepts in my conception of humans as a self-experience is that we do not create our experiences. The way that I describe it is instead that experiences are ‘given’ to us (though I leave it quite ambiguous what gives us experience.) The things we see, the things we hear, the things we think, we do not pull them out of thin air. Some experiences force themselves upon us, but a great deal of our experience we can in a sense take responsibility for in that we go and look for it. We climb a mountain so that we can look over a landscape, we go to a concert or turn on our i-pod to listen to music. We are not making the experience, we are positioning ourselves to receive it. I would say this holds for when we act upon the world as well. When I play a violin I do not ‘bring the sound into being’ so much as bring out the potential of my already existent experience.
I would give a similar account of thought. Our thinking is not creative in a divine sense, instead each thought proceeds the next – we explore a thought, we follow it. We do not prompt ourselves to think – when we wake up each morning we just… start thinking. Our thought, our attention, is like vision or touch – we can explore it in different directions but we cannot bring it into being (because it is us, for how could we act before our own faculties – the very things that we act with?)
This is where my account of unconsciousness enters into the picture. I am being very cautious about giving an account of what it is that gives us experiences. I have not gone the idealist route since I have claimed that we do not create our experiences but instead they are given to us, ergo we do not create reality by experiencing it. At the same time, I’m not really sure what to say of the nature of the reality that we experience (I think I’d lean towards a phenomenological account – but there are more then one of those). Whatever the nature of it though, I place unconsciousness as a part of it. I propose that our unconsciousness is part of how the world is given to us. As much as I never thought I’d say it, I am aligning with Freud on something. Unconsciousness is, I suggest, ubiquitously present in the world as it gives itself to us. I am cautious about this metaphor as anything but an attempt to make myself clearer, but the unconsciousness can be thought of as a lens through which we receive reality (I am cautious because I do not actually want to commit myself to the statement that the two are distinct). Like viewing a tree from the right or the left, different unconscious states position us differently in relation to our experiences.
The difficult thing about my account of unconsciousness that I will need to dwell further on is our capacity to unveil it. For I think it can well be argued that some of our unconscious self can actually be brought to the light of our own experience, and thus become part of our consciousness. On the other hand, I think that there will always be some of our-self beyond our actually awareness – we can never be the ones giving our experience to ourselves.
Thank you for reading,