The unconscious is hypothetically a region of the mind that contains desires, recollections, fears, feelings and thoughts that are prevented from expression in the conscious awareness.
One of the most influential philosophers who made theories about the unconscious and its aspects is of Sigmund Freud. Freud distinguished between three different concepts of the unconscious: descriptive unconsciousness, dynamic unconsciousness, and the system unconsciousness. The descriptive unconsciousness refers to all those things in mental life in which people are not instinctively aware of. The dynamic unconsciousness refers to mental processes and contents, which are removed from the consciousness as a result of contradictory attitudes. The system unconsciousness indicates the idea that when mental processes are repressed, they become organized different from those of a conscious mind, such as displacement. Freud eventually abandoned of the system unconscious and replaced it with the ego, super-ego, and id concepts. Throughout his career, however he retained the descriptive and dynamic concepts of unconsciousness. Freud also believed that the unconscious was a storage facility for all repressed sexual desires. With this in mind, he created a theory called The Oedipus Complex. The Oedipus complex is a theory, which implies hatred and a death wish for the parent of the same sex (father for boys and mothers for girls) and love/sexual attachments towards the parent of the opposite sex. Freud states that at some point, the child realizes the differences between their mother and their father. With this, the child learns to understand gender because they come to grasp that they are similar to one of the parents and different from the other. When the child finally comprehends this, he/she feels as though the opposite sex is affectionate to another person besides them (their same sex parent). Thus, the child “competes” with the same sex parent for the opposite sex parents love and fondness. Freud believed that these feelings are deeply fused into the unconsciousness of every person, but are suppressed. Another influential philosopher who gathered theories on the concept of unconsciousness is Carl Jung. Jung studied under Freud, but eventually broke off and made his own theories and opinions about different concepts, such as the unconscious. Jung believed that there were two levels of unconsciousness: personal unconscious and collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is interior to the ego (a person’s conception of themselves) and corresponds to a mix of Freud's unconscious and preconscious. Containing elements of the outside world and of personal experiences repressed by the ego, the contents of the personal unconscious can be accessed by therapy, art and cultural expression.
According to Jung, the collective unconscious is part of a person’s unconscious that is common between all human beings as opposed to personal unconscious, which is unique to each individual. Jung also believed that the collective unconsciousness contains archetypes, which are forms or symbols that are apparent by all people of all cultures. The five main archetypes that were associated with the collective unconscious are the persona, animus, anima, shadow and self. The persona is the mask presented by each individual to society but it may or may not conceal the real personality. The anima is the feminine part of a man, which evolves as a result of a man's experience with women but also recognizes the bisexual nature of all human beings. The animus is the masculine part of a woman. The shadow is the reverse of the outward personality we show to the world. The self is the most important archetype and holds all the other systems together. With these archetypes, Jung felt that we should know ourselves from the inside as well as the outside.
Both Jung and Freud’s theories on the unconscious differed in many ways. Freud described the unconscious as a container underlying the conscious mind, whose task is to contain unwanted and un-encountered events, feelings, thoughts and experiences of the disliked conscious mind. Jung however added to this theory by proposing two layers of the unconscious: a personal unconscious, right under the conscious mind, taking in personal psychic contents and the collective unconscious which contains the accumulating experience of all humanity. Another theory that both Jung and Freud had different opinions on was sexuality. In Freud’s speculation, he claims the force of life is driven by sexuality and the original unconscious contains nothing but feelings, thoughts, experience and frustrations of resulting unhappy sexual desires. Jung however believes there is much more to life than sexuality, which underlies the process of individuation and constant search for meaning. Jung also thinks the unconscious has a compensatory regulating function, aiming at healing and growth.
In conclusion, I personally favor Jung’s version of the unconscious mind rather than Freud’s. I feel as though Jung has a better understanding of the human mind in many ways that everyone can benefit from. Although Freud had good theories and speculations about the unconscious mind and sexuality, I did not grasp a connection between my thoughts and Freud’s speculations. With that being said, I can definitely understand why the mind is very difficult to study.
1. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “The Collective Unconscious” 6 October 2008 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_unconscious>
2. C. John Holcombe: “Carl Jung”
10 October 2008 < http://www.textetc.com/theory/jung.html>
3. Benjamin Nagari: “Freud vs. Jung”
10 October 2008 < http://www.hypnojung.co.uk/freud-jung.htm>
4. "Collective Unconscious," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2008 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.