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Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

© 1914




        Those who accept the division of the subconscious into co-existing consciousness, or the co-conconscious and the unconscious really assume the doctrine of the subconscious. They claim that it would be better and more precise to indicate whenever possible the conscious or unconscious, that is, the strictly physiological character of the observed manifestations. This, however, is more easily said than done. We know next to nothing of the physiological brain processes, which are mainly hypothetical, and we do not know the limits of the subconscious consciousness. In many cases it is not easy to determine what the exact character of the subconscious manifestation is, how far it is conscious, dimly conscious, how far it has gone toward the development of an independent personality, and how far it shades in the direction of the purely physiological. In the absence of any exact determination, the term 'subconscious' indicates the character of the mental state without any definite committal to any of the possible hypotheses.

         The term "unconscious" is all the more objectionable, as Hoffding has already pointed out, it is essentially an ambiguous, negative concept. The "unconscious" may mean absence of self-consciousness, or lack of consciousness, that is, purely physiological processes with no conscious concomitant. He who uses the term "unconscious" must in each case indicate in what sense he uses the term. Is the manifestation entirely physiological, or is it conscious in the sense of consciousness with no self-consciousness? The two meanings are diametrically opposed to each other. The unconscious in the sense of the purely physiological assumes the theory of unconscious cerebration; the other use of the unconscious in the sense of mere consciousness with no self-consciousness recognizes the view of the subconsciousness as advanced in my works.

         It is claimed again that in many cases of psychopathic maladies there is no need to have recourse to subconscious systems. It is quite probable that the association between the stimulus and the emotion called forth is a direct one. The patient who is afraid of dogs has the fear called forth by the sight of a dog. There is no need to assume that there are here any intermediate links in the chain of association. Even physiological links may be totally absent here. It may be that by investigation it can be shown that this association has a history based on some former experience. There is no reason to assume that the experience is functioning subconsciously, whether consciously or "unconsciously," that is, physiologically. The dog and the fear have formed an indissoluble association, so that, as soon as the dog is perceived the fear is awakened.

        This, however, is rather a debatable subject, since it is impossible to tell in the case of purely physiological links, whether such are present or not. Thus, Höffding says, "Not only may conscious results come from unconscious (subconscious) working up, but there may also be unconscious intermediate links in the midst of conscious work. Supposing the idea a to be linked with the idea b, and b again with c, then a will finally produce c directly without the intervention of b. The intermediate links are often so numerous that they cannot be recovered at all or with great difficulty. Many psychological paradoxes and sudden suggestions have their explanation in this unconscious determining of conscious ideas."

         Wundt seems to maintain the same view: "The memory-process is especially predominant in those cases where the element of the new impression that gave rise to the assimilation is entirely suppressed by the other components of the image, so that the associative relation between the memory-idea and the impression may remain completely unnoticed. Such cases have been spoken of as 'mediate memories' or 'mediate associations.' Still, just as with 'mediate recognitions,' we are here, too, dealing with processes that are fundamentally the same as ordinary associations. Take, for example, the case of a person who, sitting in his room at evening, suddenly remembers, without any apparent reason, a landscape that he passed through many years before; examination shows that there happened to be in the room a fragrant Bower which he saw for the first time in the landscape. The difference between this and an ordinary memory-process in which the connection of the new impression with an earlier experience is clearly recognized, obviously consisted in the fact that here the elements which recall the idea are pushed into the obscure background of consciousness. The not infrequent experience, commonly known as the 'spontaneous rise' of ideas, in which a memory-image suddenly appears in our mind without any assignable cause, is in all probability reducible in every case to such latent association." It appears, then, that both Höffding and Wundt acknowledge the presence of intermediate links in what appears to be a case of purely "immediate" association.

        In cases where the intermediate links are "unconscious," in the sense of a purely physiological process, there is no criterion to prove the presence of such intermediate physiological links, and one may as well, from a purely psychological introspective standpoint, deny their very existence. On the other hand, if with Wundt, Höffding and others we assume the presence of intermediate psychic links, there is no way of disproving them. It is quite probable that such intermediate links are present in every single case. The very fact that "unconscious" systems can be revived as memories or hallucinatory hypnoidic states would indicate their functioning when one of their components becomes awakened to activity.

        As an objection to the presence of intermediate psychic links Pavlow's experiments are brought forward to show that associations can be formed between remote stimuli and glandular secretions, for instance. Thus, a dog with a fistula in the parotid gland can be made to react with secretions to light or sound stimuli.

        This objection may be easily obviated by the consideration that we do not know whether there are or are not intermediate mental links between the artificial stimuli and the discharge of the glandular secretion. This consideration is all the more cogent as the remote stimuli can only give results, if persistently associated with food stimuli. If such association with food stimuli is absent, and new stimuli are associated with remote stimuli which give reactions through their associations with food stimuli, the result is inhibition of secretion. In other words, each new stimulus must be directly associated with the original food stimulus.

        To quote from Savadsky's work carried out in Pavlow's laboratory: 

"Wasiliev and Mishtovt were the first to investigate conditions of inhibitions. At first the authors had in mind to develop conditional reflexes, not on the basis of the unconditional reflex (i. e. food) but on the basis of another conditional reflex (such as a sound or light stimulus giving secretion.) Their experiments were as follows: From time to time they associated with the usual conditional stimulus another stimulus which had no relation whatever to salivary secretion, and this combination was not accompanied by the presence of the unconditional stimulus (food). By means of a great number of repetitions of such a combination, it was supposed to associate with the quality of the extraneous stimulus the quality of bringing about salivary secretion. It turned out, however, that such an arrangement of experimentation could by no means transform the extraneous agent into a conditional stimulus. In that way it became clear that the conditional stimulus, contrary to the unconditional, is not capable of communicating its property of bringing about salivary secretion. The fact is that the associative external stimulus, when accompanied by the unconditional stimulus alone, becomes after a few repetitions a powerful inhibiting agent."

        This clearly shows that the conditional reflex in the dog can bring about salivary secretions only when associated with the unconditional reflex. What it means is, that the dog on seeing a light or hearing the sound expects food, and hence the psychic stimulation of his salivary glands resulting in secretion. Pavlow's experiments and also the experiments carried out under his directions by his pupils clearly prove that there is no direct association between secretion and an external stimulus, such as light or sound, but that the secretion is brought about by an intermediate psychic link, namely the expectation of food. Thus we find that the work of Pavlow and his pupils, far from showing the possibility of formation of direct associations, really goes to substantiate the view of the presence of intermediate mental links in cases of apparently immediate associations.

        As a matter of fact there is no need for us to establish hypothetical, intermediate, unconscious or physiological links. The "unconscious" brain-processes are problematic entities and there is no way of getting at them. What we need to discover in cases of mediate association, and especially in cases of psychopathic diseases, is whether the intermediate links, or the original experience that brought about the trauma, or the state of dissociation is present, consciously, or subconsciously, or coconsciously. This is possible to test by hypnosis or by means of the hypnoidal state. In many such cases we actually find that the patient lives through the original experience either consciously in a hypnoidal state, or in a hypnoidic state, thus undergoing a mental experience which is immediately forgotten or dissociated; or what is more commonly the case, the patient lives through the original experience subconsciously. But, whether conscious or subconscious, the mental state is not "unconscious," but is essentially of a conscious character. In short, we deal here either with the personal consciousness or with the subconscious consciousness. Thus, all the facts of mental life, normal or abnormal, substantiate the presence of a subconscious consciousness.


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