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Processing Information with Nonconscious Mind

Processing Information with Nonconscious Mind

The concept of nonconscious processing is not exactly new, Sigmund Freud introduced his model of the human mind in the essay “The unconscious” published in 1915. Yet, Freud’s view was that the principal purpose of unconscious and subconscious layers is storing the information rather than information acquisition and processing. Apparently, Freud underestimated nonconscious mind. According to a large body of psychological and neuropsychological research conducted in the past two decades (composed of data collected by 100+ independent researchers all over the world), what happens in our conscious minds is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg; our conscious thinking, perceiving, and learning accounts for only a small fraction of our total mental activity, with the rest being entirely nonconscious. This idea was first presented 35 years ago in “Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing” book by Roy Lachman, Janet Lachman, and Earl Butterfield:

            “Most of what we do goes on unconsciously. It is the exception, not the rule, when thinking is conscious, but by its very nature [i.e., because we cannot experience anything else], conscious thought seems the only sort. It is not the only sort; it is the minority.” (page 207)    

Our minds, as it turns out, really do function like the computers of the body; but the role of conscious mind is much more modest than thought before. It is certainly not a central processor (or CPU) but rather a set of peripheral devices, presenting an interface that interacts with the outside world. The actual bulk of the processing occurs in the nonconscious mind, which is the real CPU of our body. Our minds are also similarly proficient at multitasking; while we are busy experiencing a portion of what is going on around us, our minds are busy absorbing much of the rest of what is present in our environment.

Our conscious minds work much more slowly than our nonconscious minds, and are overall less adept at processing information, less efficient at the task. The nonconscious mind therefore can be said to be more intelligent than the conscious mind.

Freud’s Model of the Human Mind

Understanding human mind

Understanding the human mind is at the core of psychoanalytic theory. Since the introduction of the theory of Sigmund Freud in the early 1900’s and despite the many advancements in the study of psychoanalytic theory Freud’s basic thoughts retain a strong hold on the shaping of views regarding the theory of the human mind.

At the center of Freud’s theory are psychopathologies that result in a mental illness within a subject. It is Freud’s premise that within the human mind is contained in three levels of awareness or consciousness. It is the introduction of these psychopathologies that affect people, thus requiring more than simply talking about them. The effective treatment of these deep seated psychopathologies is psychoanalysis.

In the illustration below is Freud’s division of these three levels and the estimated usage of each level. They are the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Working together they create our reality.

mind structure

Although acceptance of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory has ebbed and flowed over time few professionals would suggest dismissing it. Within it is a model or concept that has withstood the many tests of time.


The origin of the meaning of the mind offers a long and rich history. Unlike many other words and phrases there is no clear evolution given for its use. Its meaning was more dependent on the context of its usage rather than any single meaning.

If spoken of by a philosopher the mind may well mean one’s personality, identity, and their memories. For the religious the mind houses the spirit, an awareness of God, or to the scientist the mind is the generator of ideas and thoughts. The mind has carried with it many diverse labels. In its infancy references to the mind truly were metaphoric.

It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that the generalization of mind to include all mental faculties, thought, volition, feeling, and memory gradually developed.

In the late 19th and early 20th century brought psychology to the forefront as a respected science. Due in no small part to the work of Freud and others, the popular focus on the human mind, its role in the behavioral sciences, and the mind/body question solidified. Today, the concept of the mind and its functions is almost always discussed from a scientific point of view.