Conscious and Unconscious Processing

Lesson objective:

In this lesson, we’ll discuss the fact that no one can control every action of our brains. 95-98% of brain activity is unconscious activity, however, wouldn’t enjoy what we experience without the 2% of conscious processes.

It is a little intimidating to think that things like associations, heuristics, predictions, and simulations happen in your brain without your knowledge, and without your permission.

We all like to be in control. Losing control, or the inability to control, is both frustrating and scary. Think for a minute, though. What does it take to keep you alive, day to day? Hour to hour? Second by second? 

  • Your heart needs to beat. 
  • Your lungs need to breathe. 
  • You need to process all the colors, shapes, and shadows around you in just a few nanoseconds. 
  • Your legs, arms, and head need to move. 
  • You need to feel emotions, to inform decisions. 
  • You need to recognize the sweat on your face, the pain in your neck, the love in your heart. 

All of these processes and feelings have to occur every second.

Imagine, for a moment, that you had to actively think about each breath, each heartbeat, each movement. Imagine if you had to initiate and agree to every single breath. Every movement. Every sensation. It is difficult to imagine. 

If you had to control every action coordinated by the brain, you would die almost immediately, because there are thousands, if not millions, of functions that need to be coordinated simultaneously to keep you alive. 

   starting with basic physiological functions like breathing and heartbeat and extends all the way into social relationships and interactions. No human has the time, energy, or ability to control every action initiated by the brain. 

Therefore, many basic functions like breathing, sleeping, eating, and initial feelings of emotion, are handled by th

e brain unconsciously, or without our conscious awareness or intentional directions. In fact,  the vast majority of the brain’s activity is unconscious (or you can say non-conscious).

Activity in the brain happens without your conscious awareness, without your knowledge, permission, or control (initially). Studies suggest that anywhere from 95-98% of the brain’s activity is unconscious. That means that you are aware or conscious of only between 2-5% of the brain’s activity. Within that 95-98% of unconscious activity are basic functions that keep you alive.

In the 2-5% are processes like logical thinking, decision-making, dealing with our various feelings and emotions, thinking about other people’s emotions, solving mathematical problems, and planning for the future. It is important to remember that the 2% and the 98% desperately need each other. You would not be able to survive without your brain’s automatic processes. And you would not enjoy your life without the 2% of conscious processes.