It is easy to see the economy of this arrangement which provides ready-made patterns of reaction for habitual situations and leaves consciousness free for new decisions. Since an automatic action, traveling along well-worn brain paths, consumes little energy and causes the minimum of fatigue, the plan not only frees consciousness from a confusing number of details, but also works for the conservation of energy. While consciousness is busy lighting up the special problems of the moment, the vast mass of life’s demands are taken care of by the subconscious, which constitutes the bulk of the mind. “Properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psyche."
[Footnote 18: Freud: Interpretation of Dreams, p. 486.]
=The Heart of Psychology.= In the face of all this, it is not to be wondered at that the problem of the subconscious has been called not one problem of psychology but the problem. It cannot be denied that the discoveries which have already been made as to its activities have been of immense practical importance in the understanding of normal conduct and in the treatment of the psycho-neuroses.
If some of the methods—such as hypnosis, automatic writing, and interpretation of dreams—which are used to investigate its activities seem to savor of the charlatan and the mountebank, it is because they have occasionally been appropriated by the ignorant and the unscrupulous. Their real setting is the psychological laboratory and the physician’s office. In the hands of men like Sigmund Freud, Boris Sidis, and Morton Prince, they are as scientific as the apparatus of any other laboratory and their findings are as susceptible of proof. We may, then, go forward with the conviction that we are walking on solid ground and that the main paths, at least, will turn into beaten highways.
=Race-Memories.= An individual as he stands at any moment is the product of his past,—the past which he has inherited and the past which he has lived. In other words, he is a bundle of memories accumulated through the experience of the race, and through his own experience as a person. Some of these memories are conscious, and these he calls his, while others fail to reach consciousness and are not recognized as part of his assets.
The instincts form the starting-point of mind, conscious and subconscious, and are the foundation upon which the rest is built. They often show themselves as part of our conscious lives, but their roots are laid deep in the subconscious from which they can never be eradicated. This deepest-laid instinctive layer of the subconscious is little subject to change. It represents the earlier adjustments of the race, crystallized into habit. It takes no account of the differences between the present and the past. It knows no culture, no reason, no lately acquired prudence. It is all energy and can only wish, or urge toward action. But since only those race-memories became instincts which had proved needful to the race in the long run, they are on the whole beneficent forces, working for the good of the race and the good of the individual, if he learns how to handle them aright and to adapt them to present conditions.