The unconscious mind is all the processes of the mind that are not available to consciousness. These things include repressed feelings, automatic skills, unacknowledged perceptions, thoughts, and habits, hidden phobias and desires. The unconscious became a hot topic when Sigmund Freud began to dig into it with the use of psychoanalysis and it was discovered that many processes hidden deep in the unconscious manifest themselves in dreams in a symbolical form.
While some experts have doubted the true existence of the unconscious, there is ample evidence by neuroscientific researchers to support it. For example, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have found that images of fearful faces (shown so quickly that they cannot be registered by the conscious mind) produce unconscious anxiety that can be detected by neuro-imaging machines. This sort of research has shown that not only is there an unconscious mind that may hold many things (thoughts, habits, phobias, desires, memories, perceptions, etc.) that are unreachable to the conscious mind, but that this unconscious mind and its processes are hundreds of milliseconds faster in perception than conscious processes.
Freud has, by far, made the unconscious mind well known for its role in psychoanalysis. Freud divided the mind into the conscious mind (or Superego) and the unconscious mind (a combination of the Ego and the Id). He then proposed a vertical and hierarchical architecture of human consciousness including the conscious mind, the preconscious, and the unconscious mind with each lying below another. Freud made a very important distinction with the unconscious—the unconscious does not include all that is unconscious only that which is actively repressed or missed from conscious thought. In clear terms, while we sleep we are non-conscious but this is not the unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind is a fairly complex psychological term that many, many psychologists have spent years studying. I hope this has been a good introduction for you to the term and that it spurs you to learn more about it. Freud wrote about it profusely and you can find many primary and secondary resources where you can learn more about it from his perspective. Additionally Carl Jung has a slightly different spin on the unconscious mind, along with further thoughts by Jacques Lacan.
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