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Can people act unconsciously?

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http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=19738&view=findpost&p=255237

Your use of "unconsciously" is incorrect. He can act virtuously without knowledge of Objectivism but neither Holmes not anyone else can act "unconsciously". To be unconscious is to be knocked out.

I would like to talk about this idea some more. I think it is possible to act unconsciously without being "knocked out." We have to define some terms, though, because "knocked out" is just a synonym for "unconscious." There is the medical state of being unconscious, there is the physical state of sleep, and there are varying levels of attention which can be brought to bear on decision-making. It is quite possible to act automatically without attention, and that does constitute a common use of the word "unconscious." In fact, I have observed that it appears possible to reason "unconsciously," that is, without attention. A couple of friends have argued that such reasoning is not fully unconscious, but is based on conscious thought, however brief, and then incorporated into a chain of reason without further examination. I am unpersuaded, though, because my observation is that such thoughts must be brief indeed. If you are interested, I will give you the example that started me on this line of thinking.

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This may not be particularly helpful, but there are two types of consciousness.

Wakefulness and awareness.

Wakefulness with reduced awareness would be something like vegetation

Unwakefulness and unawareness would be comatose

Awareness but unwakefulness would be lucid dreaming

..People can make movements with their body while being unconscious. Ie: they have reflexes. Whether or not they are "acting", I can't answer.

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Here is a summary of the Objectivist position from the last entry at the Lexicon

[Objectivism rejects the Freudian] theory of a dynamic unconscious—i.e., the unconscious as a mystic entity, with a will and purpose of its own unknown to the conscious mind, like an inborn demon that continually raises Hell. Strictly speaking, Objectivism does not subscribe to the idea of an unconscious at all. We use the term “subconscious” instead—and that is simply a name for the content of your mind that you are not focused on at any given moment. It is simply a repository for past information or conclusions that you were once conscious of in some form, but that are now stored beneath the threshold of consciousness. There is nothing in the subconscious besides what you acquired by conscious means. The subconscious does perform automatically certain important integrations (sometimes these are correct, sometimes not), but the conscious mind is always able to know what these are (and to correct them, if necessary). The subconscious has no purposes or values of its own, and it does not engage in diabolical manipulations behind the scenes. In that sense, it is certainly not “dynamic.”
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Wakefulness with reduced awareness would be something like vegetation
It could also be just something automatic, like driving a car while having a conversation.

The subconscious does perform automatically certain important integrations

Ah, this is the idea I was looking for. Integrations can be performed subconsciously.

(sometimes these are correct, sometimes not), but the conscious mind is always able to know what these are (and to correct them, if necessary)
Peikoff is appropriately careful in his word choices here. The conscious mind is able to know, but does not automatically know--it can require enormous effort to figure out even what they are, much less whether they are correct or not.

And back to the original discussion, wouldn't you say that Holmes could act virtuously subconsciously?

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http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=19738&view=findpost&p=255237

I would like to talk about this idea some more. I think it is possible to act unconsciously without being "knocked out." We have to define some terms, though, because "knocked out" is just a synonym for "unconscious." There is the medical state of being unconscious, there is the physical state of sleep, and there are varying levels of attention which can be brought to bear on decision-making. It is quite possible to act automatically without attention, and that does constitute a common use of the word "unconscious." In fact, I have observed that it appears possible to reason "unconsciously," that is, without attention. A couple of friends have argued that such reasoning is not fully unconscious, but is based on conscious thought, however brief, and then incorporated into a chain of reason without further examination. I am unpersuaded, though, because my observation is that such thoughts must be brief indeed. If you are interested, I will give you the example that started me on this line of thinking.

Hello, Scribulus,

Below is my answer and contribution to the subject you bring upon, which is my translation of a part of “Grandoria”, a French objectivist thriller I talked about in a previous comment earlier this month (or in May maybe).

Let’s precise that my perception of the unconscious is not Freud’s; it is based upon works in behavioral biology previously undertaken by researchers such as Dr Paul D. McLean and Dr Henri Laborit (see Wikipedia for more information on these two scientists). Paul D. McLean’s theory of the “triune brain” has been later challenged by observations of the brain activity thanks to “Magnetic resonance imaging”. However, the triune model continues to hold interest to many psychologists, psychoanalysts and even psychiatrists, in United States where behaviorism enjoy more interest than anywhere else in the world, more especially. From my own observation, recourse to the triune brain model never fail to provide correct explanation to said-to-be irrational behavior (such as the case of the nice and quiet guy who unexpectedly kill his whole family before killing himself, as example.).

Okay… Let’s start.

“A brain's function is not thought, but action. Evolution is a conservationist. So, in the animal brain, we find very primitive forms. There is a "first brain". Paul MacLean calls it the reptilian brain and so it is. It triggers immediate survival responses without which no animal can survive. Drinking and eating, by which it preserves its structure and copulation by which it reproduces.

Then, when we get to mammals, a "second brain" is added to the first. McLean and others call this the “affective brain”. I prefer to call it the “memory brain”. With no memory of what is pleasant or unpleasant, there is no question of being happy, sad, anguished, nor of being angry, or in love. We could almost say that a living creature is a memory which acts.

Then a "third brain" is added to the two others. It's called the cerebral cortex. In humans, it has become highly developed. We call it an associative cortex, meaning that it "connects". It connects the various nerve paths which have retained traces of past experiences. It connects them in a way that is different from the way they were imprinted by the environment at the moment of the experience. In other words, it enables us to create, to be imaginative.

In humans, these three brains still exist, superimposed. Our drives are still primitive, coming from the reptilian brain. These three layers of the brain must function together. Therefore, they are linked by nerve bundles. One nerve bundle we might call the “reward nexus”. Another, the “punishment nexus”. This one will lead to “escape” or to “combat”. A third one will cause the “inhibition of action”. For example, a mother's caress for her child, the medal that flatters a soldier's self esteem, applause for an actor. All this release chemical substances in the reward nexus and result in pleasure for the object of the attention.

I spoke about memory but we must understand that at birth the brain is still immature. Therefore, during the first 2 or 3 years of existence, a human being's existence of his surroundings will be indelible. It will play a very important role in the evolution of all his future behavior. Above all, we must come to recognize that what affects our nervous system, starting at birth, perhaps even in the womb, the stimuli acting upon our nervous system come essentially from others.

We are others. Only others. When we die, these others, interiorized by our nervous system, these others who have formed us, formed our brain, and filled it... are going to die. Let’s say that I do no mean “others” in the political sense of word, of course, but in the “intellectual” sense, if I may put it thusly. That’s why our brain holds, from the very day of our birth (and earlier, possibly, as I said), elementary bits of information very important to our survival, that are used under the form of what we call “drives”, and some bits of information which, as drives too, connect us to others - to our likes. However, this does not mean that those later bits of information connect us to other in the affective sense of the term. I’m not meaning “camaraderie”, “brotherhood” or “love”, but about care for us as a species. For, there is a drive originating in our reptilian brain that gives us the order to preserve our species (the need for copulation stems from the same drive, truly).

Well, this is a reality that looks much less romantic than what we use to hear about. When we pretend to care for others, for their needs, we are truly anxious to preserve our species, which is quite a different need from the universal love in which many would prefer to believe in (angst gets us to go toward others).

So, our three brains are there. The first two function unconsciously beneath our level of awareness and drives socially-conditioned reactions. The third furnishes an explanatory language which provides reasons, excuses and alibis for the unconscious working of the first two. Somehow, we can compare the unconscious to a deep sea, and what we call consciousness is the foam that appears sporadically on the crest of the waves. It is the most superficial part of the sea, buffeted by the wind.

The unconscious part of our brain may perform tasks underneath the conscious part of it, and unbeknown to us, as it may chose to continue performing a task we previously undertook conscientiously (problem solving), because this task appears to us as very important (survival concern). The best known example of unconscious working is that of driving our car while we are lost in deep thoughts about something totally unconnected to driving or going to a place from another. Also, we may go to bed we an unsolved problem in mind, then wake up the next morning with the solution in mind, “ready to consume” if I may say so. In the case of a person with mental disorders, the inner parts of our brain may lead it to function improperly and to do things that appear as crazy to others (this is about chemical substances releases and exchange, in most instances, or about the way neuronal connections were established during our infancy).

I hope it helps. I’ll answer further questions about all this, should the need arise.

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And back to the original discussion, wouldn't you say that Holmes could act virtuously subconsciously?

There is no acting which is not done consciously (disregarding somnambulism and psychoses). A man can be conflicted in his ideas and fail to understand his motives, but whatever action he decides to take is by the permission and direction of the conscious mind. Acting is never subconscious, but some thoughts are the products of subconscious processes. Only in the extended sense of 'mental action' can a subconscious process be considered virtuous or not. Even so, such a subconscious requires preparation and cultivation by the purposive conscious mind so it is a derivative manifestation of being self-consciously virtuous.

Edited by Grames
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