Freud initially attempted to subdivide the mind purely in terms of different levels of consciousness, emphasizing the unconscious. Though he abandoned that theory in favor of his tripartite division of the id, ego, and superego, he held that the different functions of the mind operated at different levels. This was an important and forward-looking innovation in the scientific study of the mind, an innovation which Freud deduced from his studies in hypnosis. If the hypnotist could insert something into the subject's mind, he reasoned, which the subject was not conscious of, but which would still affect the subject's behavior, then it was not a great leap of faith to look for other unconcious motivations which the individual would not be aware of but which would affect his behavior nonetheless. Though few psychologists today will agree completely to Freud's theories on the mind and on the psychosexual stages of development, nearly all now acknowledge that human consciousness is affected by underlying motivations or thoughts, the realm of the unconscious. (Follow for illustration of levels of consciouness)
The conscious level is the level on which all of our thought processes operate. Anything that is thought, perceived or understood resides in this conscious level. Below this level, so to speak, is that of the pre-conscious. Here reside memories and thoughts which may threaten at any moment to break into the conscious level, which are easily recalled, and which may strongly influence conscious processes. Below both of these levels, in the realm of the unconscious, lie the wishes, urges, memories and thoughts which represent the bulk of the individual's past experience. Here lie the impulses and memories which threaten to debilitate or destabilize the individual's mind if they break into unconsciousness; by means of repression the mind maintains its tenuous balance. The ego banishes the urges of the id to this level, where they cannot cause mental anguish but are still perfectly capable of causing great anxiety.
Last modified 1998