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Donovan, D.M. (1989). The Paraconscious. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 17(2):223-251.

(1989). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 17(2):223-251

The Paraconscious

Denis M. Donovan, M.D., M.Ed.

A new concept, the paraconscious, is presented as the third complementary member of the conscious/unconscious paradigm. A form of cognition dating from early intrauterine existence to sometime in the first year of life, the nature of the paraconscious is determined by the incompleteness of developing cognitive structures, giving rise to a form of knowing that does not allow for the generation of voluntarily retrievable mental representations. The paraconscious provides a conceptual framework for the understanding of “conflict-free” psychic development, thereby linking such apparently disparate phenomena as Stoller's core gender identity and primary transsexualism, Bruch's primary anorexia nervosa, night terrors, and ubiquitous convictions such as the belief in telepathy and the survival of death by human consciousness. It has profound implications for the treatment (or nontreatment in the case of primary male transsexualism) of significant psychiatric syndromes and raises crucial questions about the nature of learning during the earliest moments of our cognitive existence, about the nonlinguistic transmission of information and about the origin of certain widely held beliefs.


What do night terrors (not nightmares), Bruch's primary anorexia nervosa, Stoller's core gender identity, and the incredibly widespread convictions that (1) consciousness can survive death and (2) telepathy is possible, have in common? At first it might appear that these phenomena (or convictions) are so disparate that they could not be related in a meaningful way. However, as we shall see, they are very much related for they owe their very existence to a common cognitive process.

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