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Rendon, M. (1988). A Cognitive Unconscious?. Am. J. Psychoanal., 48(4):291-293.

(1988). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 48(4):291-293


A Cognitive Unconscious?

Mario Rendon, M.D.

Cognitive psychology is in the mainstream today. Cognitive psychotherapy promises more efficient and cost-effective removal of symptoms and thus attracts the attention of health services providers and third party payers. In the area of depression, so important epidemiologically, cognitive therapy has been tested and favorably compared with pharmacotherapy and “interpersonal psychotherapy” in at least one scientifically designed, large scale N.I.M.H. study. There are increasing numbers of syndromes for which cognitive therapy is being recommended.

Information processing, the core of cognitive psychology, is the present model of learning and intelligence. Previous psychoanalytic, behavioral, and developmental models, although very often contained in the building bricks of the cognitive theory, are not well integrated, their source often not being acknowledged. Computer science, of course, has taken a central place in theoretical construction, and the corresponding language is being incorporated in the conceptual armamentarium of present day psychology. Thus we hear about “central processing,” “cognitive modules,” “computational mechanisms,” and “neural hard wiring,” for example.

I came across the term “cognitive unconscious” while reading Gardner's book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983). Gardner uses the term to denote certain “cognitive computational mechanisms,” some of which, such as face perception, we allegedly share with animals, while others, “syntactic parsing,” for example, are supposedly unique to our species. The qualifier of unconscious comes in to describe the fact that these mechanisms operate as independent, autonomous modules which are “impenetrable or encapsulated,” meaning beyond conscious reach.

As we can see, this use of the term unconscious has very little to do with its classical psychoanalytic connotation. Freud described the unconscious as a dynamic psychological phenomenon where through society kept its lid upon nature. Opposite psychological forces were thus in constant interaction, and the goal of psychoanalysis was to recover those repressed unconscious phenomena.

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