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White, W.A. (1915). The Unconscious. Psychoanal. Rev., 2(1):12-28.

(1915). Psychoanalytic Review, 2(1):12-28

The Unconscious

William A. White

The unconscious as a part of consciousness may be a misnomer. Unconscious ideas may involve a contradiction in terms; and yet the term unconscious is fully justifiable if we only start out by understanding that it is a concept only and we do not try to think of it as occupying, so to speak, any particular spatial relationship in consciousness, such, for example, as is implied by the term sub-conscious. The unconscious is an hypothesis and as such it has a right to exist only if it explains the facts.

We are familiar with the discontinuity of consciousness. I may say, for instance, in addressing a number of persons, that I know of something that they all know, but that at that particular moment not one of them know that they know it and that they will at once recognize the truth of my statement the moment I tell them what it is. The multiplication table! Of course they knew it, but a moment before nothing was further from their several minds. Where was it though? Where did it come from at the moment my words brought it flashing into their consciousnesses? Where are our ideas during dreamless sleep? During anaesthesia? During periods of unconsciousness from fainting?

No phenomenon of mental life is more striking than these temporary periods when mental life seems actually to cease to exist. Consciousness lapses for a period, during a faint, for example, and then makes its appearance again without having seemed to change in the least as a result. Such experiences emphasize the discontinuity of consciousness and demonstrate that continuity of consciousness is not a requisite of mental integrity.

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