"Know thyself." Yeah, right.
Tough to do under the best of circumstances, when the supposed self is out in the open, available for knowing.
But modern neuroscience and psychology know that our conscious awareness is just the tip of the iceberg of what lies below in unconscious depths.
Early on in my blogging (2005), I wrote a blog post where I said:
After I watched “I Heart Huckabees” I experienced a mild existential coincidence of my own. In the movie a character observes that only 5% of the matter/energy in the universe is recognizable. This is true. Physicists estimate that 70% of the stuff that makes up the universe is dark energy, 20% is dark matter, and just 5% is ordinary matter (“dark” is scientific shorthand for “we don’t know what it is”).
So there I was in my post-movie moment, brushing my teeth before going to bed, reading the February 28, 2005 issue of U.S. News and World Report that I had opened up next to the sink. And in an article called “Mysteries of the Mind” there it was! The 5% solution!
According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness.
The human mind that only knows about 5% of the stuff in the universe is only aware of 5% of what goes on in itself. Let’s see: 5% times 5% is a quarter of a percent. That seems about right—after ten thousand years or so of civilization Homo sapiens is clued in to about 1/400th of what the cosmos is all about, 0.25%.
No wonder life seems so meaningless so much of the time.
But then…there’s the other 99.75%.
Get a grip on that, even some of that, and I suspect life looks much different.
Bring it on.
Here's a non-quantitiative update on the unconscious: excerpts from an article in the January 2014 issue of Scientific American, "Our Unconscious Mind" by John A. Bargh.
When psychologists try to understand the way our mind works, they frequently come to a conclusion that may seem startling: people often make decisions without having given them much thought -- or, more precisely, before they have thought about them consciously.
...Snap judgments -- relatively automatic thought processes -- abound in our daily life -- and for good reason.
...In general, people have a hard time untangling the sources of various positive and negative feelings and are prone to misunderstanding their true causes.
...Unconscious thoughts and feelings influence not only the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us but also our everyday actions.
...We tend to unconsciously evaluate nearly everything we come into contact with in a crude good-or-bad manner.
...In fact, in the modern psychology of desire, researchers have found that whether or not we are conscious of a particular goal we have set for ourselves, the way we go about pursuing that goal is very similar.
...This and other studies suggest that an unconsciously perceived stimulus may suffice to cause someone to actually pursue a goal without any awareness of how it originated -- no conscious deliberation or free will required.
Our unconscious mind may not only nudge us to choose a particular option, but it may help muster the necessary motivation to actually achieve it.
...The latest research provides a more pragmatic perspective on how thought and emotion just below the surface of our awareness shape the way we relate to a boss, parent, spouse, or child.
That means we can set aside antiquated notions of Oedipus complexes and accept the reality that the unconscious asserts its presence in every moment of our lives, when we are fully awake as well as when we are absorbed in the depths of a dream.
(For those who want more, much more, You Tube has a 1:21 video of a "The Unconscious Rules" talk by Bargh.)
Now, I realize that religious believers often don't care much about what science has learned about the human condition. Or the world's condition, as evidenced by global warming deniers.
But anyone who puts credence in modern knowledge about unconscious brain processes would find it difficult to make much sense of a lot of ancient theologies, both of the Eastern and Western variety.
Let's say that God indeed is Lord of heaven and earth. He (or It in some Eastern traditions which posit an impersonal "god") can do whatever the hell He wants. Call it fate, destiny, karma, God's will, or whatever -- the Supreme Being is able to influence human behavior.
Yet if we take neuroscientific and psychological findings seriously, as we should, somehow the fact of the unconscious has to be blended with a purported all-powerful divinity.
You see, God can't simply put an idea in someone's conscious mind -- do this, believe that, go here, whatever. God would need to fiddle around with the unconscious programming, so to speak, that forms the bulk of a person's "operating system."
On the flip side, I suppose modern ideas about the unconscious could be made to fit with a God works in mysterious ways theology. So mysterious, virtually everything that God does is hidden beneath the surface of consciousness.
However, when we go that route we might as well take a straightforward shortcut: simply assume that the mystery which guides much, if not most, of our thoughts, emotions, desires, intentions, and so on is the brain's unconscious processes.
Otherwise we have to posit that an unknown divinity is somehow able to control the unknown recesses of our unconscious mind. This merely multiplies the mystery.
Myself, I like the idea that my own brain is the mystery that lies beneath my conscious awareness. If I feel like praying to someone to reveal secrets I'm clueless about, I just need to talk to myself.