Various observers throughout history have argued that there are influences on consciousness from other parts of the mind. These observers differ in the use of related terms, including: unconsciousness as a personal habit; being unaware and intuition. Terms related to semi-consciousness include: awakening, implicit memory, the subconscious, subliminal messages, trance, and hypnosis. Whilst sleep, sleep walking, delirium and coma may signal the presence of unconscious processes, that is different from an unconscious mind. Science is also in its infancy in exploring the limits of consciousness.
Probably the most detailed and precise of the various notions of 'subconscious mind' — and the one which most people will immediately think of upon hearing the term — is that developed by Sigmund Freud and his followers. It lies at the heart of psychoanalysis.
Consciousness, in Freud's topographical view (which was his first of several psychological models of the mind) was a relatively thin perceptual aspect of the mind, whereas the subconscious was that merely autonomic function of the brain. The unconscious was considered by Freud throughout the evolution of his psychoanalytic theory a sentient force of will influenced by human drive and yet operating well below the perceptual conscious mind. For Freud, the unconscious is the storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, and psychic actions. While past thoughts and memories may be deleted from immediate consciousness, they direct the thoughts and feelings of the individual from the realm of the unconscious.
Freud divided mind into the conscious mind or Ego and two parts of the Unconscious: the Id or instincts and the Superego. He used the idea of the unconscious in order to explain certain kinds of neurotic behavior.
In this theory, the unconscious refers to that part of mental functioning of which subjects make themselves unaware.
Freud proposed a vertical and hierarchical architecture of human consciousness: the conscious mind, the preconscious, and the unconscious mind - each lying beneath the other. He believed that significant psychic events take place "below the surface" in the unconscious mind., like hidden messages from the unconscious - a form of intrapersonal communication out of awareness. He interpreted these events as having both symbolic and actual significance.
For psychoanalysis, the unconscious does not include all that is not conscious, rather only what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what the person is averse to knowing consciously. In a sense this view places the self in relationship to their unconscious as an adversary, warring with itself to keep what is unconscious hidden. The therapist is then a mediator trying to allow the unspoken or unspeakable to reveal itself using the tools of psychoanalysis. Messages arising from a conflict between conscious and unconscious are likely to be cryptic. The psychoanalyst is presented as an expert in interpreting those messages.
For Freud, the unconscious was a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression. However, the contents did not necessarily have to be solely negative. In the psychoanalytic view, the unconscious is a force that can only be recognized by its effects — it expresses itself in the symptom.
Unconscious thoughts are not directly accessible to ordinary introspection, but are supposed to be capable of being "tapped" and "interpreted" by special methods and techniques such as random association, dream analysis, and verbal slips (commonly known as a Freudian slip), examined and conducted during psychoanalysis.
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