The Unconscious at Work

People often ask me why I say the unconscious is intelligent and autonomous. Here’s an example.

The other day my girlfriend, who will arrive later that day after a long road trip, calls to say hello. She tells me how the trip is going and when she thinks she’ll get here. She tells me that the place on her leg where she was bitten by a spider, a black widow we think, is still a large sore discolored mound several inches in diameter. I’m surprised to hear this. The bite happened over a month ago and since she hasn’t mentioned it in weeks I’d assumed it had healed. We both agree she should see a doctor when she gets back home.

She calls again a few hours later, just to pass the time. She’s near a quaint mountain town we once visited together. She’s thinking of heading into town in hopes of finding a healthier lunch than can be found along the highway.

Then I remember, I have a friend in that town who would know the best place for her to eat. I call him and he says he knows a place. “I’ll meet her there,” he says.

We’re getting ready to hang up when I suddenly remember this friend is a dermatologist. “Hey! Hold on! She’s got a nasty spider bite too. Would you take a look?”

An hour later my girlfriend calls to tell me that she has had lunch now, and surgery too. My dermatologist friend has removed a blood clot that had formed after her body tried to quarantine the poison. She’s been bandaged up and is already back on the road.

This, to me, is an example of the unconscious at work — a time when another intelligence in the mind takes over to make up for the shortcomings of the conscious mind. In such cases I often don’t catch on that a plan is in motion till it’s over. I look back on the sequence of events and say, “Ah, I get it now. That was clever!”

In this example, it’s hard to imagine a more efficient plan. If our conscious minds had had their way my girlfriend would have started off going to a regular doctor, or the emergency room, given some medication, and referred to a dermatologist later perhaps. Instead she got an expert diagnosis and operation in less than thirty minutes without going out of her way, and for free.

This is only possible because the unconscious mind knows things that the conscious mind does not know, or does not remember. And unconscious minds can collaborate without our realizing.

My girlfriend’s unconscious knew I had a dermatologist friend in that town because we’d once stopped there to visit him. My unconscious knows that my friend can help her too.

But consciously we aren’t thinking any of this. She isn’t thinking of imposing on this friend of mine. And I, consciously, don’t even know that spider bites ever require surgery, let alone that dermatologists do such a things.

So the unconscious takes over. My girlfriend finds herself offhandedly remarking on her unhealed spider bite. I find myself calling a friend to ask where she should eat.