Brownian motion and the unconscious mind.


3 min read

Jason Brien.

Brownian motion = In 1826, botanist Robert Brown looked through a microscope and observed pollen particles in water moving around randomly without any apparent cause for their motion. Albert Einstein provided the answer in 1916. Einstein proposed that the random motion of the pollen particles in the water was the result of the observable pollen grains being bumped every which way by the much, much smaller and unobservable water molecules.


Unconscious mind = Sigmund Freud described the unconscious mind as a storehouse of feelings, thoughts, schemas, memories (good & bad), introjections, prior learnings and urges all of which primarily exist outside of the conscious mind. Despite all of these being hidden away in the unconscious mind, they still have the ability to influence overt behaviours. 


So how does Brownian motion relate to the unconscious mind? The observable pollen grains being bumped around by the unobservable water molecules is akin to the content of the unconscious mind (unobservable) influencing overt behaviour (observable behaviour). Just as it was important for Einstein and others to understand why the pollen grains were moving around randomly without any apparent cause, so too must we understand why we feel, act and behave in certain ways especially when their is no apparent cause (impulsive, reckless behaviours, etc).


This is where self-awareness and insight comes in. Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of ourselves, our behaviours, our thoughts, our memories and so on. The more that we become self-aware, the less content we have hiding away in our unconscious mind. When we can reduce the content of our unconscious minds, we can begin to take more purposeful and intentional actions rather than having all of our thoughts, feelings, etc., occurring outside of our control and without our intention. 


Have you ever wondered why meditation is great for building self-awareness and for gaining insight? Meditation, when done properly, helps us to peek into the unconscious mind and see the content which floats around in there. Meditation also helps to slow down the mind so that you can capture your thoughts and feelings more easily rather than having them zoom by in a blur. Let us look at some other ways you can build self-awareness. 


Self-reflection; Self-reflection is the ability to intentionally look back at our behaviours, thoughts, feelings, motivations, etc., and understanding the ‘why’ behind them. For example “Why did I behave that way and not this way”? “Why did I have that feeling in response to that situation”? Self-reflection can help you pull content out of the unconscious and bring it into the conscious where you can then work on it. Self-reflection often provides the ‘Ah hah’ moments. 


Journaling; Journalling is a great way to bring your thoughts out of your mind so that you can then analyse them objectively rather than subjectively. Journalling will also help you to make connections between thoughts, behaviours and feelings and the context which invoked them. Journalling helps to drive intentional awareness also known as mindfulness. Mindfulness and Journalling go hand in hand. 


Understand the nature of introjections; A major part of self-development is becoming aware of the introjects that you have internalized over your life time. Let us imagine that your parents always called you fat or chubby even though you were not fat and chubby. As time goes on, you internalise this “I am fat and chubby” interjection and it causes you to monitor the calories you ingest and so you develop an eating disorder. Here we can see how the unconscious introjection is influencing overt behaviour.