It is astounding that in all these years of cognitive and neuroscience there has not yet been developed a generally accepted theory of how the mind works, which can account for the various phenomena for which empirical evidence has been found. However, this is with good reason; it is a daring proposition to devise a comprehensive model of thought and there is little doubt that anyone who tries will be wrong in certain aspects.
Nonetheless, in the following such a comprehensive model will be formulated. As a word of caution: the concrete interactions and transitions between the separate entities is largely, if not completely, speculative. Furthermore, because this is a model of conceptual thought, emotions, motivations and other important, but non-conceptual aspects of thought are not included. An illustration of the model can be seen between the two descriptions of it, the static and the one “in action”.
1. In Isolation
The model is based on the iceberg-model and can be split up into the conscious, subconscious and unconscious parts . The various elements are further separated by a distinction of the aspects of thought that are universal, thus part of a common cognitive structure , and individual, as suggested by linguistic relativity . At the bottom of the model is a portion symbolizing that there are even more aspects of thought that we do not know about , referred to here as “unknown unconscious mind”.
On the right hand side, language is placed with its universal parts, including Universal Grammar , on the bottom and the vocabulary of a natural language on the top. Apart from language, the unconscious is made up of the mechanisms of categories. The characteristics of categories include not only that they are embodied and possess a graded structure , but also that they share a mental code with language in the form of Universal Grammar. Another completely unconscious part of the mind is the operation of categories, which includes detection or seeing something , making analogies and further processes. The organization of categories is the final part in this model of the mind, which is universal in terms of a conceptual capacity to form conceptual systems . These components all share a common core , but are individual to every person and are used depending on specific domains or situations . Finally, the model also shows parts of memory which are located in the unconscious, such as deep memories – those which are forgotten or repressed – and abstract image-schemata .
The subconscious mind is comprised of memories, which are both concrete and abstract images of visual, auditory, kinesthetic and other sensory impressions. Mentalese is the language of thought in which one thinks and its means are abstract images and schemata . It emerges to the conscious mind in the forms of subvocalization and subvisualization, when constant attention is paid. However, by introspection, imagination and remembering one is also able to take a look at parts of the subconscious – though one does so actively via a searching process. In this sense, the conscious part of the mind is a mental space, which is filled with whatever one’s attention is focused on at the moment . This conscious part has both active and receptive aspects; however, there is no link between the two, as the process takes place in the subconscious or the unconscious, but not in the mental space of attention itself.
2. In Process
In the following section, the process of how impressions lead to expressions, or how the mind interacts with the outside world, will be discussed, using the elements described in the previous section.
When an impression is first created, it might be recognized by the conscious part of our brain, although the vast majority of sensory input is not. If it is paid attention to by the conscious part of the mind, it will not be understood directly but only experienced: in other words, one has only looked on it but not seen it. These experiences will be stored as uncategorized memories.
Categorization – the actual processing – takes place in the unconscious, where the impression is first detected and recognized, or seen, and then, by analogy, compared to schemas of previous experiences of this impression. After further processing, which includes assigning a frame, this impression will be passed into memory, structuring the conscious experiences of before and creating or reinforcing images and schemas. Within a conceptual system, which is applied at the exclusion of other systems, the processed impression will be pondered in mentalese by means of sensory images and schemata. These ponderings will, on the one hand, emerge to the conscious part of the mind through subvocalization and subvisualization, which are based on mental vocabulary, where they will lead to actively intended expression; on the other hand, they will lead to unconscious and unintended expression. This process unconsciously occurs constantly many times a second.
Finally, there is one last important process in this model, which, as already stated in the previous section, is the possible interaction between the conscious and subconscious mind through introspection, imagination or remembering.
I have developed my “Model of Conceptual Thought” as part of my pre-academic paper “Thinking in and beyond Language: On Linguistic Relativity and a Model of Conceptual Thought”, which can be found here.