When attempting to understand the layers of consciousness, the iceberg-model – in particular the way in which Freud has used this metaphor – comes readily to mind, and also seems to be a very useful approach to thinking about the workings of the mind.[1] Most theories of the unconscious which use this model split the mind up into three parts, as can also be seen in figure 3 below. These three parts are:

  • Things that are conscious, include those which one is directly aware of in the present moment: “The conscious mind includes everything that is inside of our awareness. The contents of the conscious mind are the things we are aware of or can easily bring into awareness.”[2]
  • Things that are subconscious include those one is usually not aware of but could be. On the one hand, one is able to observe in several active ways, although in varying degrees of clarity and directness, the content of the subconscious: imagination, remembering and introspection. On the other hand, subvocalization and subvisualization also arise from the subconscious. These two, however, are emergent, that is, they come into consciousness without active effort. They are the murmurings of the mind, which can only be heard if one pays attention to them.[3]
  • Things that are unconscious cannot be penetrated. Here we find forgotten or repressed memories, but also deep motivations and desires.[4] Also, it is here that the actual mechanisms of the brain are located, which are taken to be largely universal. Beyond a certain part that scientists claim to know about, there is also a large part about which nothing, or only very little, is known.[5]

    Icerbeg Model of the Mind              Figure: Iceberg Model of Freud[6]


[1]cf. MISHLOVE, Jeffrey; PINKER, Steven: Language and Consciousness Part I.

[2] CHERRY, Kendra: What is Psychoanalysis? The Psychoanalytic Approach to Psychology. URL: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/psychodynamic.htm [As of 17.02.2016].

[3]  cf. MISHLOVE, Jeffrey; PINKER, Steven: Language and Consciousness Part I.

[4] cf. CHERRY, Kendra: What is Psychoanalysis?

[5] cf. CORSINI, Raymond; WEDDING, Danny; edited by SCHREIBER, Linda et al.: Current Psychotherapies. 9th Edition. New York et al.: Brooks/Cole 2010, p. 24.

[6] cf. CHERRY, Kendra: What is Psychoanalysis? [own illustration].


The Iceberg Model is also 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.

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