We read phrases like

  1. The subconsciousness makes up 90% of our brain.
  2. The subconsciousness makes up 95% of our brain.
  3. The subconsciousness can be influenced by hypnosis.

I have yet to see a study in neuroscience that picks the topic up. There seems to be no proof of its existence other than a psychological crutch to explain behaviour.

People like Bruce Lipton try to connect neuroscience to psychology and do not convince in doing so.

Is what psychologists define as subconsciousness proven in neuroscience and can the psychological subconsciousness be visualized by neuroscientists? I am alluding to pictures or video of the images perceived...........

  • $\begingroup$ 1 and 2 don't sound like claims grounded in any sort of real science. In neuroscience, "subconscious" would be just something that is not conscious, and there are many many studies that show that perceptual and other influences that we are not consciously aware of can influence behavior. Are you thinking more of a Freudian view (with Id, Ego, Superego)? Freud is almost completely pseudoscience. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 22, 2019 at 19:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for making the edit, I still think it's unclear though. What is "what psychologists define as subconsciousness"? Can you point to such a definition? Psychologists are a varied bunch, they likely would not all use the same definition. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 26, 2019 at 21:52

2 Answers 2


The vast majority of neural processes (and their associated mental processes) in the brain are subconscious (or unconscious), i.e. we are not consciously aware of them and cannot consciously control them. Yet, without these subconscious processes, we will not be able to live as we do now – we will have to spend an incredible amount of time and effort to consciously control all the processes that are naturally subconsciously controlled now. As a matter of fact, we will not be able to consciously do such tedious yet demanding tasks well, and we will die.

All neural processes except the final-stage sensory perception neural processes and the highest cognitive neural processes are subconscious. The subconscious neural processes are in all parts of the brain:

  1. Brainstem and autonomic system. For example, neural processes that control breathing, heart contraction, pressure in the arterial and venous systems, body temperature, sleep-wake cycle, secretion of various body fluids (sweat, tear, saliva, gastric juice, etc.), secretion of various hormones, various reflexes (pupillary light and accommodation reflexes, optokinetic reflex, vestibulo-ocular reflex, etc .), homeostasis of various blood constituents, etc.

  2. Cerebellum. For example, neural processes that control contraction & movement of hundreds of millions of muscle fibers of various agonist and antagonist muscles for balance and accuracy in walking, writing, speaking, playing various sports, playing various musical instruments, etc.

  3. Deep cerebral nuclei. For example, neural processes that control the tone of your trunk muscles (when sitting, standing, walking, etc.), emotion (*1), formation, storing, and retrieval of memory (*2), etc.

  4. Cerebral cortex. For example, neural processes that perform early-stage sensory perception (*3), early-stage language functions (*4), some stages of decision, some forms of thinking (*5), etc.

And, if you include spinal cord, the majority of their neural processes are subconscious too.


*1. That's why we can't completely control our emotions at will: we can't get out of anger, sadness, depression, etc. or get into any emotion we want instantly at will, because they are partly controlled by subconscious neural processes. Also, we will not be able to have any emotion even if we try to if the subconscious neural processes (in the amygdala and other nuclei in the limbic system) for emotion are impaired (such as in various apathy disorders: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, fronto-temporal dementia, etc.)

*2. That's why you can't memorize new events or recall past events, even if you try, if the subconscious neural processes (the hippocampus and other nuclei in the limbic system) that form, store, and retrieve memory are impaired.

*3. That's why we can't consciously see in colors (achromatopsia), can’t recognize familiar faces (prosopagnosia) (including one’s own face), or can't recognize what the object is (visual agnosia) if the subconscious processes that process color, object identification, or face identification are impaired.

*4.That's why we can't understand what people say even if we hear them clearly (sensory dysphasia) or can't understand what the text in the book means even if we see it clearly (alexia) if the subconscious neural processes that processes the meaning of the sound or of the image is impaired.

*5. See more details in the references below.

References. General, basic information about unconscious processes in the brainstem, autonomic nervous system, cerebellum, and deep cerebral neuclei (basal ganglion, thalamus, amygdala, etc.) can be found easily by searching the internet.

Some of the more in-depth, interesting articles about this matter are as follows (and more references can be found inside these articles):

  1. Bargh JA, Morsella E. The Unconscious Mind. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2008 Jan;3(1):73–79. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00064.x.

  2. Dehanene S. Fathoming unconscious depths. In: Consciousness and the brain. Penguin Books. 2014. New York, New York, USA. ISBN 978-0-670-02543-5, 978-0-14-312626-3. p 47-88.

  3. Dijksterhuis A. First neural evidence for the unconscious thought process. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013 Dec; 8(8): 845–846. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst036.

  4. Dijksterhuis A, Strick M. A Case for Thinking Without Consciousness. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2016 Jan;11(1):117-32. doi: 10.1177/1745691615615317.

  5. Hallett M. Volitional control of movement: The physiology of free will. Clin Neurophysiol. 2007 Jun;118(6):1179–1192. DOI: 10.1016/j.clinph.2007.03.019 PMCID: PMC1950571 NIHMSID: NIHMS24077.

  6. Horga G, Maia TV. Conscious and unconscious processes in cognitive control: A theoretical perspective and a novel empirical approach. Front Hum Neurosci. 2012; 6:199. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00199.

  • $\begingroup$ I clarified my question. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Nov 26, 2019 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ The answer to whether what psychologists define as subconsciousness proven in neuroscience is yes. This article The Unconscious Mind. gives a fairly good overview of this issue. I'm not sure whether the psychological subconsciousness can be literally visualized by neuroscientists, but I think its existence can be proved in other ways that do not involve direct visualization of the subconscious processes. I think references in The Unconscious Mind can tell you how they do those experiments. $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Nov 27, 2019 at 0:38

The neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux has advised us to consider ALL behaviours as non conscious unless proven otherwise.

I’m guessing the percentages you have given in your question originally derive from computations of data coming into the brain per second, versus the brain’s neuronal capacity to process it. This is covered in Tor Nørretrander’s book The User Illusion, and Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves. Contrary to Bryan Krause’s comments above, this is quite widely accepted in the academic community and has nothing to do with Freud. Quiroga has also demonstrated that we only ‘see’ the equivalent of a penny piece on our finger held out at arms length, the rest being constructed by our experience, predictions and imagination.

Nørretranders 1998 - The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size

Wilson 2002 - Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

LeDoux 2016 - Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety

Quiroga 2017 - The Forgetting Machine: Memory, Perception, and the "Jennifer Aniston Neuron"

  • $\begingroup$ To clarify my comment, I wasn't questioning that subconscious processing exists, rather I was trying to get clarification on what the OP was referring to when they said "subconscious" - especially because they are asking if it's "proven". As far as the numbers being nonscientific, it would be scientific to say the vast majority of input to the brain is not processed consciously. To put a number on it like 95% sounds more like the false "you only use 10% of your brain" meme. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 25, 2019 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ Bryan I don’t understand your reasoning. If something sounds false does that mean it’s unscientific? These figures have been arrived at via observation. Perhaps we might dispute then the circumference of the Earth, the speed of sound, and thousands of other natural phenomena. I have added the references - are you saying these are invalid? $\endgroup$
    – Nick H
    Nov 25, 2019 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a quote in those references where they say "95%"? The reason it sounds unscientific is because it's vague: 95% of what? Total volume? Gray matter? Neurons? Action potentials? Metabolism/oxygen consumption? And because it depends on which theory(ies) of consciousness you are basing the estimate on: global workspace? IIT? predictive coding? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 25, 2019 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ Wilson has calculated that the brain receives 11m pieces of information per second, but can only consciously process 40 of them $\endgroup$
    – Nick H
    Nov 25, 2019 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ That's...kind of a ridiculous statement given how many different receptors are involved in even a single sensation. Do you have the actual quote? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 25, 2019 at 22:40

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