The new “unconscious” (part 1)
Sept 1, 2011 – Today’s Mail headline will provoke diverse reactions: indifference, confusion, curiosity, anger, guffaws, etc. The word “anarchists” alone denotes a highly “contested” concept, leading to different responses.
Cognitive science uses the term “cognitive” to refer to all the mental operations involved in such responses.* It holds that the vast majority of these are “unconscious”. This isn’t the Freudian or Jungian “unconscious” – it’s something new in scientific terms (starting around the 1970s). It owes more to empirical research than to sexual/poetic insights (of Freud, Jung etc).
The “cognitive unconscious” has huge implications for philosophy and psychology. And also for “media studies”. One such implication is that it’s not all about “intelligence”. A common (but ignorant) criticism regarding “framing” analysis is that it assumes people are “stupid”, susceptible to “spin”, that they can’t think for themselves, etc. This criticism typically comes from tabloid newspaper editors when confronted with the charge that their headlines induce fear and hatred.
Cognitive science tells us that these reactions of fear and hatred have little to do with the relative stupidity/intelligence of readers. In fact, a high IQ is no defense against having such reactions, since the cognitive processes which underlie them are mostly unconscious. What’s required as a defense is knowledge of these processes, which comes from empirical research. That’s what the field of “frame semantics” is about.
Of course, there are a lot of stupid people around, but that’s a different topic…
* This is a different usage of “cognitive” than in traditional philosophical discourse, where it refers only to conceptual or propositional thought. In cognitive science, “cognitive” may even include physical, bodily processes which underlie our conscious experience.