Conscious Decisions and the Tools of Sun Tzu

A SOSI Member writes asking about how our decisions in challenging situation relate to the "unconscious" mind, an idea that we cover in the series of public articles starting here though his question came from studying a specific set of Sun Tzu's Rules. (1.5.1 Command Leadership).

This topic is somewhat philosophical, but many may find it interesting. Below are the specific questions that I was asked and my responses.

1. What is the subconscious mind? Because of the Freudian implications, "subconscious” is not an ideal word, so perhaps I should go to the word "pre-conscious" to explain the idea. I use this term to mean the workings of the brain of that we do not have to consciously direct and of which we are not aware. It encompasses everything from the autonomic nervous system to the mechanisms by which memories are retrieved and extremely complex situations resolved. The later two are its value to strategic decision making. In a computer, we call these working "background" processes." Most people experience these background processes when they can't remember a name by consciously thinking about it, but it suddenly "pops" into their mind later when they aren't thinking about it. What has been happening is that the "pre-conscious," for lack of a better word, has been searching for the information and, when it is found, brings in to mind.

2. How is the subconscious different from the conscious? The difference is that we are not aware of these functions. They require no conscious direction or choice on our part. Just as we can use a calculator without knowing how microprocessors work or are programmed, we use our brains the same way. The “mind” as human awareness is completely different and may not be a function of the brain at all. In my view, awareness is the spark of the divine within us, but the major point is that we cannot know what it is anymore than we can know another’s awareness. It is ultimately what we are and no one else in the universe is, private to all but God.

3. What is the climate and ground of the subconscious mind? The subconscious mind is not a competitive arena, so the terms are meaningless. It is like asking what the ground and climate is within a computer. Without awareness and intelligent agents working for position, the terms have no meaning to me.

4. When can you say that the following idea or feeling originates from the subconscious mind, and when can you say it is an inspiration from the Spirit? Let us handle "ideas" and "feelings" separately. Some feelings, in so far as it is a somatic response, arise from the brain/body interaction, exists before we are conscious of it. If my conscious mind is busy, I do not notice that I feel hungry until I have a moment. Is there a boundary between these physical feeling and higher feelings? I believe so and so has mankind since the beginning of recorded history. However, in humans, flesh and spirit are intertwined. We can study the flesh, but spirit is outside of our ability to perceive and perhaps understand. “Ideas” can mean many different things, from Plato’s Ideas of eternal form to ever though that flutters though my mind. So let us now discuss what “ideas” are and where they come from originally: I simply have no idea. Whatever ideas are, our thoughts about them are stored as memories. For example, I have stored memories about how Plato’s “Ideas” differ from Aristotle’s “ideas” (since Aristotle did not agree with Plato on this point). In recalling those memories, I am using the brain, not the spirit. The mechanism that calls them up (or fails at times to do so), is an pre-conscious one. What ideas pop into our head from memory are not consciously chosen from all our stored memories, but they are chosen in service of the conscious mind.

5. How can we make the subconscious mind operative in our daily lives? We fill our brains with knowledge and practice at bringing it out.

6. Where do the emotions originate? Partly from the body, the brain, the memory, but as I said, there are other levels to emotion that humans have always attributed to consciousness, which I largely equate with spirit.

7. What differentiates Sun Tzu from those wallowing drummers (and evangelists) of "The Power Of The Subconscious Mind" and the power of "Awakening The Giant Within" and "Law Of Attraction" the NLPers (which I studied thoroughly and received very good training in, and which you refer to it in your Speaking book regarding how Tony Robbins pulled the rugs from Richard Bandler)?

The difference is the difference between mathematics and contemplation. Sun Tzu is teaching methods. Most of these others are simply teaching motivation and self-awareness. Sun Tzu specifically teaches us how to make the best decisions about conditions to advance our position in the direction of our mission. This is a method like finding the square root of a number is a method, but it is a method that is applied in real-world situations which are too complex to completely understand and where decisions are made in an instant.

Do I know how to find the square-root of a number? Well, I know what a square-root is, so I could figure it out, but it would take me time because I have forgotten any easy ways I learned as a child. I would have to work it out though trial and error. If you ask me what the square-root of 81 is, I can instantly tell you “9” because I have the information stored in memory. If you ask me to tell you in an instant ABOUT what the square-root of 635 is, I can instantly tell you a little more than 25 because I know 30 is too much (900) and 20 is too little (400). When I am working on this problem, my memory can’t find the easy methods I learned as a child, but it also doesn’t waste my time bringing me information about how to find the standard deviation in a curve or how to prove a line is parallel. What the tools it brings me are the memories that relate to the problem at hand.

Sun Tzu’s methods are like this. Methods that we pull from memory, applying to the specific problem at hand. I describe these methods as a set of tools, like the tools of mathematics. If we can use these tools every day, we can get at them easily in memory when we need them. I once know how to find the area of a sphere. Can I still do it? No, because the formula is too deeply buried because I have never had to use it since I was in school. Sun Tzu’s tools are ones we should be using every day, so, like the most popular tools in my workshop, they are where I can reach them easily, not buries in a drawer somewhere. Can I look at any competitive situation and know which of Sun Tzu’s nine classes it fits and thus the best response? Yes, because I do it every day.

Does that make any sense?