[Here, in the opening of a key chapter of The Gay Science (1866), Dallas focuses on the nature of unconscious mental life, exploring "how vast is its extent, how potent and how constant is its influence, how strange are its effects". - Graham Law]

Chapter VII. The Hidden Soul

Decorated initial T

he object of this chapter is not so much to identify imagination with what may be called the hidden soul, as to show that there is a mental existence within us which may be so called - a secret flow of thought which is not less energetic than the conscious flow, an absent mind which haunts us like a ghost or a dream and is an essential part of our lives. Incidentally, there will be no escaping the observation that this unconscious life of the mind - this soul bears a wonderful resemblance to the supposed features of imagination. That, however, is but the ultimate conclusion to which we are driving. My more immediate aim is to show that we have within us a hidden life, how vast is its extent, how potent and how constant is its influence, how strange are its effects. This unconscious part of the mind is so dark, and yet so full of activity; so like the conscious intelligence and yet so divided from it by the veil of mystery, that it is not much of a hyperbole to speak of the human soul as double; or at least as leading a double life. One of these lives - the veiled life, now awaits the rudeness of our scrutiny.

Many of the facts which in this exposition it will be requisite to mention must be known to some readers, and nearly all of them indeed should be recognized as more or less belonging to common experience. But notwithstanding their familiarity we must needs go the whole round of the facts that bear witness to the reality of a hidden life within us, for it is only from a pretty full muster of the evidence - the familiar with the unfamiliar - that we can see the magnitude of our hidden life, the intimacy of its relations with our conscious every-day thinking, the constancy and variety of its working in all the nooks and crannies of the mind. Though some of these facts are familiar, they are also interesting enough to be worth repeating. To lay bare the automatic or unconscious action of the mind is indeed to unfold a tale which outvies the romances of giants and ginns, wizards in their palaces and captives in the Domdaniel roots of the sea. As I am about to show how the mind and all its powers work for us in secret and lead us unawares to results so much above our wont and so strange that we attribute them to the inspiration of heaven or to the whispers of an inborn genius, I seem to tread enchanted ground. The hidden efficacy of our thoughts, their prodigious power of working in the dark and helping us underhand, can be compared only to the stories of our folk-lore, and chiefly to that of the lubber-fiend who toils for us when we are asleep or when we are not looking. There is a stack of corn to be thrashed, or a house to be built, or a canal to be dug, or a mountain to be levelled, and we are affrighted at the task before us. Our backs are turned and it is done in a trice, or we awake in the morning and find that it has been wrought in the night. The lubber-fiend or some other shy creature comes to our aid. He will not lift a finger that we can see; but let us shut our eyes, or turn our heads, or put out the light, and there is nothing which the good fairy will not do for us. We have such a fairy in our thoughts, a willing but unknown and tricksy worker which commonly bears the name of Imagination, and which may be named — as I think more clearly - The Hidden Soul.

It is but recently that the existence of hidden or unconscious thought has been accepted as a fact in any system of philosophy which is not mystical. It used to be a commonplace of philosophy, that we are only in so far as we know that we are. In the Cartesian system, the essence of mind is thought; the mind is nothing unless it thinks, and to think is to be conscious. To Descartes and his vast school of followers, a thought which transcends consciousness is a nullity. The Cartesian system is perfectly ruthless in its assertion of the rights of consciousness, and the tendency of the Cartesians has been to maintain not only that without consciousness there can be no mind, but also that without consciousness there can be no matter. Nothing exists, they inclined to say, except it exists as thought (in technical phrase, esse is percipi), and nothing is thought except we are conscious of it. . . . [II 199-202]

[. . .]

Not so; we are far more than we know; and, paradoxical though it may appear, yet our life is full of paradoxes, and it is true that the mere circumstance of our knowing that we are, is often a valid proof to the contrary. I hope to avoid the nonsense and the jargon of those who have discoursed most on the sphere of the transcendental - that is, the sphere of our mental existence which transcends or spreads beyond our consciousness; but that consciousness is not our entire world, that the mind stretches in full play far beyond the bourne of consciousness, there will be little difficulty in proving. Outside consciousness there rolls a vast tide of life, which is, perhaps, even more important to us than the little isle of our thoughts which lies within our ken. Comparisons, however, between the two are vain, because each is necessary to the other. The thing to be firmly seized is, that we live in two concentric worlds of thought, - an inner ring, of which we are conscious, and which may be described as illuminated; an outer one, of which we are unconscious, and which may be described as in the dark. Between the outer and the inner ring, between our unconscious and our conscious existence, there is a free and a constant but unobserved traffic for ever carried on. Trains of thought are continually passing to and fro, from the light into the dark, and back from the dark into the light. When the current of thought flows from within our ken to beyond our ken, it is gone, we forget it, we know not what has become of it. After a time it comes back to us changed and grown, as if it were a new thought, and we know not whence it comes. So the fish, that leaves our rivers a smolt, goes forth into the sea to recruit its energy, and in due season returns a salmon, so unlike its former self that anglers and naturalists long refused to believe in its identity. What passes in the outside world of thought, without will and for the most part beyond ken, is just that which we commonly understand as the inscrutable work of imagination; is just that which we should understand as the action of the hidden soul, . . . [II 206-8]

Links to Related Material


Dallas, Eneas Sweetland. The Gay Science. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1866. A HathiTrust online version of a copy in the Harvard University Library. Web. 2 February 2024.

Created 2 February 2024