Many of Our Beliefs Are Unconscious: A Response to Nick Chater

After a few years of driving, you are able to hold conversations while navigating a busy city. How is this possible without unconscious thought?Photograph by wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

Nick Chater has put forward a bold claim in his recent book, The Mind Is Flat, as well as in an article and interview in Nautilus: that we don’t have any unconscious thoughts. A metaphor that Chater, a behavioral scientist, dislikes is that of the iceberg, the tip of which is our consciousness, and the vast, submerged part is our unconscious. As Chater says in the Nautilus interview, this suggests that unconscious and conscious processes use the same kinds of representations, and that the kinds of things we are unconscious of we could be conscious of.

He’s certainly right that many brain processes go on that we’re unaware of, and can’t be aware of. Let’s take visual recognition as an example. We can recognize that something

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