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Subliminal Effects in Online Educations

School of Education
University of Western Sydney
Penrith Campus, Locked bag 1797, South Penrith 1797

Abstract - The paper considers examples of subliminal effects in online education as observed and discussed by one of the authors in his long experience in coordinating and teaching of the web-based Master-of-Arts Program "Complexity, Chaos, and Creativity" at the University of Western Sydney. The paper discussed the role of these effects in educational practice.

Key-Words - subliminal, virtual, sublime learning, online education, collective unconsciousness, sublimation

1 Introduction

The Master of Arts program "Complexity, Chaos and Creativity" (MA CC&C) has been taught online at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, for seven years. At various stages the program has attracted master students from countries which include Australia, New Zealand, USA, Great Britain, Canada, Hungary, Spain, Greece, Norway, Mexico, Venezuela, China, Japan, and Taiwan. The program introduced students to the basic concepts and principles of the paradigm of Complexity, Chaos Theory and the processes of creativity. Throughout the conduct of this program emphasis has been placed on the application of the knowledge gained by each student to their own experiential dynamics [1]. In the paper which follows these dynamics are discussed through a Jungian interpretation of the interplay between conscious and unconscious perceptions. Unconscious perceptions are defined through the concept of subliminal mental activities.

    The process of the online teaching of the MA CC&C includes student's participation in virtual discussions which are set for each module of the program. Throughout this process students participate in the discussions by expressing their opinions, critiques, inquiries and comments in relation to the contents of each module. Students are invited to creatively inform other participants of their contemplations on their experiences of the learning process through the lens of the studied material. Further, each student learns by asking and responding to the questions offered by the online lecturer or tutor/facilitator. Also, by sharing information about websites and web-papers relevant to the studied material, which they have discovered while doing their own search on the Internet, each student is encouraged to introduce new material to the on-line dialogue. Students have contributed in a variety of ways: some show videos, others contribute photos or original images such as drawings and some have written poetry.

    One of the authors of this paper has been accumulating experience since the beginning of this on-line program. As a creator of its on-line modules, a co-ordinator, a virtual lecturer, a tutor and a facilitator of the virtual discussions he has been in communication at a variety of depths with his students. From this inter-action some of the most interesting moments of his experience have been his witnessing of the emergence of the unique subliminal effects that have had significant influence on the processes of each student's, and his own, learning.

2 What is Subliminal?
Perceptions which are below the threshold of conscious awareness are defined as subliminal. In Jungian terms subliminal perceptions are embedded in the collective unconscious of humanity. Jung defines the human collective unconscious as containing: " indeterminable number of subliminal perceptions, an immense fund of accumulated inheritance -factors left by one generation of men after another" [2].

    The Jungian hypothesis of the collective unconscious can be interpreted as the enormous storing of psychic contents that have been accumulated by low energy perceptions which do not always breach the threshold of individual conscious thought. In this way we understand subliminal perceptions as those experiences which can manifest as feelings and images that are so fuzzy that our minds cannot identify them. The events of our experience, the words we hear or utter, the thoughts that either quickly pass through our minds or linger a trifle longer, the images we see, our feelings, emotions, dreams, beliefs, aspirations and actions can stimulate the emergence of subliminal perceptions. It is proposed that these subliminal perceptions can make manifest and indeed add to the limitless space of the collective unconsciousness. It is further proposed that the energy behind this stimulation is so low that these perceptions remain beyond the reach of our reason. Yet, the effects they bring forth are often realised. It is offered that subliminal perceptions affect our behaviour, our mood, our relationships and our intuition. These subliminal perceptions shape our dreams and influence our waking choices.

2.1 Two Conditions for Subliminal Effects in Online Education
In this section we explain two conditions necessary for the emergence of subliminal effects in online education

    On-line education needs to be focussed on the processes of self-exploration. These processes involve the effort required to achieve self-knowing through self-understanding in the experience of those who are learners. The key support to these processes has been the sharing of virtual discussions.

2.1.1 Sublime Learning
Socrates considered the knowledge which human beings are capable of revealing by studying themselves the most precious knowledge that human beings can have. In Socratic thought this sublime knowledge is already within us and the only way to make it manifest is by self-exploration. "Know thyself!" is Socrates' legacy. We refer to the process of learning about ourselves as sublime learning [3].

    It is the process of sublime learning that gives us access to the subliminal storing of the psychic contents pertaining to the collective unconscious. Any other process of learning is directed towards the external world, the world "out there", and thus impedes the process of our self-exploration.

Condition 1: One can experience the subliminal effects of online education only when involved in the process of sublime learning.

The learners studying MA CC&C are involved in sublime learning as they learn to apply complexity and chaos theories in the exploration and understanding of their own nature, of their own life dynamics, of their own motivations, urges, and aspirations; this allows them to experience subliminal effects of online education.

2.1.2 Virtual Creatures
As we have explained subliminal effects occur at the sub-conscious, or non-conscious, level. A low level of perceptual energy activated by the sensory receptors of the body is needed to make the flow of fuzzy images and indeterminate feelings, intuitive hints and vague suggestions slowly move from the dormant state of the unconsciousness to the level of subconsciousness.

    If the perceptual energy is high, that is, if the senses become intensely involved in the process of learning, then the learning experience tends to unfold at the level of consciousness. No subliminal effects manifest at this level, as the logic of mind does not tolerate them. If some results do not fit the rational framework set for the process of learning, mind is ready to "improve" them, to mutilate them so that they can be placed in the Procrustean bed of the established paradigm. Contrary to this the subliminal effects tend to multiply in the state of meditation, when the body is relaxed and mind is not perturbed by external sensations. Classic face-to-face education is characterized by high levels of perceptual energy. Usually, the educators (lecturers, tutors, facilitators) try to engage all the senses of the learners to ensure the achievement of preset goals and objectives.

    The online discussions in web based learning take place in a virtual reality of text messages moving with the speed of light. The sensory perceptions of the participants absorbed in a "hot" virtual discussion - that is, a discussion that strongly attracts the interests of the participants and compels them actively participate - are almost entirely suspended for even the sight is captured in this world of text. Words are filtered through the mind without benefit of any form of interference such as body language or tone of voice. The communication process is effectively "noiseless" except for modes of written expression, and its idiosyncrasies such as writing style or idiom, oddities of spelling and/or punctuation.

    An active participant in a "hot" virtual discussion seems to become a virtual creature whose world is a space that consists of no more than a screen, a flashing cursor, and tips of fingers touching keys. The keys carry the words from thought and touch, and the receiver is only ever an imagined, hoped for reality. The receiver exists in the being of the sender as an unsubstantiated entity, a name, a function, a respondent who may or may not react. In this state of virtual meditation the words extended through touch and thought start to transmit feelings and images below the threshold of consciousness.

Condition 2: When actively engaged in virtual discussions, the on-line learners are prone to experience subliminal effects.
While combining Condition 1 and Condition 2, we infer the following
Proposition: Online education manifests subliminal effects if it is centred in sublime learning and complemented by active participation in virtual discussions.

3 Subliminal Effects
At first sight, the exchange of messages in online education appears to be a conscious process; students ought to think when composing their messages and when trying to grasp, interpret and react to the meaning of the messages they receive. And yet, the virtual discussions give rise to profound subliminal effects which play a crucial role in the process of online education.

3.1 Virtual Synergy
Both the reality of online education and the reality within the students - the reality of their thoughts, feelings, aspirations, beliefs, expectations, images, dreams, hopes, etc., - are virtual. They differ from the material world - the "non-virtual" reality that students perceive through their senses. Both virtual realities - internal and external - are essentially dynamic, that is, subject to changes and development. If the process of sublime learning (aiming at exploration of the inner virtual reality created by each student's thoughts, feelings, ideas, expectations, etc.) is complemented by virtual discussions (aiming at exploration of outer virtual reality created by students' online communication) these two virtual realities tend to operate in synergy with one another. The students compose (imbue with meaning) and understand (make sense of) the messages which they send and receive via the virtual reality of online discussion by accessing the virtual realities within them.

    The emergence of this kind of synergy is the first subliminal effect that accompanies the online study of MA CC&C. When advancing through the modules of MA CC&C students activate this synergy without being consciously aware of its existence. They deepen their knowledge of themselves, of the complex and chaotic dynamics of their inner virtual realities while actively participating in creating and sustaining the outer virtual realities of their discussions. The deeper students' understanding of their inner virtual realities, the more profound and rich are the meanings they communicate with one another via the outer virtual realities of their discussions and hence the more significant the role which the subliminal effect of virtual synergy plays in their online education.

3.2 Many World Experience
The second subliminal effect relates to students' virtual participation in what we define as many worlds in parallel. These worlds form a matrix of the real and the virtual, the inner world of self and the external world of physical reality. At the very moment when students compose and send messages focused in their sublime learning, that is, describing findings of their self-exploration (self-discovery, self-understanding), they invite others to enter their inner worlds. While discussing their findings, students seem to dwell simultaneously in many worlds.

    Without necessarily applying conscious effort students become participants in each others' life experiences. This provides them with further opportunities for learning. The many-world experience provides students with lessons of compassion and love, inspires them to search for ways to help one another, allows them to avoid mistakes which others have made, and offers practical examples of how to apply theoretical studies of human dynamics. These human dynamics are grasped as inseparably interwoven with the dynamics of society, nature and the whole universe. Something deeper than virtual communication occurs as the on-line virtual community evolves - one can describe it as communion. This communion results from the subliminal effects of the many-world experience that transforms the virtual community of online learners into a real life community of people who have succeeded in crossing the boundaries of their material, personal differences. When the sender and receiver of the online messages are connected in multiple ways the messages seem to transmit not only the texts they compose but also the virtual pulse of their heartbeats, the rhythm of their breathing and the flow of their feelings.

3.3 Virtual Connectedness
The third subliminal effect resonates with the very essence of MA CC&C which is centred in the study of complexity. The first module of this program explains that the word "complexity" has roots in two Latin words: complexus which means "totality" and completere which means "embrace". The science of complexity seeks to embrace the totality of the studied phenomena and processes. This totality is sustained by dynamic processes - energies and forces that never cease to manifest. Complexity focuses on these energies and forces. It is their interactions and interrelationships, their emergent phenomena and self-organization, their evolution and transformation that complexity tries to describe, explain and ultimately understand. Through the process of online discussion of these energies and forces students experience their virtual connectedness with one another. This is at the core of the third subliminal effect of online education.

    The connectedness within the on-line community operates at the subliminal level: without being at the centre of a consciously designed and controlled discussion this subliminal effect becomes the most powerful catalyst for shared sublime learning.

3.4 And "Something Else"
Another subliminal effect accompanies the student's urge to learn - an urge manifested at the subconscious level - and this is the creative drive to compose their messages in uniquely individual ways. Often these messages are not only saturated with cognitive meaning but also complemented with "something else". This creative "something else" replaces the non-verbal signals that accompany face-to-face communication and remain beyond the realm of the reason.

    Different students find different forms for the expression of this "something else": some are creative in their use of punctuation using exclamations and text tools such as bold and underline, others use unusual spacing of sentences or arrange sentences in a specific, idiosyncratic way, some offer quotes that have significant meaning to them, some include original poetry while others share chapters from their personal diaries. Visual expressions range from images cut and pasted from the internet, diagrams, graphs and photos and original drawings and paintings. These inclusions demonstrate the online students' urges to express something beyond the control of their reasoning minds and convey the deeper meanings of their learning. This is compatible with the driving force of the sublime learning they are involved in while studying the Master Program "Complexity, Chaos and Creativity". We define this driving force as encouraging students to penetrate deeper into the mystery of their lives, to reveal the missions they need to fulfil and to work for those missions' realization.

4 Conclusion
Our practice with online education shows that the subliminal effects described in this paper indicate the operation of the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious in virtual realities. The conclusion we draw from this is that the imprints of Jungian archetypes on the human psyche operate in many worlds. These archetypes operate in the arena of sublime learning - the attainment of knowledge of the self - through the processes of subliminal transformations.

    The knowledge which our minds borrow from books and papers can be easily forgotten; the subliminal effects which are rooted in sublime knowledge remain in our memories and shape our thoughts, actions and creative expressions. They are the major catalysts in the sublimation processes that determine our progress on the path of knowledge toward wisdom.

[1] Dimitrov, V. A New Kind of Social Science: Study of Self-organization of Human Dynamics, Morrisville: Lulu press, 2003
[2] Jung, C. Postulates of Analytical Psychology in Modern Man in Search of a Soul (2001) London: Routledge Classics, 1933
[3] Dimitrov, V. and T. Naess Wholesome Life Ecology: How to Live Wholesomely in a Society that Is Killing Nature, Morrisville: Lulu press, 2005