In order to make a first attempt at an answer here, we have to accept a major challenge and start thinking afresh about the very nature of everyday communication in which people express their underlying thoughts and ideas. After all, if we want to see the unconscious at work we must know where to look. When human beings talk, you will have noticed that they make many bodily movements, but in particular they make frequent (and largely unconscious) movements of the hands and arms. They do this in every possible situation – in face-to-face communication, on the telephone, even when the hands are below a desk and thus out of sight of their interlocutor (I have many recordings of these and similar occurrences). It is as if human beings are neurologically programmed to make these movements while they talk, and these visible movements would seem to be (in evolutionary terms) a good deal more primitive than speech itself, with language evolving on the back of them. These gestures are imagistic in form and closely integrated in time with the speech itself. They are called ‘iconic gestures’ because of their mode of representation. Words have an arbitrary relationship with the things they represent (and thus are ‘non-iconic’). Why do we call a particular object a ‘shoe’ or that large four-legged creature a ‘horse’? They could just as well be called something completely different (and, of course, they are called something completely different in other languages). But the unconscious gestural movements that we generate when we talk do not have this arbitrary relationship with the thing they are representing: their
imagistic form somehow captures certain aspects of the thing that they are representing (hence they are called ‘iconic’) and there is a good deal of cross-cultural similarity in their actual form (see Beattie 2003, Chapter 6).