A real life example that just occurred:
In the kitchen, I began singing the theme song from the 1965 old west comedy “Cat Ballou” starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. Upstairs, Teresa (upon hearing this) inquired why I was singing such an obscure song.
My initial answer was that I had no clue. But, curious now myself, I invoked my subconscious flight recorder. This is a mental process I learned as a child wherein I am able to play back, in reverse, the subconscious elements which led to a conscious thought or unconscious action.
It is a handy skill, though not unique to me. Teresa, for example, is also able to do this, and though I have never actually inquired of anyone else as to whether this is possible for them as well, I assume a great number of people have learned to do it.
In this particular case, just before I started singing that theme, I had been looking at the bottle of medication we are giving to our kitty, Clarice, for an upset stomach. It makes her mouth foam, and we have come to refer to it as her goo.
Also, I was considering posting a picture I took some years ago of our home in the mountains which, due to the dark wood exterior, pine trees, and corn growing in front was very reminiscent of the old west – striking me as such in impression, even though I did not consciously consider this.
And so, I was thinking about “cat goo” in the just prior context of the old west feel of the photograph. My subconscious mind, like everyone’s, is always trying to understand the situation by seeking patterns of comparatives with experience; it is a survival trait that allows us to anticipate trouble and recognize potential benefits.
In the context of the old west, the nearest pattern in my experience that matched “cat goo” was the sound-alike, Cat Ballou, and my subconscious responded by triggering me to start singing the theme song, thereby alerting my conscious mind to the found pattern match.
And so, from this simple example, we can understand a basic process of the mind that we all employ constantly and unbidden as part of our survival instinct. Clearly one might apply this knowledge to perceive in their actions and reactions, initiations and responses, a mechanism that can both explain and, with some training, be directed, much as one might direct a lucid dream through practice.
And in writing, a clever author might present his or her readers or audience with the subconscious elements that lead to a character’s unknowing motivations or afterwards to explain why a character acted as it did.