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Reading and Calculating With Your Unconscious

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the coca-cola-available-in-the-lobby dept.

Science 85

lee1 writes "Using special techniques that present information to one eye while hiding the information from the conscious mind (by masking it with more distracting imagery presented to the other eye), researchers have shown two new and very unexpected things: we can read and understand short sentences, and we can perform multi-step arithmetic problems, entirely unconsciously. The results of the reading and calculating are available to and influence the conscious mind, but we remain unaware of their existence. While we have known for some time that a great deal of sensory processing occurs below the surface and affects our deliberative behavior, it was widely believed until now that the subconscious was not able to actually do arithmetic or parse sentences."

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I knew that (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42020533)

Like when my wife insists that we had an entire conversation about taking out the trash while I was playing a video game.

Re:I knew that (0, Offtopic)

Dupple (1016592) | about 2 years ago | (#42021019)

Re:I knew that (0, Offtopic)

Time_Ngler (564671) | about 2 years ago | (#42021039)

Replying to first post with an unrelated reply is obvious Karma whoring

Re:I knew that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021263)

Saved me wasting me wasting my time and everyone else. Perhaps he was just providing a service, and stating the story is a dupe is hardly unrelated to the subject, it is the subject. Dupple seems to have good karma, I doubt he was whoring

Re:I knew that (1)

Time_Ngler (564671) | about 2 years ago | (#42021397)

He was replying to the first comment in order to get his "oh it's a dupe" comment above everyone elses to I assume get more karma. I was protesting the way he posted, not the content of his post.

Re:I knew that (3, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 2 years ago | (#42021521)

Indeed. He should have posted his own comment in order to karmawhore, like the rest of us.

Re:I knew that (1)

Time_Ngler (564671) | about 2 years ago | (#42022685)

The problem is that the first few initial threads get washed by a tidal wave of generic posts meant to grab attention, rendering the whole post and reply paradigm meaningless. It's annoying to the original poster as well as to anyone who is actually interested in the topic he/she brought up.

Re:I knew that (1)

LordCrank (74800) | about 2 years ago | (#42023341)

Using the "off-topic" moderation to describe being irrelevant to the thread a comment is posted in as opposed to the original article should discourage this behavior. Unfortunately it would require changing the way a lot of people view that moderation option.

Re:I knew that (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#42088557)

No, have you read the slashdot faqs? What he did was recommended. Now, an offtopic post like yours (and my reply) is proof one isn't a karma whore.

And what if one is a "karma whore"? You don't get karma unless you can post interesting, insightful, or funny comments, and those are exactly the comments I want to see. "Karma whore" is an undeserved pejorative usually hurled by someone who is neither insightful nor informative and lacks a sense of humor.

"This guy is a karma whore" adds nothing to the conversation. Please try and stay on topic!

Re:I knew that (1)

Time_Ngler (564671) | about 2 years ago | (#42088597)

Can you explain to me why you think that posting a random reply to the first comment shouldn't be discouraged? As I explained in a later comment, it's annoying to the initial poster and to anyone who is actually interested in the subject he/she brought up. If he posted a new thread rather than replying to the first comment, I'd have no problem with it.

But instead, he posted as a reply to the first comment, in order to, I'm guessing, get his "dupe" comment viewed before all the other "dupe" comments already posted.

I'm just honestly trying to make the community better by bringing up this issue. Maybe I could have phrased it better, but often simple direct criticism works better than a longer drawn out critique, however blunt it may be.

Re:I knew that (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 2 years ago | (#42021941)

Looks like someone has been using their unconscious mind to peruse /. Bravo.

Re:I knew that (3, Funny)

cellocgw (617879) | about 2 years ago | (#42028635)

Like when my wife insists that we had an entire conversation about taking out the trash while I was playing a video game.
You did, you know: like all other conversations with her, it consisted of her talking and you tacitly agreeing. :-)

Just ask your average propaganda minister (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#42020539)

They know how it works.

OK (5, Funny)

colinrichardday (768814) | about 2 years ago | (#42020541)

My students can't even do this consciously. :)

Re:OK (1)

jhoegl (638955) | about 2 years ago | (#42020799)

Try harder

Re:OK (5, Insightful)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#42021441)

And in other news, researchers found that subjects could tap a foot in sync with music while doing another task and not consciously paying attention to the music... or, well, subjects could do pretty much anything "unconsciously" if it was something they have done thousands of times and does not require novel thought.

Seriously, is this really that surprising? For most literate people, word recognition seems "automatic." We don't consciously have to sound out the letters of each word, nor even consciously parse the syntax of a sentence. Same with really basic arithmetic (well, at least for people who still actually are drilled on basic arithmetic in schools).

If a person can tap a foot to a beat and even respond to changes in tempo etc. automatically without even thinking about the music (a much more complex task, I think), is it really a stretch that our brains just "know" that 2+2=4? That is, without us consciously having to go, "umm... let's see, if I visualize two fingers on one hand, and two fingers on the other, and put them together, well, then, it's 1, 2, 3... uh... 4! Yeah, 4!"

It feels almost like an automatic response, seemingly requiring no conscious intervention... just like people reading this post now just "know" what the words say, without actively consciously parsing the letters into words and sentences. It wouldn't surprise me if a mathematician could even integrate "unconsciously" or chemist could see the product of a basic chemical reaction "unconsciously," since these are trained repeated behaviors. Now, if someone could do a task that required novel thought involving a stimulus never seen before, that would actually be interesting and perhaps surprising.

If anything, this experiment is only novel for trying to isolate such responses in an abnormal way. We don't normally try to do arithmetic in "the background" of consciousness in the same way we might tap our feet to music or... I don't know... manage to get popcorn into our mouths while watching a movie without thinking about the trajectory of our hands (a task again that I think is arguably more complex than simply "knowing" or maybe just "remembering" that 2+2=4).

Re:OK (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | about 2 years ago | (#42022195)

And any day now science will discover that meditation actually does something useful.

Re:OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42025467)

The problem with empiricists is they're too focused on seeing wibbly lines on a screen rather than actually try the experiment for themselves i.e. close there eyes and enjoy they're breath.

Re:OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42028527)

close there eyes and enjoy they're breath.

Apparently my subconscious also parses for grammar.

Re:OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42030861)

I don't need a study to know this type of thing happens all the time. If I look at an equation and don't think about it I will (generally) get the right answer back without any conscious thought. It's when I start thinking about performing the math functions that I start screwing it up. As a kid I could look at a live stock pen and tell you how many animals were in it without counting. It isn't as clear anymore but it is still quite common.

We don't know what most of our mind does. Why do these people think all this stuff is danged "amazing and out there".

a bit of a strech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42020547)

Calling this unconscious just goes a bit too far. Had they knocked out parts of the brain with TMS, I would have had a better time stomaching the article suggestion.

good and bad.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42020565)

a new way to force us to enjoy 'friends' or beleive cnn really is the most trusted name in news....on t he other hand, we could use this info to a great extent to learn and make the human race better and more prosporus, like we did with tv, radio, and mass transit!

Interesting study but needs replication (5, Interesting)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 2 years ago | (#42020567)

I'm not sure their method for suppressing consciousness is as locked down as they believe it is. Someone with a near-eidetic memory could take a "snapshot" of the static image in one eye, and hold it in conscious memory even while dealing with the images in the other eye. (Frankly, video games have taught us how to do this sort of stuff quite well.)

And even if this is the case, I'm not sure what, if any, useful information we can extra from the study, other than "this is cool."

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (2)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42020653)

This simply seems like an extension of the cocktail party effect ( or Priming ( it's not entirely new, it does show that inattentive processing can be a little more sophisticated than previously thought, but it is not a game-changer.

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (5, Insightful)

bipbop (1144919) | about 2 years ago | (#42020965)

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021667)

From the link:

With the questionable exception of Elizabeth (discussed above), as of 2008, no one claiming to have long-term eidetic memory has been able to prove this in scientific tests.

I take it that short-term eidetic memory has been proved then?

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021983)

You didn't read the whole page, did you? It specifically mentions very short term eidetic memory in children. Page hasn't been revised in days, so it wasn't just added after you looked. This much seems kind of unsurprising to me. I know I've had the experience of reading a book or magazine or something, then dropping it / flipping the page / etc. very shortly before finishing the page, but still being able to finish it (that's the same reason I can stand reading an eReader).

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 2 years ago | (#42029965)

The wiki article brings up an interesting point - no one has "proven" eidetic memory, but how can you test another person's internal visual screen (aside from the rudimentary imaging studies done with MRI images recently)? The article also points out that eidetic not only refers to visual memory, but to other senses, and it is at this point that many musicians will dispute a skeptic's claim - we can not only hum along to a song with the full orchestral going along in our minds, but also remember the notes on the page completely along with the internal music track. The heat of the stage lamps, the sharp smell of violin rosin... If anything, multiple sensory input is probably required for a true eidetic memory, so of course it can't be proven if someone is only testing one sense!

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (1)

bipbop (1144919) | about 2 years ago | (#42032377)

That's not eidetic. I'm a musician myself, and I've memorized over a thousand songs, and I can in fact "play them back" in my head, for the most part. My memory is good, but it works the same way as everyone else's.

Want proof? Listen to a completely random sequence of notes for five minutes, then try to play the entire thing back in your head in order. You can't do it, because you failed to chunk it as you listened, and the input was many times larger than your phonological loop could accommodate.

Further, your brain has no way of storing an actual recording. What you hear when you listen depends entirely on what you paid attention to. See e.g. the MgCurk effect. You might also be interested in JJ's explanation [] of how perception influences what we hear and remember.

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (1)

bipbop (1144919) | about 2 years ago | (#42032395)

McGurk effect. My kingdom for an edit button.

(Yes, I used the preview button. No, I didn't notice :-)

Re: Eidetic memory, here's what having one is like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42023391)

The ability to do this has faded over time, but I will tell you how I got through random 100 and 200 level lecture classes whose exams were full of recall of lists and diagrams and definitions and such.

I would type up course notes, like about 20-30 pages of them. I would be careful to uniquely format them. For example, a list would be indented under the title of the list; I gave each page a unique look by spacing, whether the page had a graphic or not, etc. THEN I would take out the highlighers and color-code information by whatever categorization made sense. Each page had a unique color look as well as a unique layout. Then I'd look at the pages a few times and familiarize myself with what kind of information was on each page.

Class day, I'd sit up the back. I'd stare at the wall above the board and superimpose the images I recalled of my notes on the blank wall there. I would literally "flip through" the pages until I found the one containing the information I required, then (wish I was kidding with this, as it sounds bizarre, but this is truly how it worked) squint until the words came into focus. I would then *read the words* off the blank wall and write them down. There was stunningly little cognition required for this process; it was 80% visualization.

It once freaked a prof out that I kept staring at the wall, so I stayed after class to demonstrate it to him by reading a page off the wall and scribbling it down, then producing the original page from my notebook to prove the truth of my claim that I didn't, for example, have notes hidden above his head. He didn't like it, as he, too, recognized that I hadn't so much mastered the material as much as I was just using a brain trick, but there was nothing he could do about it. I really do believe that I had just figured out a way to tap into my visual processing ability a bit more efficiently than most -- as indicated by the absolute fact that squinting often made unreadable -- IMAGINARY -- text clear.

It's just not true to say that eidetic memory doesn't exist, because I *know* it was a different method of memory/recall than others used, AND it's different from what I do today, which involves more conventional techniques.

Re: Eidetic memory, here's what having one is like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42024163)

The ability to do this has faded over time, but I will tell you how I got through random 100 and 200 level lecture classes whose exams were full of recall of lists and diagrams and definitions and such.

You are so fucking full of shit. Give it up.

Re:Interesting study but needs replication (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42023117)

I can do it.

Except that in my case I can split my consciousness and merge it back again.

Really? (0)

Stormshadow (41368) | about 2 years ago | (#42020593)

My unconscious what?

  I do believe you meant "subconscious".

Re:Really? (1)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42020701)

Nope, 'subconcious' is a Freudian concept that refers to deeper currents of conciousness, well beyond what can be known or observable and such phenomena as dreams are ascribed to this. Unconcious may alternatively be described as 'inattentive' i.e. something you do without being conciously aware you are doing it (e.g. something that is well practiced such as signing your name, may be largely 'unconcious' whereas sketching a fruit-bowl might draw far more concious resources if you are not proficient in that area)

Re:Really? (5, Insightful)

lee1 (219161) | about 2 years ago | (#42021469)

Submitter here. It seems to me that the commenter thinks that "unconscious" is an adjective and that I left out the noun. But it is indeed a noun, as a quick trip to any dictionary published after 1912 will confirm.

Re:Really? (1)

fatphil (181876) | about 2 years ago | (#42022189)

Your use of "unconscious" was perfectly acceptable. Or at least it was when the story first appeared:

Re:Really? (1)

lee1 (219161) | about 2 years ago | (#42023415)

I didn't know it was a dupe. And I have some sympathy with the view that "unconscious" makes an awkward noun, correct or not, now that I take a hard look at it. It reminds me of the Uncola.

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42022301)

"Subconscious" is not a Freudian concept. Freud always spoke of the unconscious ("das Unbewußte"). He explicitly opposed the notion of a "subconscious" ("Unterbewußtsein"):

Auch von der Unterscheidung Ober- und Unterbewußtsein, die in der neueren Literatur der Psychoneurosen so beliebt geworden ist, müssen wir uns fernhalten, da gerade sie die Gleichstellung des Psychischen und des Bewußten zu betonen scheint. (Traumdeutung, Kap. 7 F)

translated by Brill as

We must also steer clear of the distinctions superconscious and subconscious which have found so much favour in the more recent literature on the psychoneuroses, for just such a distinction seems to emphasize the equivalence of the psychic and the conscious. ( )

or here:

Wenn jemand vom Unterbewußtsein spricht, weiß ich nicht, meint er es topisch, etwas, was in der Seele unterhalb des Bewußtseins liegt, oder qualitativ, ein anderes Bewußtsein, ein unterirdisches gleichsam. Wahrscheinlich macht er sich überhaupt nichts klar. Der einzig zulässige Gegensatz ist der zwischen bewußt und unbewußt. (Die Frage der Laienanalyse, Kap. 3)

translated by James Strachey as

If someone talks of subconsciousness, I cannot tell whether he means the term topographically – to indicate something lying in the mind beneath consciousness – or qualitatively – to indicate another consciousness, a subterranean one, as it were. He is probably not clear about any of it. The only trustworthy antithesis is between conscious and unconscious.

Come on... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42020621)

Dupe []

Christ on a crutch, this was posted 5 days ago!

dreaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42020839)

Sounds like trying to read or do math while dreaming. I can do it, but only for short sentences and very simple problems. Otherwise stuff sort of blurs out.

dupity dupity dupe (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42020847)

This is a dupe: []

dupity dupity dupe
dupe dupity dupity dupe dupe
dupe dupity dupity dupe dupe
dupity dupity dupe

Re:dupity dupity dupe (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021105)

Unconsciously, I knew that before I clicked through.

Or maybe I've just been here too long?

A simple explanation (0)

Chemisor (97276) | about 2 years ago | (#42020975)

Imagine your brain as a multithreaded program. Each thought runs on its own CPU set. The thalamus acts as the debugger, and can step through one thread at a time. When you are "debugging" a thought, that is your conscious thought. Unsupervised thoughts tend to wander around randomly and seldom produce anything useful. These are your unconscious thoughts. Unconscious thoughts are no less capable than the conscious ones, and as the experiment indicates are perfectly capable of thinking through any problem. The difference is that the outputs are not stored properly because that requires attention. In the experiment the researchers were able to get the background thoughts to write memories into some location where they could later be found. Because you do not consciously tell them to do so, you are not aware of this happening, much like having a memory corruption problem when a thread runs amok while you are debugging another one.

Re:A simple explanation (3, Insightful)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42021071)

worst analogy ever []

also, it's more like an autonomous hardware subsystem, firing an interrupt

Re:A simple explanation (1)

bingoUV (1066850) | about 2 years ago | (#42051371)

Here, the criticism is more illogical than the theory itself. "Mind" IS a computer, because it computes. I am a traveller because I travel. What is the big deal there?

Some people do not like the qualitative connotations it creates, but they are simply illogical.

Re:A simple explanation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42052495)

That in itself is a poor comparison. You travel, you are a traveller, your expeditions may be modelled as a dotted line on a map, to a point... but when you start describing distance as the number of dashes you've emitted, or places as "3rd crease from the left" you're veering into 'uncharted' (a term related to the same metaphor which describes an area where the model has not been tested) territory.

Re:A simple explanation (1)

bingoUV (1066850) | about 2 years ago | (#42053973)

So? Traveller is still a person/thing that travels. Computer is still a person/thing that computes. Uncharted notwithstanding.

Take the Chinese room objection to the theory. The person / room / books combination conducts the conversation. Qualitatively one may not be comfortable with the idea of a system conducting a conversation, but one either needs to define "conversation" to exclude non-persons from conducting it; or accept that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a duck.

Re:A simple explanation (1)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42055917)

Until that is, you go to cook the duck

Re:A simple explanation (1)

bingoUV (1066850) | about 2 years ago | (#42056725)

Cooked quacking duck?

Re:A simple explanation (1)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42056791)

not if it's been cooked it isn't :)

Re:A simple explanation (1)

bingoUV (1066850) | about 2 years ago | (#42056955)

So it is outside the scope of discussion when discussion involves quacking ducks.

Re:A simple explanation (1)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42057125)

Since we are setting parameters, I think it would also be wise to specify that ducks eligible for this metaphor must be able to fly, since only a flying duck a can migrate, and therefore be considered a traveller!

Re:A simple explanation (1)

tech49er (824086) | about 2 years ago | (#42057137)

* or duck-like entity

Re:A simple explanation (1)

bingoUV (1066850) | about 2 years ago | (#42057279)

No, your reading comprehension is poor. Duck is not described as traveller. And even if it were, walking and swimming are also forms of traveling.

Re:A simple explanation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42057395)

Harsh! Your discourse skills are clearly foul if you're resorting to personal taunts. You sir, should perhaps step out of your Chinese room and go do some travelling.

Re:A simple explanation (1)

bingoUV (1066850) | about 2 years ago | (#42057437)

Do let me know if you have something relevant to add on this subject.

Re:A simple explanation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42057501)

Yup, that's what I thought :)

Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (4, Interesting)

Yogiz (1123127) | about 2 years ago | (#42021077)

Looks pretty consistent with the kind of view of human conciousness, as forms the core of Peter Watts' "Blindsight". The body can do most anything without being conscious of it, we just put a rubber stamp on all the actions and call them our own.

If the subject interests you I highly recommend reading the book. It's available free from author's homepage: []

Re:Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021687)

The body can do most anything without being conscious of it, we just put a rubber stamp on all the actions and call them our own.

What then is the point of consciousness ?

Re:Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (4, Interesting)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#42021969)

The body can do most anything without being conscious of it, we just put a rubber stamp on all the actions and call them our own.

What then is the point of consciousness ?

Maybe your question has no meaning. Maybe "consciousness" is this thing that philosophers got obsessed with when dealing with potentially made-up issues like the "mind-body" distinction. Maybe the reality is that "awareness" and "consciousness" are much more flexible than we think.

I'm a pianist and I've done a lot of accompanying for choirs. I've also in the past been a choir director. At times, when working through a new piece, I've often been essentially sight-reading a piano part while giving cues and direction to the choir. And I don't claim to be the best person at this activity -- I know many directors who are more skilled than I am.

So, all at the same time, I am simultaneously:

  • Sight-reading the music, which involves parsing the notes not only into measures and rhythms, but also picking up on harmonic patterns and "filling in" some notes in those chords when I don't have a chance to read every single note precisely while sight-reading
  • Coordinating my body in playing a piano, including not only both hands, but also my feet in pedaling
  • Responding to basic interpretation while playing -- getting louder/softer, changing attacks, rhythmic feel, legato/staccato, etc. -- not to mention handling tempo changes and things like that -- while sight-reading, there's only so much you can do, but you need to play at least somewhat musically
  • Turning pages, which requires finding a gap in the music or "filling in" some parts on the fly while turning the page
  • Giving basic cues to the choir for entrances, etc., which may involve getting a free hand up or at least nodding or whatever
  • Evaluating whether the choir is still on track, and helping to correct it or stopping if not
  • Perhaps emphasizing voice parts on the piano and/or singing one of them rather than simply playing the piano part if some part in the chorus gets lost
  • Etc.

In all of this, how much of what I am doing is "conscious"? How much is "unconscious" or "subconscious" or whatever? My attention is continuously shifting back and forth -- cue the choir, pay attention to that weird rhythm, have to slow down here, turn the page, etc., etc. I'm certainly not consciously "thinking" about sight-reading the music or playing the piano for the most part, since I'm primarily concerned about making sure the choir is learning something -- but those tasks seem quite a bit more complex than the ones mentioned in TFA.

I would defintely not saying I am consciously "multitasking," since my attention usually is skipping back and forth between things -- I can't really "think" actively about more than one of these activities at once.

Yet, it's all happening. My body is managing to do all of these things, including potentially decoding a new piece of music and instantiating a performance of it, while giving basic direction and evaluation to a choir... most of it at any giving moment happening without my direct "conscious" attention.

In such a situation, what is the "point" of consciousness? To me, the only meaning "consciousness" has there is "the thing I'm giving slightly heightened focus to at a given moment," usually the thing that is most novel and can't just be "put on autopilot."

I realize that to some people this may sound like I'm demeaning consciousness -- but I'm not. And all of us do stuff like this all the time, coordinating all sorts of body motions and behavior while managing to focus on some other task. Does that mean I don't have ("conscious") control over these "autopilot" tasks? Of course I do -- they just aren't at the center of focus.

What's really going on is a lot of degrees of awareness, some bubbling up to visual, auditory, and/or verbal consciousness, while others (like the coordination of my body in playing the keyboard) are mostly part of my body remembering and responding to musical patterns as it has done thousands of times before.

Re:Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42025085)

Thank you for your answer. I'm aware that there is evidence that people rationalise their decisions just after they are made, and was wondering if in fact this applies to all decisions, which is what prompted my question. If all decisions are subconscious, what would be the evolutionary incentive to develop consciousness, or is it just a by product of the brains complexity ?

Re:Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 2 years ago | (#42027643)

Can I have your insights and thoughts on an earlier post I made here: []

Re:Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#42034387)

I certainly don't claim to be an expert in cognitive science (though I'm interested in the subject). But my reaction to your post is that, in my experience teaching, students will almost always get more if they stop thinking about something and are reminded of it... rather than just working continuously and getting bored with it. When I structure classroom teaching, I rarely confine topics to one meeting, for example. I find it's much more effective to start a topic in the last part of a class and finish discussing it the next time. Same thing with rehearsing music -- often better to spread learning out over a number of rehearsals, since breaks between repetitions are useful for cementing memory. Now... does this also apply to your idea of very brief "minibreaks"? I don't know... I've never tried that particular strategy, though adding a little time to reflect during class is probably a good thing.

Apple connection (1)

Guppy (12314) | about 2 years ago | (#42023401)

Looks pretty consistent with the kind of view of human consciousness, as forms the core of Peter Watts' "Blindsight".

I just realized that the main charter in Blindsight is named "Siri", same as the Apple search app. Although, considering that his book came out in 2006, it would seem it pre-dates the Apple term.

Re:Peter Watts' "Blindsight" (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 2 years ago | (#42027627)

I think even normal people can experience blindsight (or something resembling it) in a couple of ways:

1: The first is to look in the center of your field of vision, and concentrate on something at the very edge of your vision. You can't really 'see it', but you can detect the very basic shape and colour.

2: Have randomly placed words on a page. Sometimes, you'll be able to think of a word that randomly pops to mind, then look a little to the left/right/up/down, and that's the word you unconsciously picked up.

One digit arithmetic (2)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#42021171)

is just a test of memory, not reasoning.

One assumption less, please (1)

tgv (254536) | about 2 years ago | (#42021177)

In psycho-linguistics, it has always been understood that parsing is an sub-conscious, automatic process. Parsing sentences consciously is extremely slow, as every 2nd language learner knows, and we can do it at a speed of about 4 words per second without any problem. But the experiments as described in the extract do not warrant the conclusions. Effects of lexical priming have been known for a looooong time (since the 1930s, I think), and it remains to be seen if none of the results can be attributed to any other kind of information that precise computation of the arithmetic problem or perfect understanding of the sentence.

99% of what our brains do is "unconscious" (4, Interesting)

Theovon (109752) | about 2 years ago | (#42021199)

There's a lot of cognitive science I could ramble on about here, but the fact is that the conclusion stated in the summary is obvious to anyone who has studied brain function in detail.

Putting aside the debate over whether or not consciousness is an epiphenomenon, just about the only part of thought that we are consciously aware of is information that takes a trip through short-term memory. Everything else is in dedicated (innate or due to learning) circuitry that just computes what we've learned and either spoon-feeds our consciousness with the results or directly interacts with the sensory and motor systems. (In other words, we are only consciously aware of punctuations in multi-step processes.)

Consider when you first learn a new skill. At that time, it's entirely conscious, because we have to pay special attention to every step. Like when we're new to cooking and baking some new recipe, we consciously reason over each step in preparation. But when we've gotten really expert at something ("unconsciously competent"), most of it goes on automatic. We don't think so much about the steps; we just execute them, and our conscious mind can wander off on something else. By that point, many of us have forgotten what we went through when learning and generally have a challenge explaining how we're doing what we're doing.

Other examples: Playing an instrument -- really experienced players practice so much that the motor system is completely on automatic, while the conscious mind is (often to a very limited extent) focusing on the sheet music and timing reference (conductor or percussion). Reading radiology images -- an experienced doctor can show you a lesion they've observed, and after it's pointed out, you can sorta see it, but finding it in the first place is a well-honed skill that can be very difficult to explain; how do you tell that that one extremely vague splotch is a lesion while one nearby is normal?

The really interesting bit is this: Most people can explain more or less how they do something. But none of that is from direct access to how we ACTUALLY process the information. Rather, our explanation about how we THINK we do something is based on conscious theories we construct to explain behaviors we've observed in others and ourselves. In other words, our "skills" and our "'mental models' of our skills" are stored in entirely different parts of our memory.

It's also interesting to study teachers. Really good teachers (particularly on subjects more abstract than what you get in grade school, which are mostly rote learning from books) are people who have some combination of a good memory about how they learned something and a really good takent for self-observation when they perform a skill (i.e. a good conscious mental model of their otherwise unconscious skill).

The next level up is teachers who are good at teaching how to teach. :)

So, to address the article here: Our unconscious minds can read and do math, because the unconscious mind is what already does those things anyway. (Once you're past elementary school.)

There's that Ego again... (1)

michael_rendier (2601249) | about 2 years ago | (#42021207)

I'm constantly bewildered by the inclination of humans to assign, for various reasons, less than extraordinary capabilities (such as 'not possible to do arithmetic') to such faculties of our bodies that run things like intercellular communication and maintain proper heartbeats and fuel/oxygen mix ratios etc. Why would the framework (the thing that contains all the rules) be something less than that which it produced? SMH... Now if we could begin to look at the sum total of processes as being derivations of both unconscious as well as subconscious, perhaps we could see that the end points are only small parts of the whole to which we could be *shrugs* 'using' should we acknowledge it's existence and learn to work with it as well...i've seen Freud mentioned in a couple comments...unification of the Id, Ego and Superego, by preventing one from looking down on the others...

Re:There's that Ego again... (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#42021323)

Why would the framework (the thing that contains all the rules) be something less than that which it produced?

Because properties emerge from complex systems. Just because it occurs at one level doesn't mean the building blocks that level is made of can do it too. A transistor can't add, groups of transistors can.

Re:There's that Ego again... (1)

michael_rendier (2601249) | about 2 years ago | (#42021801)

given a signal at the source/collector + signal at gate/base = close circuit from source/collector to drain/emitter. This is exactly what I am speaking of...and is seen in intruding in many different parts of our perceptive realities...such things like 'because the neolithic stone builders were alive many thousands of years ago...our first assumption is that they were not as intelligent as us...couldn't possibly be...' In the thread of the transistor/groups you used as an example, one synaptic connection 'can't run the whole human body' yet it's been proven many times, that each has the potential to do so, should it need to step in due to damage, loss etc. While properties do emerge from complex systems, i do think it's stretching it to assume that the building blocks can't do the functions that they specifically contain the rules to build things to do...even in the 'building' process, they have to know when they've finished one and must add instructions to begin another. Multiplication and Division are only simplified versions of more complex Addition and Subtraction...

mod #uP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021345)

What Programmers Have Known For Decades (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42021597)

"it was widely believed until now that the subconscious was not able to actually do arithmetic or parse sentences"

It's certainly not widely believed by programmers. I, and many programmers I know, deliberately turn particularly difficult design and troubleshooting problems over to our subconscious minds by studying the outlines of the problem - preparing the input deck if you will - then sleeping on it. For some, the invaluable output is available on waking. For others, it comes in the shower or on the toilet or during the commute, but it generally works the same way for many of us.

can this be called SubInformation?? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 2 years ago | (#42021837)

maybe this is part of why some folks can look at a pattern and then KNOW that say A B C D F G H J is "missing" parts (and what those parts are).

The geek thing of What happens if we do THIS can also be included in this

(and YesHOLD MY BEER and watch this is NOT part of this)

We Don't Have a Subconscious (1)

Fieryphoenix (1161565) | about 2 years ago | (#42022215)

We have several "mental organs", performing different functions. Lumping them all together as "the Subconscious" retards our understanding of thought processes.

Oblig. hat tip to Douglas Adams (1)

funkboy (71672) | about 2 years ago | (#42022461)

Sounds like an S.E.P. [] field to me...

I can do this (1)

jamesh (87723) | about 2 years ago | (#42022709)

I can do this. I remember as a kid having to write out the numbers 1-100 in a 10x10 grid so I just started doing it and got almost immediately distracted thinking about something else and the next thing I know it's done, sort of. For some reason, I managed to skip a few numbers here and there and had to rub it out and do it again, painstakingly trying not to get distracted.

Same with the maths question sheets they used to give us in primary school. Done with barely a conscious thought, but riddled with off-by-one and forgot-to-carry-the-seven errors.

I can do this, just not very well.

MSR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42022851)

They should do the same thing with a traditional dot-on-the-forehead mirror self recognition test instead of numbers and words. It would be very interesting to see if self-awareness exists below the threshold of conscious perception. Don't know how you'd engineer such a test, but I'm sure there's a way :P

The workings of the brain, my general notions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42023913)

I would like to think that what we like to call emotions, is basicly a direct consequence of juxapositions of expectations, as interpreted by the brain well worth mentioning; with the brain being a pattern maker and pattern matcher, fused with overlapping sensory input to mix it all up. I don't believe memories are stored in specific locations in the brain, nor do I believe that memories are stored as some kind of entity, being purely contextual, meaning that memories really exist virtually, that could never exsist wtih some minimum level of brain functioning. Don't really know what to think about consciousness, except perhaps that consciousness can perhaps be thought of as a leftover process, that just happens to work well for the human body in moving about and living its life, sustaining the (whatever) workings of the brain in an individual.

Math operations are just patterns themselves aren't they?

consciousness as a sensory phenomena (1)

DonaldGary (2451128) | about 2 years ago | (#42024609)

We have various sensory inputs from all over our body that give us a very incomplete view of our bodies current state. I think it best to think of consciousness as our sense of what's going on in our brains -- not the boss of what's going on -- but an incomplete sense of what's going on. From this point of view, if the conscious mind is distracted it doesn't prevent other parts from still working.

Come on this was obviously common knowledge (1)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | about 2 years ago | (#42025505)

Come on, this is not new knowledge. We all, or at least a lot of people, are well aware that if you leave the radio on at night tuned to a talk station, the content of the talk gets worked into your dreams.

So what does that mean? Well, Unconscious? Check. Parsing sentences? Check. Integrating those the semantic content of those sentences into your dreams into the "plot" of your dream-or in other words "problem solving" - check.

On the last point- yes, it is problem solving. Getting the meaning out of a stream of sentences is the kind of problem solving that's so sophisticated, a computer can't yet do it. A computer can't read the paper and understand the it's meaning or listen the a radio broadcast and understand it's meaning . Intelligence agencies would love to have a computer that can read the world's papers and automatically process their contents. The technology isn't there yet, which is another way of saying that the problem isn't solved, so that's problem solving in your sleep, not to mention the problem solving of working a narrative around what it is your unconscious mind is listening to.

Is this story from some grad student trolling for fame ?

Julian Jaynes (1)

Ceres54 (609053) | about 2 years ago | (#42026985)

Experiments like this bolster Julian Jaynes' theory of a new human mentality that arose at different points in different cultures. It is not a genetic shift, but rather, a shift in the way the brain functions based on the plasticity in the development of our brains as we grow. In Mediterranean culture he dates it to around 1000 BCE, between the origin times of the oral versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey (which have very different depictions of the 'inner' lives of the characters). In his book, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", he covers a wide expanse of evidence including philosophy, anthropology, psychology, literary criticism and neurology. The book is from the late '70's and I am sure that some of the research, especially the neurology, is outdated.

His basic argument is that prior to some point (and that 'point' is actually a slow shift across generations) we were not conscious in the sense that we now mean, that is reflectively aware of our inner life as we process, and interact with, the world around us. Since the ability to perform complex tasks is usually associated with that 'reflective awareness', Jaynes takes quite a bit of time covering experiences and experiments which show the range of things which we can do entirely unconsciously. Some of the most eerie are the experiments done with epilepsy patients who have had their Corpus Callasum cut. He details multiple experiments showing how the side of the brain without strong language skills is able to understand and respond without the other half knowing what it has done. The subject having done something of minor complexity is unable to articulate it and may even deny having done it.

He further argues that even now, with our 'integrated' awareness, much of what we consider deeply human capabilities such as solving a complex problem whose answer is not deduced but arrived at creatively, is actually done unconsciously and only afterwards is the solution presented to 'conscious' thought as an already solved problem. This sounds precisely like what was described in the article.

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