Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Archive for the category “Conscious and Unconscious”

Plasticity, Mind Power and the Human Brain

My approach to learning and development has materially changed over the last three years. I used to view myself on a gradual decline since the peak of degrees and professional qualification learning in my early 20’s. I accepted the ‘more brain cells die than grow when you’ve hit adulthood’ type of argument. I also used to think of new behaviours/ skills and knowledge as being left-brain learned and retained in memory. That the majority of permanent, hard-wired change had taken place during early development.

Plasticity has changed all that. It is defined by the excellent Franklin Institute resource on The Human Brain as ‘the tendency of the brain to shape itself according to experience… plasticity is the basic mental drive that networks your brain, giving you cognition and memory – fluidity, versatility, and adaptability’. Many neuroscientists now believe that the brain changes at a structural level when you learn new skills or have experiences that are sufficiently new that they need you to store the memory differently. Effectively, the density of the connections and pathways in your brain increases; your brain isn’t slowly dieing if you keep it stimulated.

Can you apply the theory of plasticity to changing behaviours, habits and ways of thinking? So, harness the power of your mind and its plastic properties to be a ‘different you’? I think the answer is yes, as long as the fundamentals of focus, consistency, persistency and action are applied. What do I mean? Read more…

The Unfathomable Depth of Our Phenomenal-state Space

I’m nearing the end of an epic nine month consumption of Thomas Metzinger’s ‘The Ego Tunnel’:

‘The mathematical theory of neural networks has revealed the enormous number of possible neuronal configurations in our brains and the vastness of different types of subjective experience. Most of us are completely unaware of the potential and depth of our experiential space. The amount of possible neurophenomenological configurations of an individual human brain, the variety of possible tunnels, is so large that you can explore only a tiny fraction of them in your lifetime. Nevertheless, your individuality, the uniqueness of your mental life, has much to do with which trajectory through phenomenal-state space you choose.

Nobody will ever live this conscious life again. Your ego tunnel is a unicum, one of a kind’

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Unconscious Thought Theory: Relaxing into Yourself

The conscious mind can only focus on 7 things (+/-2). The study from the ’50s that supported this is the start point for this blog and a lot of my thinking since. What happens for the rest of the time? Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind expands and develops this thinking with intelligent theories. Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds draws out a few psychological studies that sheds light on some of the functions underlying ‘what happens the rest of the time’: the ‘what?’.

First, in an exploration on creativity, he quotes a study by psychologists Dijksterhuis and Meurs:

‘Their ideas about the nature of the unconscious mind and creativity are simple to understand. Imagine two men in a room. One of them is highly creative, but very shy. The other is clever, not as creative and far more domineering. Now imagine going into a room and asking them to come up with ideas for a campaign to advertise a new type of chocolate bar. True to form, the loud but not especially creative man dominates the conversation. He does not allow his quieter counterpart to contribute, and the ideas are good but not very innovative.

Now let’s imagine a slightly different scenario. Again, you walk into the room and ask for campaign ideas. However, this time you distract the loud man by getting him to watch a film. Under these circumstances, the quiet man is able to make his voice heard, and you walk away with a completely different, and far more creative, set of ideas.

In many ways this is a good analogy for the relationship between your mind and creativity’

They tested this theory by assessing creativity of different sets of test subjects. An exercise was used to come up with creative solutions to a problem – which could be simply assessed for their degrees of creativity. The people given the challenge and then consciously distracted by being asked to follow a dot around a screen before coming up with ideas at the last minute were judged to have more creative solutions than those given the challenge and left alone to brainstorm. The reason? The loud man was given a film to watch.

In Wiseman’s book, a later chapter on decision making again shows more functions of the unconscious. ‘When having to decide between options that only differ in one or two ways, your conscious mind is very good at studying the situation in a rational, level headed fashion and deciding on the best course of action’ …..however….’instead of looking at the situation as a whole, the conscious mind tends to focus on the most obvious elements and, in doing so, can miss the bigger picture. In contrast, your unconscious mind is much better at dealing with complex decisions that pervade many aspects of our lives. Given time, it slowly works through all the factors, and eventually provides a more balanced decision’

Again, testing by Dijksterhuis and van Olden had people in batches choose pictures they liked. One team had to deliberate with reasoned lists. Another make a snap decision. A third, look at the posters, then solve difficult anagrams. They are then shown the posters again and choose. At the time the ‘reasoned list’ people were surveyed as happiest with their choice. Four weeks later, the anagram people were far more happy.

The conclusion: ‘it is all a question of knowing what needs to be decided, then distracting your conscious mind and allowing your unconscious to work away’

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