Just Seven Things

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

Archive for the tag “Conscious”

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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Nobody has Ever Been or Had a Self

‘I will try and convince you that there is no such thing as a self. Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self’

So starts Thomas Metzinger’s staggeringly good, The Ego Tunnel – the Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self.

As much to embed and internalize (in what, I don’t now know :-) as well as to evangelise the content of his book, I am writing this as the start of a series of posts highlighting my highlights.

He continues (in the Introduction that took me nearly a week to absorb):

‘To the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world.’

‘So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?’

He raises the ‘one central question we have to confront head on: Why is there always someone having the experience? Who is the feeler of your feelings and the dreamer of your dreams?… Why is your conscious reality your conscious reality?’

His assertion is that by exploring and paying attention to ‘the fine-grained and careful description of inner experience as such’: phenomenology, we will be equipped with more tools to understand the evidence that ‘strongly suggests the purely experiential nature of the self’

For me, the first mind stretching/ idea glueing starts at this point, and for this reason I’ll keep these series of posts fairly short and bullet-like:

Metzinger calls the ‘conscious model of the organism as a whole that is activated by the brain’, the ‘phenomenal self-model (PSM)’. He explains that ‘”Phenomenal” is used here, and throughout, in the philosophical sense, as pertaining to what is known purely experientially, through the way in which things subjectively appear to you. The content of the PSM is the Ego’

This then becomes nicely grounded for me in the ‘why’: ‘the PSM of Homo sapiens is probably one of nature’s best inventions. It is an efficient way to allow a biological organism to consciously conceive of itself (and others) as a whole’

‘Our evolved type of conscious self-model is unique to the human brain, in that by representing the process of representation itself, we can catch ourselves … “in the act of knowing” (Antonio Damasio)’

The evolutionary ‘why’ provides the foundations: ‘This ability turned us into thinkers of thoughts and readers of minds, and it allowed biological evolution to explode into cultural evolution’ The Ego has ‘helped us understand one another through empathy and mind-reading’

‘Finally, by allowing us to externalise our minds through cooperation and culture, the ego has enabled us to form complex societies’

Why Talking to Yourself Might be The Highest Form of Intelligence

Network Neurons 1 - Gerard79

Network Neurons 1 - Gerard79

Have you ever found yourself asking someone a question you’ve been puzzling over for a long time, only to come up with the answer half way through asking the question?

At Madgex, the developers refer back to an old beer advert for John Smiths when trying to solve problems. They find that when they need help, just calling someone over and explaining the problem to them often gives them the answer half way through. The cardboard cut-out of the man in the advert to stand behind them is thought to be all that is required when a coding or logic issue arises rather than a real person.

So, what’s happening and how can this observation shed light on why vision and goal setting works?

At its core, when you ask someone something you consciously articulate it. You explain it and frame the issue for the person. Most importantly however, you explain it and (re)frame it for yourself. You give direction to your other-than-conscious very clearly. Now you may question why actually articulating something gives any different result to just sitting there unspeakingly struggling with the question.

Two things. First, in giving words to (or writing onto paper) an issue and adding the clarity and clarifications required to make something understandable to someone else has the same impact on your other-than-conscious. You may think that you’re being clear about an issue in your head, but you rarely are. You’re more likely to be half articulating the issue and then immediately looping into the  same consciously derived result you keep on getting which is failing to remove the problem or blocker.

And this is the second point. By talking to yourself (again, words or paper is good – words may be better because of how unusual you may experience the sensation), your conscious brain gives a clear set of instructions to your other-than-conscious brain. You ask yourself the question and often answer it very quickly yourself because the totality of your resources (conscious and unconscious) are now engaged to a common endeavour (and in most cases, you knew the answer to the problem: it just needed unlocking by you being clear with yourself)

Brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor takes the essence of this a big step further in her book, My Stroke of Insight, when she says ‘From my perspective, the focused human mind is the most powerful instrument in the universe, and through the use of language, our left brain is capable of directing (or impeding) our physical healing and recovery

On a connected use of articulation (left brain/ right brain), related to my previous post on  rules for personal productivity, some great advice from Harvard Business on How to Write To-Do Lists that Work – the second section is all about providing sufficient detail in a ‘to-do’ on a to do list as you would if you were instructing a personal assistant.

Other linked posts:

Questioning Yourself as a Higher Form of Talking to Yourself? – does the apparent weakness of self-questioning hide a better problem solving technique?

Talking to Myself Again – communicating to yourself as stress relief

Creativity and the Business Brain (and why most of us should be sacked) – talking to yourself is good for framing the blockers, with diffuse day-dreaming as the really creative stuff?

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