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Math Science

Evidence for Unconscious Math, Language Processing Abilities 168

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the latest-in-subliminal-edutainment dept.
the_newsbeagle writes "It's hard to determine what the unconscious brain is doing since, after all, we're not aware of it. But in a neat set of experiments, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's consciousness lab found evidence that the unconscious brain can parse language and perform simple arithmetic. The researchers flashed colorful patterns at test subjects that took up all their attention and allowed for the subliminal presentation of sentences or equations. In the language processing experiment, researchers found that subjects became consciously aware of a sentence sooner if it was jarring and nonsensical (like, for example, the sentence 'I ironed coffee')."
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Evidence for Unconscious Math, Language Processing Abilities

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  • So, (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:09AM (#41965037)

    They made your brain throw an exception
    OFC it will come up a few layers

    • Re:So, (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @06:37AM (#41965827) Journal

      The abstract says "The results show that novel word combinations, in the form of expressions that contain semantic violations, become conscious before expressions that do not contain semantic violations".

      Does anybody have access through the paywall, or suitable knowledge of what researchers in this field mean by 'semantic' to say what sorts of malformations they are talking about?

      Do their results suggest that we can unconsciously recognize grammatically well-formed sentences that fail at actually meaning something; or do we flag grammatical trouble(This sentence no verb.) regardless of specific word meanings; or do we flag extreme novelty(as in the 'I ironed coffee' example, which is grammatically fine and something that you could actually do; but not a sentence that would come up very often)?

      It (in my probably naive understanding) seems like significantly different unconscious capabilities would have to be at work depending on what sorts of 'semantic violations' we are capable of flagging, ranging from some unconscious grasp of grammar up to a fairly sophisticated access to the meanings of the words we know.

      • Most conversation is conversation by rote. How is this news?
      • Re: Not Really News (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Phrogman (80473) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @08:27AM (#41966401) Homepage

        It seems to me that this is not really news. When I was studying Linguistics many, many years ago, it was pointed out to me that we shape entire sentences in our brain before we become aware of them and before we speak the words. This is how we can make unintentional errors when we speak - spoonerisms for example, where the initial sounds of one word are substituted with that of a subsequent word (Wikipedia gives this example: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" (dear old queen, referring to Queen Victoria)).
        Since we are unaware of these errors prior to speaking them, it seems only logical that the subconscious/unconscious mind has the ability to recognize grammatical mistakes, since it has the capacity to formulate them. The human mind seems to be *built* to absorb rules of grammar and vocabulary at a very low level. We learn the rules of whatever language(s) we grow up speaking subconsciously by hearing them applied by those around us. Sure, people correct pronunciation and grammar in the young from time to time but a lot of it is just seemingly absorbed at a young age. After age 8 or so, you need to really study to learn a language in most cases, before that you can learn up to 3 languages at the same time apparently - although usually only if you speak each one to an individual that uses that language exclusively with you.

        So this seems interesting but not all that earth shattering to me at least. Although of course this is /. so I didn't RTFA :p

        • That's why I'm curious to know what the authors mean by 'semantic violation'. I would also be fairly unsurprised to hear that we flag grammatical violations, at least in languages we speak fluently, unconsciously. Being able to flag grammatically perfect, but non-meaningful, sentences would imply unconscious access to grammar and vocabulary, and an unconscious understanding of category errors and the like. Certainly not impossible; but rather more notable than just flagging grammar.

        • When I was studying Linguistics many, many years ago, it was pointed out to me that we shape entire sentences in our brain before we become aware of them and before we speak the words. T

          If you ever want to drive yourself moderately crazy, listen to your thoughts some time. You'll notice that you seem to think each thing twice - once in a kind of background precursor thought, then again right on top if it in the foreground.

          Or maybe I've just spent too much time listening, as it were, to the voices in my head.

          • by Quirkz (1206400)
            I've always recognized two levels of voice in my head. One that speaks in full words, often in full sentences, and in a lot of cases is mostly like me rehearsing what I'm going to say before I'm saying it, or me talking to myself, but not out loud. It's slow-ish, in that it operates more or less at the pace of speech.

            Below that there's also a very vast, very whispery, voice that may not work in words at all - it may be working in impressions or emotions, or simple flags (e.g.: that's not right; that soun
            • Below that there's also a very vast, very whispery, voice that may not work in words at all - it may be working in impressions or emotions, or simple flags (e.g.: that's not right; that sounds good; let's go that way), though in some cases I think there are words but it's rarely lengthy sentences.

              Or you might just have a Rat King living in your cellar.

            • Maybe I practice a different kind of meditation than the one that you were trying to practice, but when I'm meditating, the second voice that you're speaking of is actually a rather large piece of the meditation. I actually do start out with that first voice mostly, setting up my mental "meditation environment" (for me, I imagine a scene that, at this point, has become very detailed, using all 5 senses, that I associate with peace, love, calmness, being content, and other such good feelings) which sets me a

            • Heh, that's more or less exactly my experience. And has also stopped me from meditating very effectively.
              It becomes almost an between the first and second (lower) voice. Feels like if I could stop the second voice I could stop the first voice, but then I realize that thought itself came from the second voice, then I realize THAT thought also started there, then AAAARG skip it!

      • Or, "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana".
        "Time flies like an arrow, but Drosophilia Melanogastera like a banana".

        Semantic substitution destroying the original meme will also trigger awareness at a more conscious level, despite logical consistency.

        Linguistic memes replicate easily, complex or not, depending on their level of familiarity; mutations generally don't have the same commonality, and any variation that isn't itself a linguistic meme cannot be handled by the same rote behaviours.

    • by bhagwad (1426855)

      I wonder if it's possible to "freeze" the brain like this? Take a program and sometimes if you feed it just the right nonsense, it might find an error it can't handle and freeze. Imagine if the brain had a similar flaw?

      I mean maybe there is an incredibly complex series of inputs (perhaps spanning several days) that when presented to the human brain would cause it to "lock up" and the person would just stare blankly into space until they're "restarted". (I don't know how that would be done...).

      In fact, in on

      • The brain has this block:

        try{ } catch e { what("the fuck?"); }

      • by kryliss (72493)

        Yes it can. Go to McDonalds sometime and give the cashier more money than was requested and ask for them to count out the change. BAM!!! BSOD!!!

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        I'm pretty sure we have a timeout. I know I've hit my own trying to think something out. Just... nothing for a few seconds, then BANG! Frustration and a nudge into thinking how much the problem sucks instead of working the problem, or just outright derailment from the problem at hand ("oh look at the shiny")

      • A friend of mine managed to reboot an HR drone once. She described new benefit plans, and asked for questions. My friend, thinking of the company's recent behavior, asked, "Is any of this in writing? Because I'm still walking bow-legged from the last time the company decided to show its appreciation." She froze for five seconds, then continued on as if he had never said anything.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      The human brain is OO?
      That would explain a few peculiarities, for sure...

  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:17AM (#41965059)
    I believe that the last three math quizzes and tests which I've passed (and one which I almost aced) provide more than enough anedcotal evidence for the processing abilities of the unconscious mind! I am certain that I was fully asleep as I took the test and I'm amazed that I came so close to acing that test after almost two nights with next to no sleep.

    ;>p

    Now spelling for me correlates with awakeness (sleepy => many spelling misteaks [sic, for humor], awake => fewer spellin errors), but math seems to do fine even when I'm tired and barely conscious.

    • by bungo (50628)

      Just the other night, before I went to bed, I was trying to work out the solution to a proof by induction involving a combination of Fibonacci numbers.

      In my sleep, I worked though some math involving the Fibonacci numbers, taking the gcd(), multiplying sequences of them. I didn't solve the problem, but when I woke up, I had a better understanding of what I could try.

      I find this happens a lot when I'm studying subjects like number theory. My best insights are when I'm asleep (or in the shower).

      • by thephydes (727739) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:20AM (#41965299)
        I agree. I'm now aged 55 but I remember regular occasions like this from my late teens/early 20's when a solution that I was pondering on in the evening was obvious the next morning after sleep. Was it rest or was it my pea-brain working at it while I "slept". I have no clue, but this was common for me in both Maths and Physics. Does it happen now? Don't know as I'm not in the game of trying to show someone what I know (undergraduate), so I have not for a number of years (decades), had to put it to the test.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          From my ... 20s, not 20's. Plural, not possessive. And if you somehow meant precisely 20, and for some reason being possessive, okay. If you somehow meant 20 to 29.11.31.23.59.59.999, and possessive, then 20s' is correct. Also, MS's is correct, as in MS's bullshit RT thing. MS' is not correct (try saying it). It is rare that ...s' is correct, but it is used more often incorrectly than an is over a. Now check your catheter, and go back to watching Matlock. Leave the tech stuff to those can, pops.

        • Yup. But on the other hand, I remember dreams in the run up to my university exams that applied course material nonsensically. I woke up one morning and I was completely baffled about how to sit up, because I felt I needed to "instatiate it" (Prolog terminology) and I couldn't work out how to....
          • My own terrifying experience: having to solve transistor circuits to decode the numbers on my alarm clock before the big final.
        • by jittles (1613415)
          I've never had that after sleeping. I find that nothing makes a thought clearer than a long, hot shower. I often have epiphanies while in the shower (oh god please don't take this the wrong way). Sometimes walking works, so long as I put some music on or anything else to distract my mind. It seems to me like sometimes focusing on the problem blinds you to potential solutions. It's not until after the problem is in your peripheral vision that you see the big picture.
          • by tehcyder (746570)

            I often have epiphanies while in the shower

            Well, that's one way of putting it.

            (oh god please don't take this the wrong way)

            You have got to be kidding.

        • As an undergraduate I too would frequently find that if, as I went to sleep, I concentrated on a problem I was having trouble solving that I would wake with the answer. This happened often enough that I began to rely on it.

          Slightly strtanger was something that happened in high school. I was sitting in chemistry class looking straight ahead and day dreaming when suddenly I became aware of the teacher walking away from me. I asked the guy behind me what had happened and he told me the teacher had come up to

      • by indre1 (1422435)
        My insights often come when I sit down on the toilet.

        Not sure what's up with that, but I'd suggest directing the next study towards test subjects in toilets.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:13AM (#41965489)

        My best insights are when I'm asleep (or in the shower).

        So I conclude that you'd get even better insights if you slept in the shower.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          So I conclude that you'd get even better insights if you slept in the shower.

          Yes, it's funny - I'm not out to ruin that, but I would like to point out that this is a common fallacy - if A or B is good, then A and B must be even better. That does not follow.
          Even if having a blonde wife OR a redhead girlfriend might be good, having a blonde wife AND a redhead girlfriend might not be good at all.

          • Seems very high brow to me. Let me wait to see if I understand this when I take a shower or tomorrow morning.
          • Yes, it's funny - I'm not out to ruin that, but I would like to point out that this is a common fallacy - if A or B is good, then A and B must be even better. That does not follow. Even if having a blonde wife OR a redhead girlfriend might be good, having a blonde wife AND a redhead girlfriend might not be good at all.

            That is what General David Petraeus found the hard way. Wife is good. Girlfriend is good. But Wife && girlfriend is !good.

            • by tehcyder (746570)

              That is what General David Petraeus found the hard way. Wife is good. Girlfriend is good. But Wife && girlfriend is !good.

              That depends very much on whether or not they are (a) bi-curious and (b) un-camera-shy.

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            Even if having a blonde wife OR a redhead girlfriend might be good, having a blonde wife AND a redhead girlfriend might not be good at all.

            It's a risk I'd be prepared to take.

    • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @06:14AM (#41965721)

      I was more fascinated by my inability to translate the word "eye" from English to Gaelic.

      Longer version: I was using a computer language package designed to teach Scottish Gaelic. I'd done a lot of Gaelic already by this point, and I knew that "eye" was "sùil". In theory. But when the word "eye" came up on the screen, I just couldn't find the word. I could feel a blockage in my head, and I became convinced that my subconcious had fixated on the sound. The same sound can be one of four words: "I", "eye", "aye" and "ay". The first three are all part of my daily language, and the third isn't unheard of in modern Scotland either.

      Had I been processing language consciously, I reasoned, I would have been able to recognise the word consciously from the spelling of the word in front of me. The fact that I could not override the sound-based problem suggested very strongly that it was my subconscious that was reading the word.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Next time try writing/drawing the answer down with both hands (not necessarily at the same time).

        Maybe one of your hemispheres or pathways is blocked but the other might not be.
  • by Forget4it (530598) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:31AM (#41965111) Homepage
    Leave a crossword for half and hour come back and it seems your brain has been in action while you were away - revealing new clues No such faculty seems to assist sudoku - it's harder when you start up again - (YMMV) A basic Math/Language difference? Test material: http://www.guardian.co.uk/crosswords/quick/13265 [guardian.co.uk] http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/nov/13/sudoku-2343-medium [guardian.co.uk] (hope these links link!)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Eh, it would be surprising if that weren't the case. The human brain doesn't normally have to spend time on Sudoku like tasks unless you like doing them. However, the brain is regularly called upon to search for words. Further more, placing the numbers between 1 and 9 into a grid is something where you would have to memorize the entire grid in order to work on subconsciously, something which normal people seem to have little or no affinity.

      The crossword OTOH, you just need to find synonyms and the name of a

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Sudoku is not Math. It's something that happens to have numbers in it (but they could be any other kind of symbols, and it would work in exactly the same way).
      • by Anonymous Coward

        math doesn't have to involve numbers...There are quite a few ways to approach sudoku mathematically (trees, graph coloring problem, group tables, exact cover problem):

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics_of_Sudoku

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @06:49AM (#41965873) Journal

        Sudoku is not Math. It's something that happens to have numbers in it (but they could be any other kind of symbols, and it would work in exactly the same way).

        Debateable. The fact that it uses numbers, rather than arbitrary symbols or letters, certainly doesn't make it some kind of arithmetic workout; but Sudoku puzzles are special cases of Latin squares, and there is(as with most puzzles that anybody cares about) active mathematical futzing with algorithms for generating puzzles, algorithms for solving them, and proofs of various things about solution sets for various variants(NxN grids, more than two dimensions, etc.)

        What I don't know is the degree to which the sudoku-solving population at large is consciously involved with this, unconsciously has latched on to some reasonably optimal algorithms but wouldn't recognize them if it saw them formalized, or is basically just plugging numbers into the Sunday paper...

      • by Legion303 (97901)

        Sudoku is absolutely math. Unless your definition of math is "addition, subtraction, multiplication, division." But that's not the whole of math, it's just arithmetic.

      • Sudoku is not Math. It's something that happens to have numbers in it (but they could be any other kind of symbols, and it would work in exactly the same way).

        That could be said about any kind of math. Logical manipulation of symbols is absolutely math - some have numbers, some don't.

      • by TuringTest (533084) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:31AM (#41968683) Journal

        Sudoku is not Math

        Constraint satisfaction [wikipedia.org] begs to differ.

    • I think the simple difference there is the difference between those questions "What's the capitol of x?" and "What number goes here in relation to all other fields?". The former does only need some thinking, the latter would require to memorize the whole grid.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    public education has proved people can learn in their sleep for over a century. this isn't news

  • by Twinbee (767046) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:49AM (#41965405) Homepage
    Students who learn piano are often taught to take breaks between practice sessions (or even just 2 half hour sessions per day instead of one single hour session). As a piano teacher myself, I've recently encouraged my own students to take 5 minutes breaks, and even 5-20 second breaks WITHIN a session to allow the subconscious mind to make more sense of a passage or scale etc. Not sure how popular this kind of technique across other teaching disciplines is.
    • I just read a fascinating article about how a guy learned a simple language in 22 total hours of studying (over several months).

      He had previously learned a lot of memory tricks and techniques, and the person he learned them from went on to start an online learning site that used all of those techniques (with some algorithms that learned how you were learning).

      One of the main techniques was studying in 4-10 minute chuncks, as research shows that reinforcing memories multiple times (recall, remember, thin

  • This is just the nature of intelligence, it is just data compression. We parse the incoming data by fitting it to an internal model built up over time and try to optimize the compression by changing the model (learning) or changing the data (action). Small variations to the model (novelty) are inherently interesting as they provide the model-update mechanics something to work on. When the data is overly compressed we get artifacts like optical illusions, ghosts, cargo cult etc

  • by srussia (884021) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:01AM (#41965455)
    The sensory-brain system is actually an integrating machine in that it integrates time-variant functions (physical phenomena) into constants.

    For example:
    Pressure wave > sound of a certain pitch
    EM wave in the visible spectrum > color
    Heck, even an electric current > taste (We've all stuck a 9V battery on your tongue, right?)
  • And also danube tulips and actualize green colorless radishes furiously.

    What's so nonsensical about that?

  • Think about all you do during the day, and how many of those things you do without really thinking about them. Some of it is learned through practice, but all of it isn't.

    Even something as simple (on the surface) as driving is really complex, and you're constantly doing advanced math in your head without doing it consciously. Next time you're in heavy traffic going 70 mph, try consciously thinking about every move you're making and the move every other vehicle is making or about to make. It will make your h
    • by unkiereamus (1061340) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @07:59AM (#41966213)

      Next time you're in heavy traffic going 70 mph, try consciously thinking about every move you're making and the move every other vehicle is making or about to make. It will make your head explode.

      I know that this really isn't your point, but you touched off a hobby horse of mine.

      That's exactly how I drive, if you want to be really safe, it's the only way you can drive.

      I'm a paramedic, I routinely drive a 12,000lb (~5,500kg, for those that prefer) vehicle at high rates of speed through maneuvers that are wholly unexpected by a majority of the other drivers on the road, that's the only way I can drive.

      I assess every other vehicle on the road, every pedestrian walking along side, and every cardboard box sitting on the curb. I know where they are, how fast they're going, how well they're driving (well, I usually skip that for the boxes.), how likely they are to interfere with my lane space, and as an added bonus, how they're likely to respond to the sight of me in their rear view mirror. From the moment they come into my vision until the moment they leave it, I look at everything no less than once every 5 seconds.

      At the same time, I'm also keeping a running evaluation of the degree of urgency I have as it relates to how fast I'm willing to go, how hard I'm willing to accelerate (in any of the three axises available to me), and when and where I have to do what in order to meet those constraints.

      That being said, I also drive like that in my personal car (Though I do skip the whole running red lights thing). It's not easy by any means, it requires a great deal of focus, good observation skills and keen geospatial awareness, but it's doable, and it works.

      I've driven over half a million miles in ambulances, and probably another half million in my personal car. I've been in two accidents, both of which occurred within a year of getting my license, and both of which I know (as much as you can know such things) that if I could go back and do it again with the skills I have now, I could avoid them. (Oh, and for the record, neither of them were ruled as being my fault at the time.).

      Right, sorry.

      </soapbox>

    • by deego (587575)

      >> Even something as simple (on the surface) as driving is really complex, and you're constantly doing advanced math in your head without doing it consciously.

      Hm. When my dog makes that perfect leap to catch the ball, I'd bet sure neither he nor his unconscious brain understands projectile motion.

      Instead, rather than learning advanced math, his (unconscious) brain has observed several ball throws and learned some simple rules of thumb..

      • by TheLink (130905)
        I think the brain has to also create a model from those rules.

        Being able to model/simulate the world is important when you want to predict what could happen next. And also helps you decide what to do for a desirable outcome.

        Sufficient levels of recursive self-simulation might result in consciousness - or might not, who knows? :).
  • There is a coffee shop along the way from my office to my bus stop. 100 feet before to 100 feet after that coffee shop is the place very significant debugging has happened in my code.

    A typical debugging session would be like, I will be banging by head against a wall "why the hell this stupid insertion to this std::set fails?" all day. At the end of the day, I would give up, pack my bag, and plan rest of the evening. "OK, Tuesday, so Karate class. Pick up dry-cleaning while the $kid is practicing chandan-

  • We have always been fascinated at the weird, wild and nearly random experiences we have in dreams. When weird sentences such as "I ironed coffee" are most noted, it seems to indicate something about the way our dreams are handled and why they are so damned weird at times. (For example, last night I saw old TRS-80 computers which I had never seen before... even a color version of the model 2... geek dream, but it stuck in my head where other dreams don't) Perhaps that is simply the most effective means by

  • Shouldn't this read 'subconscious' rather than 'unconscious'? I doubt the students in these trials were hit in the head with baseball bats.
    • Beyond complete brain shutoff, like with drugs during an operation, it's questionable whether there is much difference berwen unconscious sleep and subconscious while awake.

      This study is more confirmation of an idea that's been shaping up for at least 30 years, that your conscious mind really doesn't do much proper thinking, with thoughts and sentences being formed subconsciously and then paraded through the conscious mind for some kind of review and storage.

  • "researchers found that subjects became consciously aware of a sentence sooner if it was jarring and nonsensical (like, for example, the sentence 'I ironed coffee')."

    That's a perfectly cromulent sentence.

  • /. might as well run more articles along the lines of "Astronomical research finds evidence of stars."

    Since when is redundant research into the very obvious news?

    Hell, Carl Jung had this pretty much worked out decades ago.

    Maybe some brilliant new detailed insights into the chemical workings of thought centers might be newsworthy, but this?

    Come on, /.

  • by 3seas (184403) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @08:55AM (#41966691) Journal

    Its not the unconscious mind, it is the subconscious mind. See article starting on page 73 http://www.iamb.net/IJMB/journal/IJMB_Vol_3_1.pdf [iamb.net]

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @09:15AM (#41966907) Journal
    I remember when I decided to learn how to juggle over Christmas break. I got a juggling kit for Christmas that included some bean bags and a video, and one of the things they suggested was to practice before you went to bed at night, because they said your mind would work on how to juggle while you were sleeping. Sure enough, the next morning when I tried I found I was able to do a much better job than I did the night before. I don't know if it was due to my unconscious working on it, or if it was the power of suggestion, but there seems to be something to it.
    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      I wonder if muscle memory sets overnight, too? I've had the same luck with video games. Play for a while, learning a new game, until I seem to plateau. Take the rest of the night off and try it again the next day, and suddenly I'm much better at the whole. Thing. No idea if this is mental, physical, or a combination of both.
  • It's just as much a part of consciousness as consciousness itself. How silly these hairless apes are to make such strong dividing lines between consciousness and subconsciousness -- Why, do they think shifting a car's gears while driving is a conscious act? (For most it is not, though it was at first, it has migrated to a "subconscious" routine you label "muscle memory" -- like fools... muscles have no memory, only minds do). To hear them speak of "Sentience" instead of a scale of awareness, or "Sub-Con

  • your coffee never needs ironing.

  • Neurologists and Psychiatrists say: What took you so long?

    See also: Libet [wikipedia.org] and Bereitschaftspotential [wikipedia.org].

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