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Science

Reading and Calculating With Your Unconscious 85

Posted by timothy
from the coca-cola-available-in-the-lobby dept.
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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Reading and Calculating With Your Unconscious

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  • by tech49er (824086) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @03:25PM (#42021071)

    worst analogy ever https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_theory_of_mind#Criticism [wikipedia.org]

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

  • Re:OK (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @04:11PM (#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:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lee1 (219161) <lee@@@lee-phillips...org> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @04:15PM (#42021469) Homepage
    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.

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