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Math Science

Evidence for Unconscious Math, Language Processing Abilities 168

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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  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:17AM (#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.


    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 Forget4it ( 530598 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:31AM (#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: [] [] (hope these links link!)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:04AM (#41965233)

    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 Russian seaport, which are much more easily chunked up and done without too much conscious effort.

  • by thephydes ( 727739 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:20AM (#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 Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @07:14AM (#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.

  • Re:So, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @07:37AM (#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.

  • by unkiereamus ( 1061340 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @08:59AM (#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.


  • Re: Not Really News (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @09:27AM (#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

  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @10:15AM (#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.

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan