Sunday, February 19, 2006

I Think! Therefore I'm Unconscious?

I'm taking a day off from my Science Establishment series to post on what seems to me to be a new concept, unconscious thinking.

First, if you are a psychologist, I have bad news. Your profession is hitting rock bottom. Perhaps you already know that but in case you didn't there is this Boston Globe article carried in the Sunday print edition of the Detroit News by Globe writer Gareth Cook. It is titled "Big decision to make? Don't think about it." The subtitle is "Unconscious does better job of weighing pros and cons, researchers discover." Notice they are not talking about the subconscious but the "unconscious."

The second paragraph states:
"In a series of studies with shoppers and students, researchers found that people who face a decision with many considerations such as what house to buy, often do not choose wisely if they spend a lot of time consciously weighing the pros and cons. Instead, the scientists conclude,the best strategy is to gather all the relevant information--such as the price, the number of bathrooms, the age of the roof--and then put the decision out of mind for awhile.
Then when the time comes to decide, go with what feels right. 'It is much better to follow your gut,' said Ap Dijksterhuis, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, who led the research."

I've always known about my having a subconscious but I didn't know I had an "unconscious" that could do my "weighing" for me. How neato! Normally I would just call it quits with an atricle like this pointing out that these folks have a problem dealing with crow overload and their solution is to go mindless.

But I can't stop here. It gets better.

"For relatively simple decisions, he said, it is better to use the rational approach. But the conscious mind can consider only a few facts at a time. And so with complex decisions, he said, the unconscious appears to do a better job of weighing the factors and arriving at a sound conclusion."

Exactly how one arrives at "sound conclusions" while unconscious is not being made clear. But we plod on:

"The finding, published Friday in the journal Science, would have pratical implications if borne out by further research.
This is because the new research challenges the conventional approach to making everyday choices that shape so much of life."

You can say that again! Let's see, I have to negotiate a left lane exit at the upcoming cloverleaf, should I use my conscious mind or my unconscious one?

"After Freudian psychology, with its focus on repressed desires, fell out of favor, psychological research dismissed the idea that the unconscious played an important role in mental processes.{At least they were warm!--ME} More recently, though, in research popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's best seller "Blink," scientists have been finding evidence that the unconscious is not just relevant, but that it is smart."

That does it! From now on whenever I come across a real toughy of a problem I'll just go mindless and let my smart unconscious figure it out for me. And to think all those exams I barely passed I could have aced if I only I had the brains to go brainless.
Dummy me!

"'Blink' largly focused on snap judgements, such as deciding whether a couple was likely to divorce by watching them for a few moments.
But the Science article looked at what the researchers described as the 'deliberation-without-attention' effect."

Exactly how someone "deliberates without attention" escapes me. Completely. I guess I don't understand because I'm not using my unconscious mind. I can see however, where this could lead to some interesting possibilities:

"You see, your honor, I ran into Mr. Smith's car because of the deliberation without attention effect,"

"Jones! Wake up! Why are you asleep at your desk?"
"I'm using my unconscious to solve the problem sir."

Sigh! When I first read the article a little voice in my head said "Mike, he's making this up. It's all a joke." So I googled the researcher's name Ap Dijksterhuis and got 20,000 listings. If he's making this up, he made up a pile of others.

I don't know if he means to substitute unconscious for subconscious but it doesn't say this anywhere in the article so I don't think so. Anyway, the article can be found here.
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