HM works from his iPAD. This is the print title of an article by Diana Kwon in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist. The healthy memory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind. This blog post taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborates on this idea.
Every moment the brain takes in an enormous amount of information, more than it can process on the fly. To cope effectively with this enormous amount of information, the brain constantly makes predictions that it tests by comparing incoming data against information. And most of this is done via unconscious processing.
Just imagining the future is enough to put the brain in motion. Imaging studies have shown that when a sound or image begin to appear, the brain generates an anticipatory signal in the sensory cortex.
The brain is continuously predicting the sounds, words, and meanings that we are trying to produce or communicate..
Moreover, the senses are used to inform each other. When a recording of speech is degraded so that it is nearly unintelligible, the words sound clearer if you have previously read the same words in subtitles. Matt Davis at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, says that “the sensory parts of the brain are comparing the speech we’ve heard to the speech we’ve predicted.”
Our brains also make predictions on the basis of emotional signals coming from our bodies. Moshe Bar, a neuroscientist at Bar-Han University in Israel, suggests that we only consciously recognize an object once our unconscious mind has calculated its importance based on what our senses and emotional reactions our saying. For example, the conscious fear of a snake on a hiking trail comes after the brain has processed the shape and initiated jumping out of the way.
There are downsides to making predictions. Incorrect inferences reinforced by repetition can be hard to reverse. Stereotyping is an even more troublesome example of the same thing. When it comes to human interactions it can lead to negative biases and discrimination. Bar says that “stereotypes and prejudices are predictions working as they do with everything else, but in a way that is not desirable.” Some neuroscientists also believe that the hallucinations experienced in psychosis are the result of expectations gone awry. Despite its flaws predictions are necessary. Otherwise our species never would have survived.