Friday, December 30, 2011

Not aware of myself

 (I had Prof. Wilson's name wrong and have corrected it.)
I am slowly reading more about the unconscious mind.  Right now, I am in Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Prof. Timothy D. Wilson.  Wilson starts off distinguishing Freud's version of the unconscious from more modern conceptions.  It can help to sort out the fighting and squabbling from simple expressions of the view.  Basically, the late 1800's view related to repressed feelings and desires, especially sexual ones and double especially forbidden ones such as incestuous feelings.  Wilson makes clear that a great deal does go on in our minds that we are not conscious of.  He advises thinking of our minds as a collection of city-states or modules with different functions.  Some engineer can probably calculate how much of our physical energy is consumed by processes such as intelligent governing our body processes, our creation of continuous speech and ideas versus how much is consumed by our conscious awareness and deliberate thinking.  Wilson gives me the idea that the conscious deliberation is just a small portion of the total energy used by the mind.

Freud's focus was the patient's feelings, not the other, less dramatic operations of the mind.  Wilson uses the example of a woman recently engaged to a man who had never actually faced the fact that she did not love the man.  Her friends thought it was obvious but she had not paid attention to her actual feelings.

The first book I read on modern thinking about the unconscious mind was The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam.  I have also read A Mind's of Its Own by Cordelia Fine..  All three of these books emphasize that we normally carry prejudices or heuristics, as they are referred to by Wray Herbert in On Second Though: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits.
The term "heuristics" has many different types of usage but it includes the rough rules-of-thumb that the mind uses to make decisions.  These basic rules can be somewhat simplistic or irrelevant to a given situation without our noticing it.  

Our bodies are complex structures in a weight-distribution and engineering sense.  Sitting or standing, we are constantly adjusting our muscles and bones to hold ourselves in a given position.  Only lying down in a stable position, such as "flat on our backs", would we experience little or change, fall or drop were we to suddenly lose consciousness.  Parts of the mind govern this use of muscles, normally without our being aware of the nerves and muscles.  Wright discusses a case where nerve damage robbed a man of this proprioceptive function.  He could only walk with totally continuous conscious thinking about what to make his body do.

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