Your brain is an incredible machine. It is capable of keeping you alive, by taking care of the little things you might not be conscious of (let’s be honest: when was the last time you consciously thought of breathing?). Not only does it do that, but it also manages to give you the means to answer questions no other animal on this Earth can. That’s pretty amazing!
But wait, there’s more! (Sorry about the commercial-like start of the paragraph. I couldn’t help myself). This goes back to the things you are not consciously aware. Studies have suggested that your brain is aware of much more visual input than you are.
A Look into What the Brain Can See
For a long time, many people believed that the brain chooses which information to pay attention to, zooms in on it, and throws away the rest. But you see, in order for the brain to be able to decide which information to keep, and which to get rid of, it must begin by being aware of everything. Now, a disclaimer: I use the term “everything”, not to mean the entire universe. Rather, I use the term to mean “everything” that is perceivable, or within the field of vision.
On to the study. Essentially, Sanguinetti et al (2013), placed their subjects in front of a screen on which there were some shapes. Some were distributed at the screen’s center, and other, on the outside of the center. This scenario mimicked real life situations in which you might be placing your attention on something specific, while ignoring the rest (at least at a conscious level). The researchers then begun monitoring the subjects’ brainwaves, to see whether their brains were processing the shapes located on the outside.
And were they? Absolutely! Now, remember, subjects weren’t consciously aware of those shapes located outside the center of the screen. However, that did not stop their brains from being aware of the. Read more here.
Blindsight : What Happens When the Brain Can’t Interpret Visual Information?
Blindsight occurs as a result of cortical blindness, which usually comes about from strokes. Cortical blindness refers to the loss of seeing ability. This appears because the part of the brain that processes visual information (occipital cortex) is injured to the point where it can’t function. The eyes, however, are healthy, and function as normally.
To reiterate, the person who has cortical blindness (or blindsight), cannot see. By this point, you’re probably expecting me to add “consciously” to the previous sentence. Indeed, I have to add that, because there is evidence that despite the fact that these people can’t see consciously, they still behave as if, at some level, they see.
This has been illustrated in many different ways. One, which is thought in Intro Psych classes is that usually, if you throw a ball at someone with blindsight, they’ll catch it. Another case study done on a patient with blindsight was as follows: the researchers asked the man to walk (without his stick) through an empty hallway. The twist? The hallway wasn’t actually empty: it was filled with random objects. However, the man was able to walk around these without knocking them over. If you want to read more on this, and see the actual video, click here.
The Subconscious at Work
The subconscious is fascinating. It operates on so many levels, it’s difficult to even begin to pinpoint what those levels are. Plus, we have yet to understand how our consciousness works, and at least we can say we’re aware of this one.
What I wanted to illustrate through the two cases I spoke of above is that our brain is capable of noticing a lot. However, this doesn’t always translate into conscious awareness of what is being noticed. Perhaps this is a big piece of the puzzle on how subliminal messages work.
“Forever Today” and the Subconscious
In the post I made about the book “Forever Today”, the first lesson was about the subconscious. In there, Clive Wearing, who lost his capacity to form new memories (as well as the one to remember), still appeared to be able to learn at some level. Again, he did so without conscious awareness. This just shows how versatile this wonderful part of our mind is. It is there to back us up perhaps on everything we do.
What an amazing mind we have!