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March 24, 2006


Return of the Unconscious: The Locked Door

The Locked Door
Intuitive judgments and quick apprehension take place behind a locked door. It may well be that if we learn how to enhance the quality of our thought processes, we will need to accept the mysterious nature of our almost instantaneous judgments or decisions.

We need to respect the fact that is entirely possible to know without knowing why we know and recognize that sometimes we are better off that way. This all has to do, of course, with the renewed acceptance of the unconscious as a ubiquitous source of motivation in our lives.

As a relatively simple, but striking practical example of this phenomenon, suppose that you are given a list of five-word sets. You are asked to make a grammatical four-word sentence as possible out of each set. Suppose that the list is:

1. him was worried she always

2. from are Florida oranges temperature

3. ball the throw toss silently

4. shoes give replace old the

5. he observes sometimes people watches

6. be will sweat lonely they

7. sly the seamless gray is

8. should now withdraw forgetful we

9. us bingo sing play let

10. sunlight makes warm wrinkle raisins

While this seemingly simple exercise appeared to be an uncomplicated and easy one to understand; actually it wasn’t. After finishing the test, one quite probably would walk out of the room and down the corridor noticeably more slowly than he or she entered it. The exercise had an impact upon the way the subject behaved.

Why? Looking more closely at the list, we can see that embedded throughout were words like “worried,” “Florida,” “old,” “lonely,” “gray,” “bingo,” and “wrinkle. While the exercise at first appeared to be a simple appraisal of language ability, in fact is was making the hidden computer in the brain, the unconscious, think about the state of being old.

It didn’t inform the other cognitive aspects of the brain about its sudden preoccupation with the state of becoming elderly. Nevertheless, it took all of this talk of old age so seriously that after finishing the test, the subject would walk away quite slowly, acting old.

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