Communication in Everyday Life Lecture – October 12th, 2013
The Mind in Communication: The Adaptive (cognitive) Unconscious
In the lectures on Culture we discussed the essential “sharedness” at the
heart of talk
1. Common perspectives – ways of seeing – regarding what’s real; what’s
good or bad;
2. Shared Repertoires or meaning for words and gestures;
3. Shared schema – outlines of attributes for people and behavioral and
emotional scripts for situations – so we know what they mean and
how to act (or speak) we are in them
How do we learn all this and call it up instantly when we need it – everyday?
We have always needed to know
o What’s going on and,
o What’s going to happen next.
It’s not words: It’s information processing
As individuals, once we acquire language we think conscious thought does
everything. But it doesn’t.
o As a society, we used to think that thinking made us human – no
words, no mental processing – wrong.
o Changed our mind about the mind – not a word storage place but a
computer – an info processor
o We now know the mind processes 11 million bits of information per
o The conscious mind processes only about 40 bits per second
o In his book, Strangers to Ourselves, Tim Wilson asks the obvious
question “so where did the other 10 million 999 thousand 960 bits
o All that information enters the mind below the level of consciousness
into a place without words – the neural networks of the unconscious
We have Two Minds
Adaptive (cognitive) unconscious
o Older, in evolutionary terms, than consciousness
o More recent acquisition than non-conscious processing
o Each have different functions The Conscious Mind
Works best when there is:
o Enough time
o Not too much data, and
o The decision matters to us – we have to be motivated to do the work.
Rational thought and problem solving is work. Its effortful, slow, controllable
Neuroscientists say the conscious mind is seating in the frontal lobes of the
cerebral cortex – the last part of the brain to develop – right behind the
o That’s the location of the brain’s speech, reflective thought, and
o It works in the “there and then” or “what if” mode.
To make time for problem solving work in the repetitious, low demand
situations of daily life – the conscious mind shifts a good deal of the “here and
now” thinking – some pretty high-level, sophisticated stuff – to the other
mind – the cognitive unconscious.
Now the conscious mind can work in the “here and now”
1. If we choose to focus for a while. Like studying for the exam.
2. If it is focused by a dramatic turn of events – in an emergency for instance
o But it works best in this kind of situation when its repeatedly trained
with routines and protocols for handling emergencies before they
When an airline suddenly completely loses power during its ascent after
takeoff. The pilot has about a minute to successfully land the plane. He
instantly has to call up his training – all those hours in the simulator to help
him through but his thinking had to be very flexible and extremely quick in
this situation – changing by the second. These are not optimal conditions for
Too much data, too much going on and to really make effective decisions –
not enough time. He has to sense the feel of the aircraft and the changing feel
of the situation. He had to respond quickly, without much reflection. He calls
on the other mind – the second mind – the cognitive unconscious – to help
him save the day.
The Adaptive (cognitive) Unconscious
It works in completely different ways than the conscious mind.
Its automatic, its fast, it works effortlessly and rigid. It “sees and acts.” No
creative reflection here just pattern detection and action.
It works in the here and now and, unlike your conscious brain, its always
paying attention – always on.
Every working second as we grow, the cognitive unconscious is processing
incoming data, looking for patterns in the information flows from the rest of
our bodies or from the environment around us and remembering them. How does it remember? It adds emotional marks to them. Called “somatic”
markers – changes in the body caused by little nano-surge of positive or
negative energy creating what are called non-conscious preferences – it uses
these to talk to the conscious mind through the body.
The core of it is in the mid-brain, the limbic system of the brain
It stores these deep emotional memories
It’s the “always on” sampling and matching – part of the Adaptive (cognitive)
Constantly dipping into the stream of incoming info and comparing “thin
slices” of these huge inputs to our established non-conscious preferences.
Stores our deeply learned neural networks – our schema – for people and
behavior – patterns of visual and oral cues that trigger predictions of future
action for “what’s going to happen next?”
It permits us to enact a necessary human attribute – “A Theory of Mind” –
automatic mind reading, anticipation of what another is going through or is
intending to do
Again each pattern comes with preferen