Many of my philosopher friends are convinced there is no such thing as free will – that everything we do is predetermined – by our subconscious, by god, or even by the nature of reality itself. Recent research sheds some interesting light on how much control we have over our own behavior and our own perceptions of reality. My own view is that like many things brain-related, free will is a feedback mechanism – dualistic in that we are capable of being both free and enslaved at the same time.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the subconscious is the way it covertly changes our behavior. A single event can change your mood from bad to good, or make you more social or antisocial. There was a much talked about article in the November edition of Science called “The Psychological Consequences Of Money”, which discussed how the mere mentioning of “money” causes dramatic changes in social behavior. Subjects in the study who were reminded of money (subtly – no subject knew what the test was about), became more socially isolated – more dependent on themselves, less willing to help others or ask for help. They even put more physical distance between themselves and other subjects.
If a single offhanded mention of money is able to so drastically change our behavior, think of all the other emotion-provoking topics we are exposed to on a daily basis:
Love - Family - Religion
War - Hate - Power
Attractiveness – Body weight – Race
..the list goes on and on – each one having its own unique impact on our subconscious, and therefore our behavior.
This reminded me of a Scientific America Frontier show, where subjects were bargaining (monopoly-style) electronically, while an MRI tracked their brain patterns. The interesting twist was that half the time the subjects thought they were bartering with another subject, and the other half with a computer. One would hope that, given the exact same deal, it wouldn’t matter how it was presented to you, or by whom – but the data says differently. For example, if a subject perceived a fellow human as giving them a raw deal, they became emotionally charged, but bargaining with a computer for the same deal was easily accepted.
I saw the show a while ago, but I believe this was it: http://www.pbs.org/saf/1507/
Another intriguing concept is the way the subconscious expresses itself. A series of recent articles in Scientific American Mind discussed how the subconscious has its own modes of communication, and that these modes perhaps even dwarf verbal or written language in a number of ways.
Neuroscientist Spencer Kelly of Colgate University analyzed the brainwaves of subjects while they watched a video of people talking and using various physical gestures. His study suggests that the mind responds to the gestures in much the same way it responds to words. In fact nonverbal, and largely subconscious, communication may even be more significant from a neurological standpoint. Gestures often precede verbal communication because it is easier for the brain to process a thought as a gesture, while verbal communication has to go through another series of filters to construct a grammatically correct sentence. And gestures are more base – primates and animals communicate nonverbally, and actually have an enormous range of motions to choose from (just watch “The Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan for an example of that) – so it is no surprise that there is a deep, very efficient part of our brain devoted to decoding nonverbal communication.
All of this is in line with various NLP concepts, one of which is:
“You cannot not communicate”
..even if you decide not to verbally express what you are feeling, the information is always available in some other form. The subconscious nearly always finds a way to rear its head.
Lie detectors analyzing variations in voice, gestures, facial movements and eye position and dilation are becoming disturbingly accurate. Over 10,000 combinations of facial gestures have been identified. Psychology professor Paul Ekman discovered what he called “Microexpressions”, which last for only a 5th of a second, and seem to express what we are truly thinking or feeling – the expression our subconscious imprints on our face before our conscious mind has a chance to adjust.
There is a wearable device under development at MIT, that is able to analyze nonverbal gestures. It is intended to help people who have severe problems in social situations (such as those with Autism). It is called the “Emotional Social Intelligence Prosthesis”, or by its more appropriate abbreviation: ESP.
Quantum physics aside, we “emit” our subconscious, just by standing around and being human. It is not surprising that people often report self-fulfilling prophecies, or visualizations that come true exactly as imagined, when so much of our behavior is based on what our subconscious wants. The trick is to make sure your subconscious is in line with what you actually want out of life.
What we are up to here at Transparent:
The holiday season is keeping us busy, which is interesting since, as my father noted, “Why would anyone want to give a self-improvement program out as a gift. Wouldn’t that kind of be an insult?” Gee, thanks dad But despite this many people seem to be doing just that. I just had a call from a long time customer who is buying it for his son as a christmas present to help him with his college studies.
Our research director Dr. Huang (Tina) is working on a number of studies and projects, that I hope to ellaborate a bit on either in my next post or at the beginning of the year.
The new project is coming along. Programming is like anything else in life – it’s the little things that get you. Most of the major functionality is done, now I’m just going through and fixing this and that, this bug and that bug, this piece of the application I was too lazy to program a month ago, etc. I will release a teaser as soon as I can (I have been getting a lot of requests), I just want to put some final touches on it and make it presentable.
I would say happy holidays to you all, but I expect I will be making another post or 2 before the end of the year. Still, if I don’t see you by then, have a great holiday and new year!