Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Total Recall

I am always intrigued by stories of the capacity for recall and comprehension displayed by the subconscious portion of our minds.  I remember reading an article in the news about a person in a coma that, when they recovered, suddenly spoke fluent German.  

Hmmm.  I just read that last sentence and it sounds apocryphal - like an urban myth.  So, I looked up the link for those who are inclined to skepticism:

Now, the article reports that the girl had only recently begun to study German and had enjoyed only limited success.  However, when she came out of the coma, she spoke the language fluently. 

Doctors were baffled, but believed that there was a rational explanation for the incident.  I am inclined to agree. I suspect that, in her subconscious mind, the young lady had all the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation data that she required after her brief term of studying the language to speak it fluently, but that her brain did not place sufficient importance upon that data to bring it to the conscious mind.

Something similar happened to an 81 year old man who suffered a stroke and, during recovery began to speak Welsch fluently (which is no small feat).  His story is here:

In this case, doctors believe that his damaged brain rebuilt neural pathways, bringing back knowledge from 70 years ago that had been long since discarded.  

How does this make any sort of sense?  

Imagine that your mind is a network of railway tracks.  As you grow and learn, your brain creates pathways and builds new sections within your gray matter that lead trains of thought into the correct "Station".  There will be some routes that are in nearly constant use.  Reading is an excellent example of this process - you see a word and an instant association is made in your brain.  The word "Cow" conjures not just a mental image of the animal, but any relevant information that may help your mind as it contemplates this idea.  You may see a green pasture, a barn, the noise the animal makes, flies irritating the poor beast,  perhaps a cowbell, etc.

So, while certain tracks in your mind are in constant use, as you gather information and age, other routes are used less frequently and become dilapidated and fall into disrepair.  I once knew nearly every planet in the Star Wars Universe.  Now, I can only recall about four (I suspect that much of the higher math taught in schools is lost to a similar process). But, as Alun Morgan's story serves to illustrate, the tracks are still there, waiting for the return of the "Train" and revitalization.

As a mentalist, I will often work with people during my performances to help them to tap into the reserves held within their subconscious minds.  While they may not recognize it initially, they too have the capacity for recall that far surpasses what their conscious mind believes it can do.  And most of the time, these people surprise themselves with their own abilities.

It is always interesting to me to watch this process occur as I believe that what passes for intuition is a subconscious feedback mechanism that combines our sensory memory and compares it to a template against which a thing is measured.

Consider this:  How often have you seen a person that just flat out gives you the willies?  

When this occurs, it is likely a reaction based on some other interaction that you have had (long since forgotten), where many of the person's idiosyncrasies displayed through small things like gestures, intonation, lack of eye contact, etc. remind you of another dangerous or untrustworthy individual.  

While you may not be able to consciously put your finger on what disturbs you, your subconscious mind has the measure of the person and has given you a feeling that warns you to be on your guard.  Oftentimes, this feeling is accompanied by a physiological response that prepares your body to fight or flee. 

I don't want to be long-winded about it, so I will cut to the chase - the moral of this post is that it is wise to pay attention to those little feelings that suddenly come over you, as they are probably there for a reason.   Give them a bit more credence than you otherwise might and your own alacrity may surprise you.

See you next week!

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