Julia Mossbridge: Subconscious Perception of ‘Unpredictable’ Events

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The conscious mind orders perceptual events in time, and this order helps to create meaning. “I sing to elephants that dream about me,” differs in meaning from “I dream about elephants that sing to me,” solely because of the order in which we experience the same perceptual elements.

As William James lucidly described, the subconscious mind is less ordered than the conscious mind. However, what could seem like a fault turns out to be a gift. For example, a recent meta-analysis examining more than 40 physiological reports from the past three decades showed that the physiological counterparts of the subconscious (heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance, etc.) seem to predict future events that are not consciously considered to be predictable (Mossbridge, Tressoldi, and Utts 2012). Thus, the “disordered” subconscious seems to be able to sample from the perceptual stream in a more complete way than the “ordered” conscious mind. These results support the idea that subconscious perception is, in some important ways, more fully informed than conscious perception. After describing the meta-analysis and some of my recent related physiological results, I will speculate about the mechanisms underlying predictive anticipatory activity and my sense of where this phenomenon will take us in the next decade.

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