It's interesting, but I think there are some issues in how they frame it. Consciousness and unconsciousness are a particular model of how the brain works, but it may be entirely wrong too, and they don't seem to even acknowledge the possibility that we should be revising the Freudian model (from whence this comes)."This study provides convincing evidence that people can perform complex rule-based operations unconsciously," says François Ric at the University of Bordeaux, France. "This could change the way we think about how our brains work and what reason is."and then they jump to positing that perhaps animals are more human than we thought. Perhaps we are more reasonable than we thought, and it's built into us somehow- almost like a gift from God or something... I don't see anything in this that is conclusive or even strongly suggestive of a degree of levelling of the playing field between human and animal.
It's pretty clear our brains do all kinds of things outside the reach of our self-awareness. I have no idea how the brain sorts out which things we're to be aware of and which will go on invisibly, but the division certainly is not a straightforward one between "simple" and "complex." Taking in tons of information from the senses and converting it into 3D spatial pictures is hugely complex, but we have no conscious access to the process. We have little if any conscious access to many lessons and assumptions that lodge in our hindbrain (or our amygdala, if you like), but they're both complex and rational, not to mention blindingly fast.
The best models for these processes see it as a kind of 'scripting', and if you watch children develop from near helpless infants to walking, talking, reasoning kids, you see how we learn to do these things, eventually mastering actions and thought processes without having to 'think' about them 'consciously'. This does not necessarily mean we do it without approval from ourselves (as 'unconscious' sometimes is used to imply). We've just streamlined the processes of doing through this process of 'scripting'.There was an interesting episode of NatGeo called "My Brilliant Brain" that explored this through the examination of chess master Susan Polgar. In it, you learn how expert chess players learn whole blocks of moves as essentially a single idea, so they can handle much larger sequences of information and have their head wrapped around the game better then you or me.
That's true, too, but I'm also talking about complex processes that started out completely unconscious and stayed that way. Like those experiments with goggles that invert your vision vertically: when you put them on, everything looks upside-down, which is very uncomfortable. After a brief period, your brain inverts the image again -- then when you take them off, it stays inverted for a while until your brain automatically switches it back. None of this is conscious or subject to your control. Your brain is working all the time on many things, but only a fraction of them go on in the parts that we experience as conscious.
All I can say is that I have only rarely had to call up lessons learned in my High School Algebra I course. However, that Consumer Math class I took to avoid Algebra II.....I have used that information every single day of my adult life.
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