by Tim Brunson, PhD
In the late 18th century the German Idealist philosopher Friedrich von Schiller said that "It is the union of the unconscious and reflection that makes the poetic artist." That one phrase revolutionized how humanity viewed conscious awareness. He introduced the idea that in addition to our conscious awareness that there was another level that was actively working in the background. While he was merely a philosopher – rather than a scientist – his concept of a below-the-awareness consciousness quickly seeped into the lexicon of the rational researcher as an a priori assumption of the existence of an unconscious mind, which is a term often interchangeable with the idea of a subconscious mind. Nevertheless, while few doubt its existence, few have substantially explored its functioning and how it perceives and processes external perception.
One such researcher is Norman F. Dixon, PhD, of the University College, in London. He has conducted extensive research into how our mind passively processes perception. He concluded that our senses allow our mind and body to rapidly accept and adapt to both internal and external entities and events. Accelerated learning advocates, such as Paul R. Scheele, MA, of Learning Strategies Corporation in Minnesota, have applied Dixon's work to a variety of self-development programs, many of which tend to claim accomplishments that quickly receive the attention of skeptics. Regardless, the preconscious processing concepts proposed by Dixon and adopted by Scheele are based upon the premise that our neurophysiology is capable of perceiving and processing millions of bits of information each and every second. They claim that respecting this natural human ability allows learning to occur much more rapidly than in occasions when a subject should limit learning to their much slower aggregate conscious awareness, which tends to be retarded or throttled by a miniscule ability to processes information.
While detractors have actively attacked these ideas (often with pseudoscientific reasoning), the United States government has actively maintained programs involving preconscious processing. One such instance is their active research and use of polygraphs (i.e. lie-detectors). In fact, the decades-old Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (now referred to as the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment) is based upon the idea that machines can detect the processing of preconscious thought and determine the truthfulness of a subject's statement. Their successes are so astounding that one senior instructor related privately to me that the US Congress once pulled funding from one project because it was deemed to be too reliable in detecting untruthful statements.
Non-governmental researchers have very recently concurred with the existence of human preconscious processing abilities. In the 1990's a University of Parma research team lead by Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti discovered that the brain has two specialized types of cells called bimodal and mirror neurons. Located in just about every part of the brain, they facilitate the rapid translation of perceptions into meaning and understanding. This is congruent with a more recent study at the University of Mexico, which showed that our neurophysiology reacts to perceptions approximately 400 milliseconds prior to conscious awareness. Therefore, the practical work by American polygraph researchers and academicians alike point to the fact that Dixon's concepts and Scheele's claims may not be as far fetched as the skeptics claim.
When I developed Pattern Theory I stated that everything in us and around us is made up of patterns of components, which in turn are comprised by components, which have structure and encoding. I mentioned that patterns resist change, but will adapt when antithetically challenged by new external inputs. This is a very intricate system in which a pattern is almost always a component of another pattern. Thus a hierarchy of interrelated patterns exists. For example, cells are patterns, which in turn have subordinate pattern-components such as strands of amino acids – otherwise known as proteins. In turn, cells are pattern-components of organs, and so on.
At this point, I want to focus on a pattern's ability to perceive its environment and to adapt. Indeed, the relationship between patterns involves a constant dynamic as they adapt to changes of related patterns -- as when they change their encoding so as to re-harmonize with the others to which they are connected. This is important as this process is rapid and continuous and does not require direction at the aggregate consciousness level. For instance, polygraph researchers know that a subject will react to a statement instantaneously without having the opportunity to filter their reaction through more complex reasoning. In other words, they believe that they circumvent the probability that their subject may desire to be untruthful.
The natural ability for all patterns to sense their environment and react to antithetical changes is also synonymous with the concept of intelligence and consciousness. Therefore, one would have to logically conclude that, rather than simplifying the concept of consciousness into a bifurcation of conscious and subconscious minds, there exists a very complex system of multiple consciousnesses and intelligences, which constantly resist change but adapt when required. Therefore, rather than merely saying that a subject is learning on two levels, you would have to accept the fact that a human being is constantly learning on trillions of levels. This way of looking at human consciousness and intelligence seems to support and explain the results obtained by Dixon and later researchers.
For the coach, consultant, trainer, and clinician this has numerous implications. If one would look at this from Dixon's perspective this would imply that when a person is looking at a rack of books in a bookstore, they are actually aware not only of the one or two books that is within their foveal vision, but also are simultaneously – and rapidly – picking up peripherally perceived information in the form of the nearby book titles. This is the basis of Scheele's Photo Reading system. Also, I tend to see similarities in this idea and the rapport exercises that are integral to Neuro Linguistic Programming training.
When a person is working with a clinician they are affected by much more than the content of the operators words. The feeling conveyed by the office, the movements and vocal qualities of the therapist's voice, and many other items contribute to the experience. Thus, there must be a realization that the subject is taking in information at numerous levels. While it may seem to be overwhelming to plan such multi-level communication, simply by assessing the feeling obtained by the environment and managing one's own emotional state is vital to creating effective communication.
As far as accelerated learning is concerned, I agree with Scheele's ideas. Our education system seems to be designed to satisfy only the limited abilities of our aggregate conscious awareness. The auditory explanations of an elementary school teacher program the mind of the student to perceive and process information at a very slow rate. This is no longer a valid approach to learning as the Information Age requires a more active brain that is capable to coping with data flows that are both voluminous and rapid.
When we accept the fact that our subject's are neurophysiological systems made of intricate matrices of intelligent patterns that rapidly perceive and process data, our role quickly changes to that of an orchestrator. We create environments and interventions that shape transformation in a way that facilitates physical and mental healing and promotes self-actualization. By recognizing that the human mind and body is a complex organization of sentient consciousnesses that occasionally achieve disharmonies (i.e. illnesses), we see opportunities to therapeutically move them back toward happiness and health.
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.