Subliminal | Leonard Mladinow


Published: 2012

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Human decisions are made in the conscious mind as well as in the unconscious mind. But according to Leonard Mladinow, PhD in theoretical physics at Berkeley, the absolute majority of our decisions, at least the “less important” decisions, is made in the unconscious mind for reasons of energy efficiency. In order to survive in a world of vast amounts of information, evolution has provided humans with this necessary filter.

”There are certain events of which we have not consciously taken note; they have remained, so to speak below the threshold of consciousness. They have happened, but they have been absorbed subliminally” – Carl Jung

INFORMATION OVERLOAD. The conscious brain can handle between 16 and 50 units of information per second. But the human sensory system sends about 11 million units of information per second to the brain. If all is to be filtered through the conscious mind, there is no energy left over for what is important. For example, most of our communication is non-verbal, that is, body language. The unconscious is fortunately good at distinguishing between a genuine smile and a non-genuine smile.

CASE STUDY SHERESHEVSKY. The reason why a perfect memory is not passed on by evolution is that it is not always the best for survival. As an example, Mladinow cites a Russian man named Solomon Shereshevsky, who had such a perfect memory. But when there is no filter for what is, or is not, important, the possibility of a more subtle understanding of the situation deteriorates. Among other things, Shereshevsky had problems determining the emotional state of people, something most people do unconsciously.

WE DON’T KNOW WHERE OUR DECISIONS COMES FROM. For everyday life, we can be quite sure that evolution has created effective decision-making paths in our brains. Problems arise when the unconscious mind interferes with more complex decisions such as which house we should buy or which education we should choose. This affects the decision even if we believe we have consciously made a careful calculation.

CATEGORISATION (OVER)SIMPLIFIES. All people and all events are unique. But man does not have the time or mental capacity to observe and consider every detail of the environment – that is why we categorize. Then we base our perception based on the category rather than the object itself. As part of this, we look for different groups: PC vs Mac, BMW vs Mercedes or cat vs dog.

PLAYING ON UNSONCIOUS STRINGS. Skilled marketers know how the human subconscious affects everyday decisions and tries to “take over” the consumer’s interpretation process. Products are assessed according to their packaging, a book according to the cover and the annual report according to its design. Products such as Coca-Cola has been ingrained in people’s unconscious for over a hundred years by associating themselves with pleasant events such as Christmas, the World Cup and concerts. A Pavlovian response is created at the sight of the logo, which is difficult for consumers to get away from.

”THE PEPSI PARADOX”. ”The Pepsi Paradox” is that Pepsi in several blind tests won on better taste compared to Coca-Cola. But the awareness that a person drinks Coca-Cola usually enhances the experience unconsciously as a result of the marketers’ long-standing association with enjoyable events. But if you ask the test subjects, they will deny that the advertising had any effect.

FRAMING AFFECTS PERCEPTION. Studies show that the environment has a powerful and unconscious influence on experiences – not only when choosing a dish but also on how the food tastes. How about “crispy cucumbers, velvety mashed potatoes and slow-roasted beets on a bed of arugula”? Sounds better than vegetable mixture with meat and sauce. Studies have shown that the name of a dish enhances the experience of the meal.

DIFFERENT GLASSES, DIFFERENT REALITY. Human behavior is a product of an uninterrupted stream of perceptions, emotions and thoughts on both the conscious and the unconscious level. Studies in modern neuroscience have shown that almost all perception should be seen as an illusion. The world we experience is the output of our senses’ subjective interpretation. Two persons with different unconscious interpretation processes will experience the world differently.

“Human behaviour is the product of an endless stream of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts, at both the conscious and the unconscious levels. Each day we ask and answer many questions about our feelings and our choices. Our answer usually seem to make sense, but nonetheless they are often dead wrong”

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