Monday, June 19, 2006

Thoughts from the Reading List

NOTE: This post was written Saturday afternoon when bereft of internet, and I'm only getting around to putting it online now.

So I've just started reading the introduction of Malcolm Gladwell's blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, recently on loan from a friend. For those who aren't aware (most), the book--at least from the introduction--presents itself as a discussion of split-second decision making.

The interesting thing, though, is that he also presents this type of decision making as being primarily on an unconscious level. So while reading the introduction, I was reminded of one of the shorter case studies from V.S. Ramachandran's A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, concerning a patient who is consciously blind due to a brain injury, but still has an unconscious ability to recognize objects and their positions.

(Or something like that, I don't have it with me right now.)

Now in Ramachandran's case, the patient's odd visual responses are due to brain damage which selectively severs the connections to the primary visual cortex--responsible for visual processing in mammals (I'm pretty sure, but I'm writing this away from home without an internet connection and I know I'll be too lazy/absent-minded to look this up when I copy and paste it into blogger); while connections to the superior colliculus, responsible for vision in other animals, were intact. But the superior colliculus doesn't input to systems involved in conscious thought. So somehow it's providing visual input that the brain can utilize, which still has no access to conscious recognition systems.

Now, I have no idea what mechanisms Malcolm Gladwell will discuss for his system later on in the book. But at the moment, I'm enamored of the idea that humans have parallel systems for many processes--probably more than we're aware, even now--systems that are involved in conscious thought, and systems that act independently of consciousness.

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