Making Friends with the Zombies (your subconscious mind)

As Carl Jung put it, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.”  Pink Floyd sang, ‘There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”  David Eagleman in his book Incognito writes, “Almost the entirety of what happens in your mental life is not under your conscious control.”

He suggests that consciousness exists to distribute control over automated subroutines in the brain which he calls zombie or alien systems.  Zombie systems include everything from “producing speech to picking up a mug of coffee.”  Some are instinctual and some are learned, but all are highly automated routines physically embedded in the brain and largely inaccessible to the conscious mind.  “When the brain finds a task it needs to solve, it rewires its own circuitry until it can accomplish the task with maximum efficiency.  The task becomes burned into the machinery.”  Over time, this automation yields speed and efficiency both of which are evolutionarily selected for survival.

He tells of a study on the use of energy in which researchers used brain imaging to observe people learning to play the video game Tetris.

The subjects’ brains were highly active, burning energy at a massive scale while the neural networks searched for the underlying structures and strategies of the game.  By the time the subjects became experts at the game, after a week or so, their brains consumed very little energy while playing. It’s not that the player became better despite the brain being quieter; the player became better because the brain was quieter.  In these players, the skills of Tetris has been burned down into the circuitry of the system, such that there were now specialized and efficient programs to deal with.

The trick of burning tasks into the circuitry is fundamental to how brains operate:  they change the circuit board of their machinery to mold themselves to their mission.  This allows a difficult task that could be accomplished only clumsily to be achieved with rapidity and efficiency.  In the logic of the brain, if you don’t have the right tool for the job, create it.”

He likens one’s consciousness to the CEO of a company setting the higher level direction, making decisions when conflicting subroutines are involved, and assigning new tasks. As long as the zombie subroutines are running smoothly and everything goes as expected, the CEO does not need to be consulted.  The CEO becomes involved when events in the world violate expectations and, only then, does consciousness becomes engaged.  If the zombie systems have the capability to cover whatever is happening, they do.  Only when they cannot handle something, you become consciously aware of it, and the CEO jumps into action.

I just got an iPhone.  It is really proving challenging and funstrating (frustrating + fun) to learn to use the little keyboard and all of the other new and improved gadgetry and applications.  My teenage kids make it seem so easy.  The CEO is working overtime and is confused…for now.  I look forward to the zombies taking over.

Here’s a picture of my boys in full zombie mode courtesy of the new iPhone…..  🙂

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  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie, it ain’t ever that quiet for me (me thinks!) and I know the CEO and CIO are kept pretty busy 🙂 I bow, as always, to your supperior knowledge of the brain but from what I know, then, yes, repetition will rewire, optimise and ingrain. The other fascinating bit for me is that this (probably) also works by repetitive thinking rather than physical activity alone. What do you think? Take care, Stephen

  2. Somehow I just knew you would eventually find a positive way to understand the cognitive metaphor symbolized in monster movies – the Jungian “shadow”. Clever woman…

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      There is actually an iPhone app called Zombie Booth that zombifies any picture. Who knew? My son is all into horror movies and zombies and all that stuff. I have to say that being scared can be tremendous fun. I have never laughed so hard as when the boys and I went through one of those Halloween places called Spooky Woods. Fun!

  3. Research shows that humans now have over 60,000 thoughts per day. Thats over 42 thoughts per minute. If you consider that we sleep somewhere between 6 and 8 hours, that means when we’re awake we think 55 to 63 thoughts per minute. Most of our thoughts are below the conscious level and are related to past and future events. Not much time is given to presence. Now if we could only use those zombies to help us stay in the present, most people would be a lot happier. Thanks for the info.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      That makes me think of a pertinent question: What is our consciousness doing when the zombies do not need it? I would think that we would want the zombies to be able to handle all of the minor stuff so that it would free up our consciousness to be directed to the present. So, more power to the zombies!

  4. Robert Hanson Reply

    I would strongly suggest a tape produced by the source ‘ The Great Courses ‘ , THEGREATCOURSES. com. One of the first items they mention are the Zombies. Later it delves into the conection between the physical world and mental (spirtual ? ) world.

    The tape is ‘ Consciousness and its implications ‘ I’ve only been thru it once but it calls be back to put together the thoughts it provokes in my spirit and mind.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for commenting and for the referral to the tape. I will check it out!

  5. Love the “spooky zombie” photo Debbie. It’s amazing how little conscious control we have over ourselves. I have been studying the mind, brain and consciousness for years and just when I think i have it figured out I realize that I don’t.

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