Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Non-conscious Knowing

This article from Discover Magazine is a great overview of how it is we can know things without being conscious of all the details. Quoting just a few snips from it is hard because it's full of info and ideas that illuminate music making and music therapy. Here's one bit where music making is specifically mentioned:

You are not consciously aware of the vast majority of your brain’s ongoing activities, nor would you want to be—it would interfere with the brain’s well-oiled processes. The best way to mess up your piano piece is to concentrate on your fingers; the best way to get out of breath is to think about your breathing; the best way to miss the golf ball is to analyze your swing.

The article talks about two very arcane skills that could only be taught in a master/apprentice situation that sounds a lot like some aspects of teaching music. One of the taught skills is learning to determine the sex of baby chicks.

The mystery was that no one could explain exactly how it was done. It was somehow based on very subtle visual cues, but the professional sexers could not say what those cues were. They would look at the chick’s rear (where the vent is) and simply seem to know the correct bin to throw it in. And this is how the professionals taught the student sexers. The master would stand over the apprentice and watch. The student would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and toss it into one bin or the other. The master would give feedback: yes or no. After weeks on end of this activity, the student’s brain was trained to a masterful—albeit unconscious—level.

I prefer the word "non-conscious" over both "unconscious" and "subconscious" as they have all sorts of Freudian connotations that might muddy the waters.

UPDATE - This post caught the eye of Dave Wilken and he's done a great post on the subject here.

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