Learning to Learn Faster
Steven Kotler lays down another great article on learning and the magic of the mind. Well worth the read. Highlights below, but for the full article see below.
“Our brains crave novelty. As a result, if you are trying to remember where you put your car keys, having an image of them 60 feet tall and dressed in drag helps. Mental exaggeration is a simple learning hack—a way of using the brain’s fundamental attraction to novelty as a way to optimize memory.
In this post, we’re going to examine a couple of similar tricks, one as a way to hack speed reading; the second as a way to accelerate problem solving, but before we can get into those details, first the ‘fish story’.”
“After years of this work, Zlotoff noticed that whenever he did get stuck, the answers he sought never appeared up in obvious places—like when he was sitting at his desk plugging away at the problem. Rather, he always got his answers when driving or taking a shower. In fact, it happened so frequently that whenever Zlotoff got stuck he had started leaving his office so he could drive home and take a shower.
Eventually, Zlotoff decided to figure out why this was happening. What he discovered is the true power of the subconscious. “We have this idea,” he says, that because we use our conscious mind all day long, it’s actually more powerful than the subconscious. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The subconscious is so much bigger and deeper and more capable than the conscious mind—even the comparisons get ridiculous.”
Zlotoff points to two classic studies to make his case. The first, run by Stanford cell biologist Bruce Lipton, determined that the conscious mind processes roughly 40 bits of information a second.
The subconscious, though, can handle 20 million bits of information a second.
The second study, run at the University of Pennsylvania, was an attempt to verify the first. There researchers found Lipton’s figures were slightly conservative. By their calculations, the conscious mind could handle about 2,000 bits of data a second. And the subconscious? Some 400 billion.
More astounding, the Penn team clocked processing speeds. The conscious mind solves problems at roughly 100-150 miles-per-hour. Meanwhile, our subconscious blazes away at close to 100,000 m.p.h.
“Even if this research is off by a factor of 100,” says Zlotoff, “this still means the subconscious mind is 5000 to 2 million times faster than the conscious.”
This is also why taking a shower or driving a car is such an effective problem solving hack. When we engage in lightly stimulating activity—activity that requires mental processing, but not too much of it—we are occupying the conscious mind with a task, and allowing the subconscious mind to take over information processing responsibilities.
The period that the subconscious can process a problem without conscious interference is called the “the incubation period,” and knowing how to utilize it properly is core to Zlotoff’s MacGyver Method.”