Gene Expression

Looking inside the mind….

I had a strange experience the other day. I was walking down a hallway, and all of a sudden the name of a local software company came to mind. I didn’t understand why I was thinking about this, and I was mulling over this strange issue when 20 seconds after I’d started thinking about the company in question, a woman to my right nodded in my direction (she was a few people over). And bingo, all of a sudden I realized why I’d been thinking about that company, the woman was the roommate of another individual who I knew worked at that company. The peculiar thing is that it is clear that one part of my mind (“human recognition”) realized who the individual out of the corner of my field of vision was, and somehow that triggered cogitation about a software company that I associated with this individual. But, my conscious mind was totally unaware of this until after the fact.

Anyway, it was pretty strange at the time, though perhaps I could conclude I have psychic powers and my prescience about the relationship of this individual who was going to get my attention was simply a way of my mind of priming me. I don’t know 🙂


  1. #1 Vibhati
    May 25, 2006

    I’ve been checking in on your blog for about 2 months on and off now, and I figured it was time to thank you for entertaining open-minded thoughts and thought processes. Science or not, I do enjoy laughing out loud at some of the things you’ve written. I don’t enjoy my tech and PI laughing at me for my outbursts–but thats a sacrifice i’m willing to make. Its also good to know that someone else sees the big picture instead of the genetic-specific one.

  2. #2 Rietzsche Boknekht
    May 25, 2006

    “I was walking down a hallway, and all of a sudden the name of a local software company came to mind”

    “But my conscious mind was completely unaware until after the fact.”

    Intriguing experience:) Makes me wonder how many other brains out there experience similarly weird or strange occurances. I’m not going to venture a guess or try to think about why you had this experience, or how it occured, though, as i don’t have any academic backround in cognitive matters. The foreknowedge was a little haunting, though.

    But, on a, possibly, similar note, i’d like to bring up the fact the we don’t really know much at all about the workings – the complex goings on – of the mind, do we?

    For example, & i know i’ve made this point or observation before but, not to exhaust it, what causes our thought? I know, a simple answer might be environmental triggers & sensory input – we’re essentially data processing machines, i believe.

    But, our brains arent quite that simple, as illustrated by the fact that we dream, have *seemingly uncaused* thought occurances, & so on, & your story simply lays on another layer of cement to my opinions here. Well, not quite cemented – i realize that cementing opinions is not particularly scientific; i must always be open to revision of held impression or opinion in the face of new data. That’s a little more scientific, imo.

    But, to scratch at this a bit more – when some thought spontaneously occurs to me, what, i’d like to know, sequence of unconscious or pre conscious processes have caused it? Is it an infinite regress type process, a seemingly common phenomena, under the application of logic, to all so-called ultimate questions in the universe?

    Im interested in another thing here – is scientific method & empiricism enough get at the core of these problems, or is this an area where philosophical thought is still relevant,- e.g., the philosophy of mind, although i don’t know how many empiricists or cognitive psychologists/scientists have a respect for philosophy anymore. It’s been my *impression* that many scientists or naturalists harbour a very dismissive or derisive attitude w.r.t. philosophy or philosophy’s validity in an age of empiricism, amplified by ever newer & more complex technology & progress. I get the feeling that many scientists now regard philosophy or philosophical thought as the domain of dissatisfied, depressing, unreasonably skeptical old farts. That philosophy is trite. Of course, i may be absolutely wrong about the fact of the matter.

    It’s almost as if all that science cannot expect to be able to tackle for a long time, or maybe ever, is irrelevant. I’m not a scientist, though, so maybe such problems are irrelevant to science – if science is solely concerned with the extraction of data from the strictly objectively observable.

    Addendum: I’m not a scientist or academic of any kind, to put it quite mildy, so if i’ve misrepresented anyone or anything, or if you find strawmen here or there, it’s was completely out of ignorance & not of anything else.:) Nothing intentional.

  3. #3 razib
    May 25, 2006


    i invite you to check out the original gene expression too. i don’t have the marginal time to post there much right now, but i encourage everyone waste all their spare time that they are going to waste reading my blogs!

  4. #4 SkookumPlanet
    May 26, 2006

    A month ago, Cog Daily discussed research showing we can see beautiful faces and respond appropriately, without realizing we’ve seen anything. It’s not the old subliminal idea. Researchers are opening fMRI windows, watching our brains react, and delineating neural pathways.

    How can you be unaware of having even seen an image, and yet be able to make reliable judgments about that image? That article is just one example of a variety of situations in which people can be unaware of seeing something, even immediately after being given a quick glimpse of it, yet behave as if they have seen it. [my italics]

    The next day Cog Daily ran a related post showing fear bypassing our visual processing system, going directly to the amygdala. I posted on that topic about an incident a few years ago when I experienced exactly what they described, with a rattlesnake.

  5. #5 razib
    May 26, 2006

    I posted on that topic about an incident a few years ago when I experienced exactly what they described, with a rattlesnake.

    yes, i saw that two. or the blind man able to detect facial emotional expression to a statistical significance even though he was ‘blind.’

  6. #6 Agnostic
    May 26, 2006

    If she was to your right, then your left hempishere processed that info, which is also associated w/ most verbal & speech functions. So, you had to attach a verbal label to her, and the best you could do was that company’s name. If you had stared at her, rather than glimpse her, that might not have happened, since you would’ve focused both eyes / hemispheres on her.

  7. #7 Matthew
    May 26, 2006

    Richard and Razib,

    I’m in my mid-thirties now, and like most people in my cohort I’ve pretty much “aged out” of deja vu experiences. But in my late teens and early twenties, I had them fairly often (maybe once every two or three months?).

    Back then I remember thinking about deja vu experiences quite a bit, and wondering whether the “scientific” explanation of a delayed processing / mistiming in the brain was correct, or if in fact they could be a “remembering” of some event before it happened in an anomalous fashion.

    In 1990 I was sitting with some friends in the Rathskeller, a favorite nachos-and-toppings hangout next to the NCSU campus where I was enrolled. Suddenly I had a strong feeling of deja-vu and I recognized the couple sitting at the next table over. Because the experience was stronger than previous deja-vu experiences I wondered if it would be possible for me to actually predict what was going to happen. I realized that I could “remember” what was going to transpire. I said to myself “that woman is about to say: ” and came up with a 12-15 word sentence that I remembered her saying. About 5 seconds later, she turned and uttered exactly the sentence I “remembered”.

    In 1991 in another cafe, Elmo’s Diner in a nearby town, I had exactly the same experience. Again, I “remembered” what a woman sitting at a nearby table was about to say to the man sitting with her. Again, she said it, word for word, about 5 seconds after I recalled the words I “remembered” her saying. In neither of these cases did I know the woman or her companion.

    Many of the people reading this blog are probably still in a cohort which has frequent deja-vu experiences. And deja vu is an experience that most people have at some point, usually several or many times. Next time the feeling of deja vu arises, especially when it is intense and seems to be going on more than a couple seconds, don’t just let it unfold passively, see if you can actually predict what is about to happen. I think you might be quite surprised.

    I wrote a blog post about precognitive deja vu here, with a collection of anectdotes included.

    Certainly Benjamin Libet’s well-known experiments demonstrated that there is something very odd about the timing of subjective experiences, and this body of research takes that message even further. I will put up a big update on this subject on my blog soon — suffice it to say that a number of additional studies have shown evidence of presentiment effects using skin conductivity, EEG and heart-rate measurements, as well as some retrospective data analysis of conventional psychology experiments to see if the results could be replicated.

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