Those who solve difficult problems that require intense analysis are familiar with the eureka moment. This is when the answer to a difficult problem seems to come out of the blue and presents itself unexpectedly. Sometimes the solution occurs as a series of “aha” moments on the way to getting the final answer. When you experience this, it is clear that something is going on behind the scenes within your mind that is simultaneously working on the same problem. This of course is the subconscious.
The subconscious does more than help us solve problems, it largely governs our behavior and actions throughout our day. When conversing with someone, most people do not deliberate over the choice of every word. The word choices as well as the exact sentences that are said during a conversation largely come out of the subconscious. Most of your actions throughout the day are not the deliberate product of the conscious mind. In truth, the subconscious mind is largely in control while the conscious mind mostly goes along for the ride and occasionally interrupts and injects its own input.
We like to think that our conscious is in control when we perform highly cerebral tasks such as planning, problem solving, solving puzzles, deductive reasoning, and analysis. However, the truth is that the “we” that does these things is a kind of interaction between both the conscious and subconscious. Without both working together, performing these high level cerebral tasks would be impossible.
Research has demonstrated that the subconscious is capable of reading words and doing math on its own. In an experiment conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, students were unconsciously exposed to equations such as “9 – 3 – 4.” Afterward, they were asked to say aloud various numbers that were shown to them. It was found that they responded more rapidly to the number 2 than to other numbers shown to them. This speed of response suggests that they had this number on their lips because their subconscious had worked out the answer to the equation. Another test that exposed their subconscious to phrases also produced this recognition effect.
The experiment demonstrates that the subconscious can do the higher level work that was previously believed to be the domain of the conscious. This gives credence to the belief that the subconscious continues to work on difficult problems even after the conscious mind stops. This is why the answer to difficult problems suddenly pop out of thin air after a period of rest. The rest may involve sleep or low stimulus activity such as a walk. This allows the brain to focus its resources on the problem via the subconscious.
However, this process is impeded if the person is exposed to distractions and other activities that demand their full focus. This is why rest or restful activities accelerate the problem solving process. If the subconscious is dealing with other distractions and “noise,” it has fewer resources to dedicate to the problem you wish to solve.
Problem solving of this kind can be accelerated through the use of an isolation tank which blocks out distractions of all kinds including sensory input. A number of engineers including this one find isolation tanks to be highly effective at giving them an edge in their work. If you’re an engineer, scientist, researcher, or any professional that solves problems for a living and wish to optimize this process, contact us to learn more.