Half a second—that’s it. Just slightly longer than an eye blink. When an event occurs in less than half a second, the unconscious mind is in charge, processing millions of sensory inputs and responding seamlessly and automatically. But if the event lasts longer than half a second, the conscious mind gets involved, sometimes sorting things out, often messing things up. How we perceive reality is largely a matter of this imperceptible timing.
A wife walks out of the bedroom wearing a new dress and awaits her husband’s reaction. An instantaneous smile communicates authentic appreciation; a half-second delay makes her skeptical of any compliment that comes out of his mouth.
A 12-year old launches a new racing game on his smart phone, and senses a slight delay when he tilts the phone to navigate his car around a hairpin curve. After three ‘unfair’ crashes he quits the game and never launches it again.
A novice high jumper continually uses incorrect technique during practice, despite repeated instruction from her coach on how to properly position her hips and arms as she flies over the bar. However, after her coach employs an audible ‘clicker’ to instantly signal proper technique mid-flight, the student is able to correct her jump form in a single half-hour session.
Over millions of years, the slow, deliberate executive mind evolved on top of the hyper-quick and automatic habitual mind. This executive mind brought us a new sense of conscious self-awareness and, with it, a skewed understanding of our world. Our executive mind believes it is in control of our actions and decisions, yet the majority of these behaviors are simply rubber-stamped processes originating from the habitual mind. The conscious mind is simply unaware of how much unconscious thought is being performed underneath the surface—and how much control the habitual mind really has. (more…)