Information and the Unconcious Mind

According to Miller, Galanter and Pribram, we are confronted with about 2 million bits of information per second. According to their research, our five senses can only process about 134 bits per second divided in to approximately seven “chunks.” Now, I am not sure if Miller, Galanter and Pribram made their calculations correctly, but I am sure that there is more going on around us at any given moment than we can conveniently process at the conscious level.

Take a moment and do an exercise with me. Read each of the following questions and pause for a minute to get in touch with the way you feel.

Notice your breathing. Are you breathing high in your chest or deep in your stomach?

Notice your eyes blinking. How often have you blinked in the last thirty seconds?

How often are you breathing now?

Notice your feet and how they feel. Can you notice the texture of your socks, or the carpet. How does that feel?

What about your legs? How do your legs feel as you are sitting? Are there any sensations from the chair or stool you are sitting on right now?

What about your back? Is your posture upright or slouched? Is there any tension in your back? Can you let it go?

How do your shoulders feel? Are they tense or relaxed? Can you change that feeling now?

If you breathe out slowly, you may notice the beating of your heart or the feeling of your pulse.

Notice any sounds around you. Maybe you hear the gentle hum of your computer’s fan or the sound of your hand on the mouse. Maybe you notice the sounds of the refrigerator or the blowing of a fan or another household appliance.

Notice any smells. Is it a familiar smell? Maybe there are no smells at all or it just smells like your office or home.

As we did this exercise, you might have noticed that much of the information I brought to your attention was outside of your conscious awareness before I brought it into the focus of your attention. What does that mean? It means that there is more information flooding our senses in any given moment than we can conveniently consciously process.

I think it also means that for our survival we have to filter the information coming in through the five senses so that we know what is important–what to remember. The three major filtering processes involve deletion, distortion and generalization.

Deletion is the process that allows us to forget how many times we have blinked in the last minute so we can focus the limited resource of our attention on driving our car or hitting a golf ball.  It is also the process that lets me look all over my room for my shoes, when they were right in front of me the whole time.  “If it were a snake, it would have bit me.”

I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child. All of a sudden, I noticed pregnant women and small babies everywhere! I also remember when I bought a new black car, a make and model I hadn’t ever noticed before. After buying the car, I saw it everywhere around me. Maybe that has happened to you.

Distortion is the process of changing what we experience in the world around us, often based on the emotions we are experiencing or the meaning we choose to assign to some stimulus. Have you ever asked a couple you know about how they met for the first time? You might find that they each describe the event in a different way.

My wife and I were in Costa Rica on vacation. We were floating down a river on inter-tubes in the Northwest on a guided tour, when–SHAZAAM–a spider the size of Texas dropped onto my bare stomach! At least, that is how I remember the event. My wife, who was floating down the river on a tube next to me, remembers the spider being much smaller and friendlier. She also laughs when she thinks about my response.

Maybe you have noticed that your clock starts moving suspiciously slowly during the last hour of the work day or during a boring meeting. Conversely, it may move suspiciously fast when you are on vacation having the time of your life. This is an example of time distortion.

Generalization is the process we use to speed up our learning. Once we understand the idea of “chair” we don’t have to relearn the idea when we are exposed to a rocking chair or a table chair. On the flip side, generalization can also get us into trouble. If you were attacked by a dog as a child, you might generalize and assume that all dogs are aggressive. If you knew someone who was wealthy and was a real jerk, you might assume that all rich people are jerks.

Because our perception of reality is deleted, distorted and generalized, our memory may not always reflect “the truth.” Our mental map is not the territory, but a representation of the territory. Have you ever noticed that some maps are more accurate than others? By learning how to change our mental maps, making a more accurate representation, we can more easily reach our goals and destination.

If you would like to find out how hypnosis and NLP can help you reach your goals or improve your mental maps, email or call to schedule an appointment. or 801-203-3405.

I wrote this article for a continuing education course I am taking through