The Science of Insight

I’ve always been big believer in background processing, the idea that the subconscious brain is always working to solve problems whether we’re aware of it or not. So I was delighted to stumble across a recent New Yorker article describing a group of neuroscientists who had actually mapped and isolated the mechanisms by which this processing occurs. If you’re interested in the topic it’s well worth tracking down the full text (Conde Nast apparently hasn’t yet grokked the benefits of making their archive freely crawlable), but here are a few choice quotes to whet your appetite:

“This integrative theory of the prefrontal cortex suggests why we can instantly recognize the insight, even when it seems surprising: the brain has been concertedly pursuing the answer; we just didn’t know it. ‘Your consciousness is very limited in capacity,’ Miller [one of the scientists] said, ‘and that’s why your prefrontal cortex makes all these plans without telling you about it.'”

“‘At a certain point, you just have to admit that your brain knows much more than you do.’ An insight is a fleeting glimpse of the brain’s huge store of unknown knowledge.”

And finally, apropos of my recent book review on Radical Evolution:

“The scientists are convinced that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes possible to ‘up-regulate’ insight. ‘This could be a drug or a technology or just a new way to structure our environment…”

Another tiny step on the path to the Singularity…