The Driver Behind You May Be Unconscious
Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.
Bruce Barton, American author, advertising executive, politician (1886-1967)Almost all of us believe that something inside us is superior to the circumstances of our lives. It’s what keeps us sane and away from killing each other. Not so many of us accomplish
something splendid. The reason may be a disconnect between what we are capable of and what we believe we are capable of.
Hold that thought for a moment while we check out that driver behind you.
Have you ever fumbled with your car radio or to take something out of your glovebox or even had a conversation with someone in the car you were driving and suddenly realized that you had absolutely no memory of driving the past few minutes? Technically you were unconscious while driving.
Unconscious? Doesn’t that mean in a coma or dead, or at least asleep? Yes, but not exclusively. To be conscious means to be fully aware of your surroundings. As you were obviously not fully aware of your surroundings while you drove in our example, you could not have been conscious. So what were you?
Social science has given up on the idea formerly called the “subconscious.” Mostly because there is no evidence for it. One dictionary describes “unconscious” as “that part of the mind wherein psychic activity takesã€€place of which the person is unaware.” In this example you were aware of your radio search or your glovebox search or your conversation. But you were also aware in some very different sense–psychically–of your driving.
Could you be driving “mechanically” as some used to say young adults did after a few years of driving experience? Let’s put it this way, would you be comfortable driving on a highway at full speed surrounded by people who were driving only “mechanically”? The ugly truth is that many of us do. That guy behind you may indeed be driving mechanically, or unconsciously, meaning that he may not be able to apply his full attention to any emergency that may arise (such as you having to come to a sudden stop because a dog wandered onto the highway).
You dream with your unconscious mind. When you dream many of the functions of your brain you normally consider part of your waking life are shut down. The frontal lobes, for example, those brain parts that allow you to distinguish between right and wrong and that keep you on “an even keel” when you are awake, don’t function. That’s why dreams can be crazy sometimes, because the brain’s normal control mechanisms are shut down when you are asleep.
Science doesn’t know for certain why we need sleep, though recent research suggests it help us to review our activities of the previous day so we can embed them in longer term memory–that is, we need sleep to consolidate our daytime learning. You, very likely, do not know how you managed to pilot your car down the road without being aware of what you were doing while searching for a different radio station. But you are certain you weren’t asleep. But were you conscious?
Any activity of the brain that does not involve the full application of all critical brain functions is an activity you do while, technically, unconscious. While unconscious your body may be in bed resting or in a hospital room in a coma. It may also be doing–indeed parts of your brain may be doing–something other than that of which you are fully aware.
What do you think when you hear an argument in a murder case that the defendant was not fully aware of what he was doing when he killed his wife? If you are involved in a collision while you are technically unconscious, the investigating police officer will consider you just as liable. We all assume that we do everything consciously. Science says otherwise, though we all hope that part of science doesn’t take the stand in a court case.
Murder cases and car collisions are extreme cases. Most of our lives are lived away from extremes. Yet people sometimes do little things they may not be aware of–things that annoy you greatly or that inconvenience you–without being fully aware (conscious) of what they are doing. You don’t want them imprisoned for their faults because then you would have to be behind bars for doing similar things. So, what to do?
The human brain and consciousness are, as you can see, subjects that bear much more study. We understand very little about them. Yet they govern our lives, and the brains and consciousness of others impact our lives, every day. As much as they mean to us and as much as they affect our lives, we know almost nothing about them.
We accept that we are all imperfect beings. Now you have a clue why that is. It may not solve any mysteries for you but it may help you to understand why people do or say things that simply don’t seem right or in character for them, things that seem out of place.
As with many human behaviours it’s best to ignore the extremes because they do not represent who these people are. Who they are when they are fully conscious. They, in turn, can be expected to forgive your extremes of behaviour.
But, just in case, if the driver behind you seems distracted, maybe you should pull over and let him or her pass before something happens you may find messy and uncomfortable. You can still drive fully conscious.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know how their children can develop socially and emotionally in concert with their intellectual and physical development.
Learn more at http://billallin.com