The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

9:45pm on Thursday, 14th April, 2005:

Streams of consciousness


Something happened to me today in a shop that I've noticed before happens eerily often.

I was looking at some clothes with my elder daughter (something of no interest to me whatsoever) and spotted a top with an odd design on it. Closer inspection revealed it to be a human heart, stylised but anatomically accurate. At that moment, my attention was drawn to the background music being played. I waited a couple of seconds, and was treated to a line about an empty heart.

What happened here? I didn't know that the line was going to come up, yet I was waiting patiently for it. The heart thing came only once in the song, which I don't recall having heard before (but that doesn't mean I haven't heard it before, of course).

This kind of thing has happened before. I've felt as if I was about to experience a coincidence before its actual occurrence. This never happens when there is no coincidence, though: I don't find myself listening to something expectantly and there not being a coincidence.

I'm wondering how this works. It's not some kind of foresight, predict-the-future thing. Also, although on this occasion it involved a coincidence with music I could conceivably have heard before (just not remembered it), in the past it has happened reading a book I know I haven't read before or even thumbed through.

My guess is that it works as a kind of streaming system, as with buffered real-time net content. Some part of the pattern-matching going on in my brain spots the coincidence as it happens, then overrides my sense and presents it to my mind as if it were live. Actually, the coincidence has already occurred, but it seems to me to be live because that's when I get the information. As soon as the clip has finished running, everything is speeded up to match real time again.

What's interesting here is that I can't access the mechanism by which this happens. In my case, that means it's not a "normal" subconscious thing. However, because it involves some "intelligence" it points to there being some other computational level in my mind that is capable of throwing data at my consciousness. I can usually filter senses, but I don't even know where this is coming from  — I'm only speculating. That's kind of interesting (at least to me).

Weird things, brains...

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).