Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What works and what doesn't, and why?

There's been a bit of a media frenzy about our recent meta-analysis (see a summary article on the paper that I wrote for the International Human Press: ). After all the excitement died down, however, I found myself wanting more. Like a drug that I'd unwittingly learned to love, I wanted more of the satisfaction that is admittedly very rare in a scientific career -- for one's ideas to be seen by many other scientists and to be considered seriously.

Fortunately, I was weaned relatively quickly. I received two harsh reviews on two different papers, and one of my favorite results about a gender difference in perception looks like it is not replicating.

There have been some things that worked over the past few weeks: another gender difference looks like it is replicating, I had a blast giving two talks up at King's College University in London, Ontario, and a call with an intellectual property expert made me realize one of my ideas may be marketable.

This "best of times, worst of times" mix has made me start thinking about what tends to work, what tends to not work, and why. Here are my musings.

What works: It seems to me that whatever ends up working is a "sleeper" project. Projects that I've had in the back of my mind for a long time, that I've consciously ignored for awhile and then finally did the work -- these are the ones that end up working. It's like my subconscious chews on them for long enough to spit out a useful approach that makes the project work.

What doesn't work: Projects that I concentrate a lot of conscious mental energy on tend to fall through eventually. Really, it seems that the harder I concentrate on something, the more likely it is to fall through. The meta-analysis, for example, took a few years of hard work, but it was a background project that barely grazed the surface of my work life. Meanwhile, my gender difference that isn't replicating was the star of my conscious repertoire of cool things I've done.

Why? Of course, asking my conscious mind to answer this one will give some answers, none of which should be taken seriously, because they won't be correct (see observations above). My best guess is that the subconscious mind is more efficient when it gets more material to chew on, and is left alone and not nagged for answers so that it can provide answers when it is ready. When my conscious mind gets over-invested and over-involved, it makes decisions that are not based on all the data that is being processed by my subconscious. In general, it appears my subconscious knows best.

Does yours?


  1. Hi Julia,
    probably you know the Unconscious Thought Theory (UTT)

    which predicts what you suggest.


  2. Great blog Julia. I've only just discovered it from Jim Carpenter's First Sight blog. Keep us updated of your research into psi.