Preconscious Processing and Training Design

by | Sep 9, 2020


From Amazon:  

Norman Dixon’s PRECONSCIOUS PROCESSING integrates data from various research areas concerned with the effects of unconscious perception and the preconscious antecedents of subjective experience. Discusses the possible nature and origin of preconscious processes, the evidence for unconscious perception, and the effects of unperceived stimuli on perception, verbal behavior, and memory. Examines the theory that cognitive processes evolved for the gratification of need.

Norman Dixon was a friend and generous mentor. He took my call after a referral from Dr. Paul Scheele, a pioneer in “accelerated learning” within the United States. That field has been re-branded by academics  to distance themselves from positions and people they don’t agree with.  The field is now referred to as  “accelerated expertise.”

I earned chops in both camps. I believe in honoring those who came before us, especially those who did foundational research such as Norman’s. 

We got along well in part because we shared similar experiences that shaped our interest in cognition under stress. Norman was a bomb disposal technician in WW2 London. I remember, with awe and amusement, his tale about being upside down in a narrow hole beneath a one-ton bomb.  While he stretched to unscrew the fuse with the one hand that could reach, he heard the internal fuse begin to fizzle.  

“Focuses one frighteningly well,” he said.

Great courage, and he had the gift of turning those experiences into educational tales.

Rest in peace, Norman.  Your work and your name is remembered and appreciated

Norman significantly helped me shape the model of human cognition and perceptual processing I used to design training.  The Model has evolved some, as models do, but here’s the main points:

  • There’s the world.
  • There’s human perception channels that take the data transmitted from the world into the human organism’s perception.
  • That enormous flow of data is “stepped down” by preconscious filters.
  • Preconscious filters are shaped by genetics, life experiences, and by training (consciously crafted experiences).
  • The data flow that comes through perceptual filters create either familiar patterns, fragments of familiar patterns, or new patterns.
  • The patterns are recognized or fit into the schema.
  • And then the human brain makes up a narrative, or story, about the pattern.

–This pattern is light.

–This pattern is the breast at the lip.

–This pattern is the concealed anger of the assassin.

And then we act on our narrative, and rely on our perception, pattern recognition and the evolving narrative to PREDICT the next step in the story and act accordingly.

So how do we train and shape preconscious processing? By definition it takes place beneath the limin of consciousness. 

We can tinker with genetics, like the Chinese do with Crispr, and create hyper-vigilant humans. That’s rife with problems.

We can identify as part of selection and assessment certain life experiences that create desirable preconscious filters. An experienced hunter, who grew up hunting and processing game, has a different set of perceptual filters than another human, who has never killed and opened up a living thing to prepare it for eating.

A man or woman who spent a significant portion of their childhood years exposed to danger, hunger and hardship in a city like Sarajevo will have a completely different set of preconscious filters than a product of a comfortable wealthy life in a gated suburb of Minneapolis.

One way to shape desirable attributes and preconscious filters is to create learning experiences to shape new cognitive pathways. The SEAL BUD/S training program Hell Week does an excellent job of that. It’s the SUCCESSFUL completion of that week that creates a different preconscious filter for what is possible under extreme stress.

A desirable building block for a mental foundation, yes?

So one element in effective training design for superior performance under stress is to create life experiences that reshape perceptual processing at the preconscious level.