Unseen But not Unsolved: Doing Arithmetic Non-Consciously

Asael Y. Sklar & Ran R. Hassin

The modal view in the cognitive sciences holds that consciousness is necessary for abstract, symbolic and rule-following computations. Hence, mathematical thinking in general, and doing arithmetic more specifically, are widely believed to require consciousness. In the current paper we use continuous flash suppression to expose participants to extremely long-duration (up to 2000 milliseconds) subliminal arithmetic equations. The results of three experiments show that the equations were solved without ever reaching consciousness. In other words, they show that arithmetic can be done unconsciously. These findings imply that the modal view of the unconscious needs to be significantly updated, to include symbolic processes that were heretofore considered to be uniquely conscious.

June, 2011
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