The brain works in mysterious ways

Earlier this week, I was driving down the highway and listening to the radio when the DJ tossed out a morning quiz: Which song were these lyrics from? In a monotone, he read out the words, “It’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time. It’s gonna take patience and time. To do it, to do it, to do it.”

My brain perked up and said, “I know this!” It had seized on the last bits and was happily reproducing that part of the song, but could get no further. The more I focused, the more slippery the thought became. I could actually feel it shifting away from me.

So I did what I always do when this sort of thing happens: I stopped thinking about it. (My mother calls this strategy “putting it on the back burner.”) About an hour later, while washing up the lunch dishes, I found myself humming a song. Of course it was the song in question, and without even realizing it, I had been humming the thing from beginning to end. When it dawned on me just what I was doing, I gave a shout of triumph and raced to tell my wife that I had the answer. Oddly, she didn’t find this to be of any particular import.

The fact that our subconscious minds can solve problems that our conscious minds can’t is endlessly fascinating to me. Obviously the information was there, stored in my brain, but for some reason only one part of my brain could retrieve it. For the other part, it was like trying to squeeze a handful of dry sand.

A similar thing happened later, again while I was driving and listening to the radio. A song came on that I recognized, but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it or anything about it. Nor did the DJ identify it, so I was clueless.

Subconscious mind to the rescue once more! I’d heard the song on a YouTube video almost two years ago — a delightful performance by two hand dancers. Of course I had to look up the video again, which is just as much fun as it ever was. If you haven’t seen former Riverdance performers Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding doing their hand dance, then enjoy it here. The song is “We No Speak Americano,” by the Australian duo Yolanda Be Cool and producer DCUP.

(The answer to the DJ’s radio quiz is “Got My Mind Set On You,” by George Harrison.)

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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5 Responses to The brain works in mysterious ways

  1. xenatuba says:

    The brain does work in some interesting ways like that. I will often wait a bit before writing a complex report; even if I don’t consciously think about it, the report ends up being more complete and an easier read than if I sit right down and write it. My wife said “well, I’d have been looking for a song from about 30 years ago” and I said, “Well, yeah, at least…”

    And when I clicked on the video, my ad suggested I could rent a motorcycle in Spain…

    • oregon expat says:

      The George Harrison version of “Got My Mind Set On You” came out in 1987, 25 years ago. Is that close enough to 30 years ago for you? 😉

      If not, I could point out that the original was recorded in 1962…

  2. Lilaine says:

    Love the hand dance! 😀
    The subconscious brain is an even bigger processing machine than the conscious one. It has a lot more accessible resources (memory + ‘cpu’ time) and can work on the “back burner” a considerable length of time, and about a considerable number of topics at the same time… or so it seems. And it often seems to be triggered by something the conscious mind (or the perception system) initiated one way or another.
    And then, the background task is launched and processed while the main program runs in the opened window using only a tiny part of the whole resources… sorry, computer geek jargon. :p
    I envy the people who are smart enough to get to study and understand how this wonder-machine works.. 🙂

    And I no speak ameriano either… 😉

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