"PIECE out our imperfections with your thoughts." Thus
Shakespeare apologised for the lack of battlefields, armies, and
palaces on the modest stage of the Globe. In fact, as we heard in
Frontiers: The power of the unconscious (Radio 4,
Wednesday of last week), our brains need no prompting to do this.
Our consciousness is constantly making a précis of the world: a
summary of the vast amount of information contained in our
Meanwhile, the unconscious is actually doing stuff that, were we
conscious of it, would be simply impossible. Playing the cello, for
instance. A lady who studies performance psychology told us how
technical exercises and scales move from the conscious to the
unconscious mind as they become more familiar - a journey that is
often interrupted when the player gets bored and gives up.
More alarmingly, there are cases such as that of Hayley, whose
arm started having spasms after a blood donation. The problem was
that her brain was not allowing the unconscious to take back
possession of the arm's functioning, and the conscious was making a
botch of it.
Most of Geoff Watts's documentary came across as sensible stuff.
But, in all sensible science shows, you have to devote at least
five minutes to the mad, sci-fi stuff. In this instance, the
opportunity was afforded to a psychologist who claimed that the
unconscious could be harnessed to enable humans to analyse, at high
speed, thousands of pictures for discrepancies.
This is something that the unconscious does swiftly and
instinctively, seeking out patterns and pattern-breakers.
Inevitably, the MoD are interested; although if they want
speed-readers, I suggest employing an army of teachers, experienced
in processing hundreds of pages at a glance.
It is the unconscious also that enables sportspeople to react at
speed: tennis players to return that 100mph serve, or batsmen to
duck the bouncer. Cricketers from China are not yet at that level,
but Batting for the Middle Kingdom (Radio 4, Wednesday of
last week), there is every possibility that they will be competing
in the cricket world cup in the near future.
A match between China and India might have a third of the
world's population as a potential audience. But there are some
basics to sort out first, such as how to translate the rich and
eccentric terminology of cricket: how, for instance, to express
"silly mid-off" in Mandarin; what is a "googly"; not to mention
that left-arm spin delivery know as "the Chinaman". It represents a
lexicographal treasure-trove; but one that the Chinese are sure to
The anniversaries have been coming thick and fast recently: C.
S. Lewis died 50 years ago; and his good friend J. R. R. Tolkien 40
years ago. In the Radio 4 Afternoon Drama Lewis and Tolkien:
The lost road (Friday), Robin Brooks told the story of their
friendship, and their falling out.
The scene of Lewis's Christian conversion was played out in
Magdalen Chapel, to the background of Tudor polyphony by Shepherd.
With music and singing that beautiful, I could be converted to
anything - Elvish, if need be.