The Centre for the Mind invests in ground-breaking research which shatters mindsets. The ultimate goal of our research is to understand what it means to be uniquely human and what it takes to be a champion. We are forging new boundaries with our research into the development of technological ways to read the mind and artificial ways to enhance human creativity.

We are fascinated by human creativity and by the critical role of the nonconscious mind in initiating our most profound creative advances. We are presently embarking on a series of exciting experiments to gain access to the nonconscious mind and to enhance human creativity. Visit the MindLab to find out more.

Are savant skills innate?

In 1999, the Proceedings of the Royal Society published the ground-breaking hypothesis developed by Prof Snyder and Prof Mitchell that integer arithmetic is fundamental to mental processing. This hypothesis was also discussed at the Brain, Conscious Experience and Human Nature workshop in San Diego of that year.

Unlike the ability to acquire our native language, we struggle to learn multiplication and division. It may then come as a surprise that the mental machinery for performing lightning fast integer arithmetic calculations could be within us all even though it can not be readily accessed, nor do we have any idea of its primary function. We are led to this hypothesis by analysing the extraordinary skills of autistic savants - individuals who we believe have privileged access to lower, usually nonconscious, levels of information not normally available through introspection.


Read Snyder & Mitchell's
inspirational paper

Nonconscious problem solving


We are largely unaware of the ways in which our brains process information. For example, we are not conscious that shape is computed from object shading or that perspective is derived (among various ways) by the gradient of texture (Hemholtz 1867, Snyder and Barlow 1988). Indeed, this specific example explains why it is so difficult to draw naturally occurring scenes, as has been elaborated elsewhere (Snyder and Barlow 1988, Snyder and Thomas 1997). Analogously, the foundations of our most fundamental beliefs are not normally available for introspection. We are highly concept driven (Bartlett 1932, Snyder 1998).

Essentially, a world of unconscious information is sifted through, by mechanisms of which we are unaware, to arrive at our final judgements. For example, we have all experienced that the solution to a complex problem becomes apparent at a completely unexpected moment. The elusive key concept does not always appear when the problem is being actively pursued. Rather, it bizarrely appears unexpectedly when we are engaged in some completely unrelated task or thought process.

Possibly the most extraordinary accounts come from mathematicians who report the crucial role of an incubation period. Problems that they had worked on for months were resolved in a flash after a long absence from thinking about the problem (Hadamard 1945, Hudson 1987, Sacks 1998). For example, after an interruption of a full decade, the acclaimed German poet Rainer Maria Relke literally "saw" his completed sonnets and wrote them down in just 18 days letter perfect (Hudson, L). Clearly nonconscious problem solving is crucial to the creative process.

What if we could somehow access the nonconscious mind without the expense of losing our mindsets?

In our present research projects we are exploring and attempting to characterise this phenomenon quantitatively by carefully controlled experiments in several domains. We have adopted a multidisciplinary approach which integrates psychophysics, brain scanning and behavioural techniques on both normal as well as brain damaged individuals. Visit The Lab to find out more.