Use your 40 bits wisely

As should be obvious, I’m currently reading yet another book on the mind and its relation to pain/healing. This one is called “Healing and the Mind” by Bill Moyers. (It’s based on a PBS series he did of the same name.)

Mindfulness comes up a lot in this book. Mindfulness is essentially a meditative practice of paying attention to the moment – of really tasting tastes, hearing sounds, seeing colors etc. And practiced mindfulness seems to have a pretty good track record of calming the mind and mitigating pain.

So what’s going on here? How can simply paying attention decrease something as nagging and annoying as pain. In thinking about this, I’m reminded of a theory I’ve mentioned before: the 40 bit limit. What’s that? This site has a good review.

…researchers now believe that each second, the human body gathers and processes well over a million bits of information.  (A bit is a basic unit of binary, yes/no, storable information.) Yet studies have demonstrated that human consciousness can process only between 10 and 40 bits per second.  This means that an enormous amount of sorting, analysis, and prioritization has occurred subconsciously before some minute portion of sensory data becomes available to our momentary consciousness. 

In essence, you have a limited amount of bits that you can focus on things. My thinking is that when practicing mindfulness you are allocating your bits towards core sensations and away from interior chatter and pain. (On a related note: When I was really struggling with arm pain I would often notice that it would go away during meals. It probably wasn’t really going away but rather I was focusing my attention on the delicious tastes generated by my vast culinary skills.)

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