Mind Pops // Random Thoughts?

Rua (Paul Gleeson) is the star of TG4’s ten part magic, mind reading and escapology TV series ‘Draíocht’. He co-curated Science Gallery Dublin’s ILLUSION exhibition in 2013, and also had a sellout 4 star show in the Dublin Fringe Festival. A student of magic history and the psychology of illusions, he is regularly hired to perform and speak for companies and Universities across Ireland. He has been featured on RTE’s The Saturday Night Show, TV3’s Morning Ireland, the BBC and every major radio station in Ireland. Rua has a BA and Masters degree in Communication studies from DCU, and currently makes a living performing Close-up magic at Weddings, Corporate Events and Private parties across Ireland.


It’s happened to all of us…you’re going about your own business, when suddenly a memory or a thought pops into your head, maybe it’s a piece of music, maybe it’s word, or maybe it’s a person that you haven’t thought about in a long long time. For a split second in time you’re instantly transported back to a moment that you thought was long-forgotten. Just as quickly as the memory arrived, it dissipates from your mind again, lost in the abyss of your subconscious thoughts!


Mind Pops


In 1995 two Psychologists, Kvavilashvili and Mandler conducted a fascinating study on this matter titled ‘Out Of One’s Mind: A Study Of Involuntary Semantic Memories‘ and have called this mental-phenomenon a ‘Mind Pop‘, and have figured out that it’s almost always activated by nothing your conscious mind is aware of. Studies have been carried out in which these involuntary memories are recorded, and our Psychologists have found that the average person has at least one Mind Pop a day. Most of the general public will pay no heed to thoughts of random words, or random images, because they don’t feel connected to a definite past experience, place or person, as that would be ‘A thought without any autobiographical context’. However, tastes and smells have the power to instantly transport us back in time to exact moments or memories, the smell of cut grass being the most common example. For me, my Gran used to bring over these little Mr. Kipling cakes when myself and my brothers were much younger, and now, years later, all I have to do is smell one to activate the great memories we all had together…of eating cake! For other people it might be the memory of an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend being triggered by a certain perfume / aftershave. The list goes on, and it varies for everybody! However, Mind Pops are more concerned with seemingly random thoughts, than instantly traceable memories.




The study came about when Psychologist Lia Kvavilashvili was thinking about a research paper she had just published. She knew in her mind that there was a word for a very important Statistical Measure that she was sure knew, that would have really helped in the study, but she couldn’t remember it. So, frustrated, she got up for a cup of tea. All of a sudden, without invitation, the world ‘Hurdle‘ popped into her mind for no apparent reason. Kvavilashvili grew up in Georgia (Eastern Europe) speaking Georgian, Russian and Estonian, and had only begun learning English at the age of 13. She had literally no idea what the word ‘Hurdle’ meant. So she looked it up in the dictionary:


Hurdle (Noun) 1. A portable barrier over which athletes jump in a race. 2. A difficult problem to be overcome; obstacle


Although she had no conscious recollection of it, Kvavilashvili realised that she must have looked up the meaning of the word ‘Hurdle’ before at some stage. Somehow, she decided, her subconscious knew that the word was relevant to her difficulty remembering the name of the useful statistical measure. She had just experienced her first ‘Mind-Pop’, which inspired her to begin researching this strange occurrence. Since then she has discovered that Mind Pops aren’t completely random – they’re actually linked to our experience and knowledge of the world, albeit with hidden threads.


Most of the mind-pops surprised Kvavilashvili with their irrelevance to her current actions and thoughts. In each case, she carefully searched her mind and her surroundings for a cue—something that might have triggered the mind-pop. She could only identify cues 20 to 30 percent of the time, many of which were subliminal. Sometimes these Mind Pops can be associative; for example, somebody talking about Christmas might cause you to start singing ‘Jingle Bells’ later in the day. Sound-a-likes and look-a-likes work in the same way. One time, for example, the phrase “Millennium dome” fluttered across Kvavilashvili’s mind like a banner lost to the wind just after she had been looking in the direction of a shelf on which sat a pack of ‘sesame wheat wafers’. When Kvavilashvili examined the package she discovered the words “Miller’s Damsel” printed in a semi-circle, which closely resembles ‘Millennium dome‘! The most fascinating aspect of Mind Pops, for me anyway, is the fact that these words, images and ideas can even be sitting in your subconscious for long periods of time, waiting to be activated, by the simplest of things like words that look alike and sound alike!


Mind Pops show us that we’re recording a lot more information than we know. Luckily for us, our minds do a pretty good job of quelling random thoughts and images, as they can distract from our focus. So the next time you experience a Mind Pop, bear in mind that it’s most likely been triggered by something you’ve seen, heard or thought about recently, even if you can’t remember what! Remember this information about Mind Pops next time you have a Mind Pop, and don’t forget to remember that your Mind Pop is in fact, called…a Mind Pop.


Image: Wikipedia Commons