That’s the tl;dr version of the recent theory. We’ll see how well it holds up.
I didn’t understand your last two paragraphs, which seem to contradict themselves.
You’re saying normals are using their idle process either 1) swamped under an overload of sense impressions or 2) not processing sense impressions at all. I am very confused. Maybe you mean 1) using all their mental powers to process sense impressions, no cycles free to do anything else and 2) uh… sleeping? And people are “focused on their environment” because they’re “aren’t processing most sensory data”? What? I have the impression that the brain silently drops all packets it doesn’t have time to process.
I sometimes yelp when startled, which does feel like very brief physical pain.
Anyway I wasn’t that interested in how people react to mortal salience stimuli. What I want to know is what the system idle process is doing. I find it hard to believe that dumber people don’t have one. They just probably have a sparser one.
The normal person’s executive process is primarily concerned with which stimuli to process, which stimuli to ignore, and which to violently suppress because it’s too overwhelming. When a person is overloaded with stimuli, they might as well be blind for all that they can process additional inputs. Watch this guy react to some surprising news:
You can see that he actually goes temporarily blind from the overstimulation, and his pulse in probably in the 200s. That reaction is just from some words, albeit words he found particularly important at the time. Consider the difference between a few words and trying to process the image of a jumbo jet flying into a nearby building, complete with the BANG and fireball, back before anyone had ever thought such a vision was even possible (nowadays it’s iconic and we can picture it in our minds easily).
Maybe made-up units and numbers will help. Let’s say a normal person has 1000 milli-candles (mc) of awareness to spend on processing the environment. Anything in their visual field that isn’t being processed you can just imagine being blurred out as if it’s unlit. It’s like the background noise in your auditory field. What I’m proposing is that for normal people, most of the visual field is unlit most of the time. Therefore, it is a full-time job just to look around and take in as much sensory detail as possible, comparable to the first few moments of someone like me (high testosterone + high cranial volume -> high gray matter) entering a theme park for the first time. It is reasonable to assume this would dominate their primary idle process.
Imagine a normal person walks into a familiar room with three familiar people and two unfamiliar people, one of whom is holding a gun. Because the room is familiar, they only spend 100 mc taking in the overall scenery, which hasn’t changed from before. People are interesting (robots agree, “To the team’s surprise, the robots quickly learned to pick out human faces so well that they could separate the human from the inhuman in comic books and other formats.”). So even paying attention to familiar people takes 200 mc per person. Unfamiliar people require more processing, say 400 mc, so they decide to ignore this weird guy in the corner entirely for the present (offhand and only semi-consciously) because we’re already approaching the limits of processing power.
Also HOLY SHIT THAT GUY HAS A GUN. Between the immediate implications of this (500 mc) and the sudden surge of emotional response that requires attention (2000 mc, like an unexpected bucket of cold water), and the impossibility of ignoring and suppressing the stimuli, we have a sensory overload situation. This normal person will therefore be unable, afterward, to recall such basic facts as the face of the man with the gun, or how many people were in the room.
Contrarily, a person with a lot of gray matter might have 10,000 mc to spend on situational awareness because the difference in global gray matter production can be huge:
Disparities in how certain brain substances are distributed may be more revealing. Notably, male brains contain about 6.5 times more gray matter — sometimes called ‘thinking matter” — than women. Female brains have more than 9.5 times as much white matter, the stuff that connects various parts of the brain, than male brains.
Absent evidence to the contrary, we should assume both sexes also have their own bell curves, such that some males have so much more gray matter than the low-end females that they might as well be different species entirely, for all that they can use projection (empathy) to understand each other.