Everyone (else) is a hypocrite

rkWe’re all hypocrites. Why? Hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind.

Robert Kurzban shows us that the key to understanding our behavioral inconsistencies lies in understanding the mind’s design. The human mind consists of many specialized units designed by the process of evolution by natural selection. While these modules sometimes work together seamlessly, they don’t always, resulting in impossibly contradictory beliefs, vacillations between patience and impulsiveness, violations of our supposed moral principles, and overinflated views of ourselves.

This modular, evolutionary psychological view of the mind undermines deeply held intuitions about ourselves, as well as a range of scientific theories that require a “self” with consistent beliefs and preferences. Modularity suggests that there is no “I.” Instead, each of us is a contentious “we”–a collection of discrete but interacting systems whose constant conflicts shape our interactions with one another and our experience of the world.

In clear language, full of wit and rich in examples, Kurzban explains the roots and implications of our inconsistent minds, and why it is perfectly natural to believe that everyone else is a hypocrite.

Watch a video here.

Read a New Yorker piece here.

Letter from South America

Dear Bob,
My brother and his family were visiting Greece these past days. They went to Athens, and then from there they sailed to the islands of Santorini and Mykonos. What a wonderful trip! My 12 year-old niece loves mythology and knows a little bit about philosophers so they really enjoyed seeing all the classical sites and museums (besides enjoying wonderful wine, food and views of course). The first picture my brother sent was the front view of the Parthenon. He pointed out that the one sculpture remaining in the pendant of the actual building is that of Dionysius. As my mother loves wine he joked: “after 2500 years, Dionysius is the only survivor!” However, the Dionysius they found in a museum had only half face, no neck, torso, neither arms nor legs, and only one hand holding a glass. Here he said: “ Well, here only the glass survived!”  (Perhaps he drank in excess – haha).  But not everything was about humor, pictures, restaurants, museums, or being a tourist. He told us that being there gives you a natural motivation to think about thinking… nice. Traveling and thinking about thinking sounds like a good life; feeling that you are really alive. I don’t have the money to travel to Greece but it is my consolation to think that going back to the Greeks and thinking about what they said is as good as travelling there (this is half joke, half serious).
Today is Sunday and on Sundays I rest as most. On Sundays I have time to do laundry, to plan my week, to go for a long bike ride, to think. I sit down or lay down here on the sofa sometimes, staring at the window, the blue sky and the cloud formation, listening to the birds and feeling the breeze. I need to use this time I have to think, to learn something, to make my mind a better mind, to clear it so I have some insight about something. But how do I do that. I read good stuff, I download some podcast and then I think about it, I think about what bothers me, my never ending ruminating, my feelings. However, sometimes I think I don’t make any progress and my mind is still not very clear, not very clever. The Greeks said that before trying to learn something new we need to know ourselves: ‘Know Thyself’. Know my self sounds wise, but if the self is just an artifice, an illusion, what exactly am I to get to know?  If I analyze my thoughts or my actions, then I interpret them, I go on and on with analysis: labeling something good or bad, convenient, undesirable, mistaken, well done, etc. But I do not think the Greeks meant such a methodology could lead to self-knowledge. All right, let me go back: If we accept that self is not an entity to be known, we surely can accept that mind is, just because mind simply exists. OK, I need to understand mind. That requires knowledge in philosophy, psychology, neurology, and more. Wow, that is a lot of studying! But surely the Greek saying was meant for everyone as a practical motto relating to living a good life, not an academic endeavor, so not only experts could achieve the goal. It has to be hard but not so hard; one hopes!
Know thyself: knowledge of my own self, an exploration of my own self to find something true about its nature, its workings.  My mind is something amazing. My work is done thanks to my mind’s prodigious processing capacity. Has it happened to you that sometimes your brain corrects some mistake it has made WAY AFTER the fact and when not even thinking about the fact (which is what I find amazing)?
I remember when I was working for a telecommunications shop in Canada; I was always very worried about doing things correctly.  My job was repairing radio equipment for loggers. When a radio fails and you are in the middle of the forest, it can be trouble, so I was very keen on doing a good job. One afternoon I had repaired a radio and the client had picked it up and left satisfied. That night I woke up at midnight with the thought that I hadn’t installed a small protection component. Next day I called the client who came back to have his equipment re-checked. I had not, in fact, installed that component. My brain told me in my dream what I had forgotten while doing the job. Fantastic! But my brain is also very annoying! The ever present chatting, rumination, story making and the feelings all those thoughts give me drive me crazy. I have explored meditation in order to be more focused and to stop the chatting, and although I have not had success in adopting the practice, I think it definitely works. I am wondering now how meditation could relate to knowing myself. Here, then, is something to explore. I have to try to retake the practice first.  Despite my not understanding how to go about knowing myself, I surely believe it is fundamental.
Well, it is 6 pm, no more time for thinking. It is time for drinking. No more Socrates but Dionysus! Until next time.


Where am I?

In his 2003 book, Being No One, Thomas Metzinger contends there is no such thing as a “self.” Rather, the self is a kind of transparent information-processing system. “You don’t see it,” he writes. “But you see with it.”

Read Thomas Metzinger on the nature of subjective experience here.

How does a self help deal with the knowledge of death?

Animals self-deceive, and they motivate by self-deceiving. They have optimism bias; just like human beings, different cognitive biases emerge. So we have to efficiently self-deceive. The self becomes a platform for cultural forms of symbolic immortality, the different ways human beings tackle the fear of death. The most primitive and simple, down-to-the-ground way is they become religious, a Catholic Christian, for instance, and say, “It is just not true, I believe in something else,” and form a community and socially reinforce self-deception. That gives you comfort; it makes you healthier; it is good at fighting against other groups of disbelievers. But as we see in the long run, it creates horrible military catastrophes, for instance. There are higher levels, like, for instance, trying to write a book that will survive you.

Have you read Julian Jaynes?

“O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet is nothing at all – what is it?
And where did it come from?
And why?”

– excerpt from the introduction to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes


Julian Jaynes, a Princeton University psychologist . . . is famous, or notorious, depending on your point of view, for one book only: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, first published in 1976. Critics at the time were uncertain what to make of it. Some thought that Jaynes was deluded or a crank, although others, notably Daniel Dennett, believed he was saying something important.[Source]

Many years ago I ran across Jaynes’ book while I was teaching literature. I found it a stimulating book with a controversial hypothesis about the recent acquisition of consciousness. Later when I was studying philosophy I learned that his thesis was not accepted by philosophers as anything worthy of much study. But we have learned a great deal in the recent decades. Have you read the book?

Back in 1976 when he was a professor of psychology at Princeton, Julian Jaynes published a very controversial theory about the emergence of the human mind. Indeed, even today his theory of the “bicameral mind” remains a controversy.

Rather than just harkening to behavioral psychology or brain biology, Jaynes presents his theory from the perspective of psycho-cultural history.

Going back to the the earliest writings and studying particularly the many early civilizations of the Near East, Jaynes came to the conclusion that most of the people in these archaic cultures were not subjectively conscious as we understand it today. Instead Jaynes presents a theory of the bicameral mind which holds that ancient peoples could not “think” as we do today and were therefore “unconscious,” a result of the domination of the right hemisphere; only catastrophe forced mankind to “learn” consciousness, a product of human history and culture and one that issues from the brain’s left hemisphere. Three forms of human awareness, the bicameral or god-run man; the modern or problem-solving man; and contemporary forms of throwbacks to bicamerality (e.g., religious frenzy, hypnotism, and schizophrenia) are examined in terms of the physiology of the brain and how it applies to human psychology, culture, and history.


Check these out:

  1. Videos
  2. Essay
  3. Julian Jaynes Society
  4. Consciousness Began when the Gods stopped talking – From Nautilius
  5. Essays on Homer

The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesishere.

Comments welcome!