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.
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.
“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?
– 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:
- Julian Jaynes Society
- Consciousness Began when the Gods stopped talking – From Nautilius
- Essays on Homer
The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis – here.