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Neuroscience: You are not who you think and you don’t think the way you think. Or something.

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In “Who You Are” (New York Times, October 20, 2011), David Brooks apprises us that we are “players in a game we don’t understand. Of course, it is easy to “demonstrate” that in a lab. Absent the natural context in which people make decisions, the decisions can easily be made to seem that way.

When you discover that a person got to 90 years old making decisions the way they do, you must ask some hard questions of all this neuro-blather.

Anyway, he writes,

We are players in a game we don’t understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness. Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can’t see. Our biases frequently cause us to want the wrong things. Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially about our own mental states. Our free will is bounded. We have much less control over ourselves than we thought.

Not to worry, there are self-help fixes:

They also figured out ways to navigate around our shortcomings. Kahneman champions the idea of “adversarial collaboration” — when studying something, work with people you disagree with. Tversky had a wise maxim: “Let us take what the terrain gives.” Don’t overreach. Understand what your circumstances are offering.

Both of which are useless pieces of advice. Most people can’t avoid working with people who disagree with them, amd everybody must accept their circumstances as a given.

The trouble with all this neuroscience rattle about how we all don’t really think rationally is that it will in time be shaped into an argument against representative government.

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


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