Sunday, January 29, 2006

How our brain distorts and deceives

Have we got it right about Iraq, the mother-in-law, 9 11 and our boss?

In The Sunday Times, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-1990271,00.html ,
22 January 2006, Alain de Botton reviewed A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, by Cordelia Fine.

Cordelia Fine, a psychologist from Monash University in Australia, looks at questions of self-deception and self-knowledge.

Her premise is that the brain is unreliable.

It seems to know more than “we” know, and shields us from all kinds of troubling but true information.

“Your brain is vainglorious. It deludes you. It is pig-headed,” she writes.

In his review, De Botton writes:

In a chapter called The Vain Brain, we hear that we frequently overlook professional defeats and concentrate instead on our positive achievements.

Another chapter, The Emotional Brain, points out that our capacity for rational conduct is constantly undermined by our emotions; we are prey to anger, sexual passion and jealousy, even when these drives run counter to our reasonable plans for ourselves.

The Pigheaded Brain focuses on our reluctance to accept new information even when it is patently correct...

The Bigoted Brain deals with our tendency to lump together unpleasant traits of which we are ourselves guilty and to project them on to other racial and social categories, sparing our own egos in the process.

These themes are, of course, ancient ones. An exploration of how and why humans are deluded has been a staple of philosophy and literature from the dawn of time.

The Socratic injunction to “know oneself” was premised on the idea that a cursory glance into the contents of our minds will rarely offer us an accurate picture of reality.

Meanwhile, the charms of a good novel tend to be built on our ability to observe characters running into trouble because they refuse to accept awkward truths about their condition.

Jane Austen’s humour is founded on her portrayal of self-deception and vanity.



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