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Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind Hardcover – January 23, 2011
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Mod makes a comeback in an entertaining explanation of brain functioning that cuts the two-hemispheres theory down to size and minces the mind into modules. Coming from a background in evolutionary psychology, Kurzban suggests that the human mind is not the unified operator of actions contributing to survival and success, as many claim and even more assume, but rather a multi-faceted system of functioning parts that are not always on the same side-or even aware of the same information. The modules perform different, often separate, functions, which can account for confusing, inconsistent, and apparently contradictory behavior and speech. Bolstered by recent studies and research, Kurzban makes a convincing and coherent, though hardly comprehensive, case for the modular mind, greatly helped by humorous footnotes and examples. Despite the first-time author's near absolution of hypocrites, promotion of ignorance, comparisons of humans to machines, and criticism of moral stances on abortion and drugs, his most controversial statements lie in the realm of the self; indeed, conventional understanding of a "self" ceases to even be plausible with the modular mind theory. Taking on lofty topics, including truth and belief, Kurzban makes a successful case for changing-and remapping-the modern mind.
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"Bolstered by recent studies and research, Kurzban makes a convincing and coherent . . . case for the modular mind, greatly helped by humorous footnotes and examples. . . . Taking on lofty topics, including truth and belief, Kurzban makes a successful case for changing--and remapping--the modern mind."--Publishers Weekly
"Using humour and anecdotes, [Kurzban] reveals how conflict between the modules of the mind leads to contradictory beliefs, vacillating behaviours, broken moral boundaries and inflated egos. He argues that we should think of ourselves not as 'I' but as 'we'--a collection of interacting systems that are in constant conflict."--Nature
"Robert Kurzban believes that we are all hypocrites. But not to worry, he explains, hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind. In his book Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, Kurzban asserts that the human mind consists of many specialized units, which do not always work together seamlessly. When this harmony breaks down, people often develop contradictory beliefs."--Victoria Stern, Scientific American Mind
"Kurzban is a luminary in the growing discipline of evolutionary psychology. . . . [P]rovocative. . . . Kurzban devotes much space to explicating and demonstrating ways in which his theory plays out in our everyday lives."--Library Journal
"With wit, wisdom, and occasional hilarity, Robert Kurzban offers explanations for why we do the things we do, such as morally condemning the sale of human organs and locking the refrigerator at night to keep from snacking. . . . Kurzban touches on some complex topics in a manner that's both smart and accessible. He incorporates a plethora of psychological studies to support his theories but the narrative is never dry. . . . By challenging common assumptions about habits, morality, and preferences, Kurzban keeps readers both entertained and enlightened."--Foreword Reviews
"[Kurzban] argues that . . . internal conflicts are not limited to extreme cases; they occur in everyone's brains, leading to illogical beliefs and contradictory behaviors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Kurzban. In fact, being selectively irrational may give us an evolutionary advantage."--Kacie Glenn, Chronicle of Higher Education
"Robert Kurzban has used his view of evolutionary psychology to pursue the concept of 'self' at the heart of both the discipline of psychology and the everyday understanding of human behavior--which surely is of interest to everyone. . . . The book itself is fresh. Kurzban's style is to take traditional questions and apparently reasonable positions and then demonstrate that reasonableness is actually only so under a set of assumptions--and that if they do not conform to the modularity hypothesis then we ought to rethink."--Tom Dickins, Times Higher Education
"Highly recommended."--Jessica Palmer, Bioephemera blog
"I'm sure that Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite will provoke a lot of controversy, and I'm certain that Kurzban's theses will require further refinement. But what a fascinating read!"--Brenda Jubin, Reading the Markets blog
"[T]here is much that is valuable in Kurzban's book."--Peter Carruthers, Trends in Cognitive Sciences
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Why Everyone (else) is a Hypocrite challenges assumptions about "self" and "consciousness." The modular view of the brain is introduced, with interesting analogies to computer science, and then using the modular view reviews commonly held assumptions about how the brain functions. Rather than one person simultaneously holding two contradictory believes, dualism is explain by the module view as two different modules reaching contradictory conclusions.
The modular view of the brain is simple to get, just extend the concept of brain hemispheres. It is unknown how many modules there are or which modules are connected. Modules are like apps on a phone; they contain local information and only pass certain information to other modules (some don't communicate).
Only certain modules communicate with the "consciousness" module. Rather than think of your consciousness as the part that controls you, consider your consciousness the spokesman.
So much of human life is determined by social beliefs rather than absolute fact that the human mind evolved to be "strategically wrong." The spokesperson is feed information that spins the story in the best possible light for winning mates and friends.
Sometimes it is better not to know, cases where modules not sharing information is a strategic advantage. Often it is advantageous for the consciousness (the spokesman) to be positively biased while internal modules rely on more accurate information.
There is a social price to pay for knowingly and outwardly being self-interested. But if you don't know how your behavior impacts others, you can't be accused of being self-interested.
Sometimes operating on biases information is an advantage. We tend to attribute success to our abilities and failure to chance. This self bias is detrimental in objective situations, but in subjective situations (we evolved in a subjective world) being convinced of your own abilities is beneficial. Your overconfidence can influence how others calculate the odds of your future success and longevity (the key to being a good friend or mate).
We don't have set preferences, decisions are calculated on the fly. Patient modules and impatient models. Based on context (historical - think pavolog's dog, environmental, and internal). Willpower is really just an effortmeter, it tries to determine if it is worth the effort to continue. Reset effortmeter by reward - food, praise.
Kurzban addresses morality last - here are the most unanswered questions and controversy. First Kurzban illustrates who contradictory our morals around sex and drugs are. We can't really explain why our morals, our explanations are just rationalization. What we really want to do is control other people. Different modules explain why we condemn behaviors in others, but do them ourselves (there is nothing in our brains that forces us to adopt one universal moral code). The universal disdain for hypocrisy is a evolutionary code of law - its purpose is to make others follow the rules they set for others.
For example: Kurzban likens the brain to an iPhone and the mind to the apps that are loaded on it. You can listen to music while you browse the internet. But you can't play a game and take notes at the same time. Knowing that, it's easy for me to visualize all of my behavior as some routine being run by a part of my mind. If I feel conflicted about something maybe it's because two "apps" are trying to run at the same time. Spending money on $0.69 songs feels good in the moment but not later when I'm reviewing my checking account balance.
If this sounds interesting to you then you should read the book. Robert Kurzban is much better at explaining the reasonings behind it.
The author shows us how it works our cognitive machinery in a modular perspective angle of the EP and thus helps to finish with some myths and classical visions of the brain and of individual decision-making processes. Worth a read and I strongly recommend.