Consistently Inconsistent

  • Sequence comes from book: Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
  • While we may understand intellectually that our brains are composed of interacting subsystems, our intuitions are still grounded in the idea of a unified mind
  • However, there is a wealth of evidence that indicates that the notion of a “self” is a somewhat incoherent concept
    • Split-brain situation: patients whose inter-hempispherical links have been severed show indications that each hemisphere is operating somewhat independently
    • Left-hemisphere justifications of right-hemisphere actions
    • Blindsight - patient that is apparently blind can still navigate a corridor with obstacles
      • There is some part of the patient that is seeing the obstacles, even though they consciously report that they’re blind
  • The fact that brains are organized into subsystems means that different subsystems can have mutually inconsistent information
  • Not all information propagates across the entire brain
  • Not all information propagates at the same speed
  • Modular view of brain can explain why aids to willpower (such as locking the refrigerator) can be effective

Modularity and Buzzy

  • Braitenberg’s vehicles
    • Thought experiment with robot cars to illustrate how interacting simple modules can generate complex behavior
    • Even three or four interacting modules can generate very sophisticated behavior
  • A module, in this context, is an information processing mechanism specialized for some function
  • A collection of specialized modules is more efficient than a single general purpose module
  • Most systems in the body are quite specialized
    • Even “general purpose” systems, like the immune systems are specialized in function (e.g. specialized towards fighting off pathogens)
  • We can expect modules in the brain to be connected to other modules only if there is some advantage in maintaining that connection
  • The lack of direct connections in the brain allows contradictory information to persist
  • The Cartesian Theater is a lie - there is no module or set of modules that acts as a central “director”
  • Modules responsible for what we percieve as consciousness are co-equal with other modules
  • Talking about the conscious “self” is problematic because you’re taking a subset of modules having to do with analytical thought and language and elevating their importance

Strategic Ignorance and Plausible Deniability

  • If minds are modular, it can be strategically beneficial to ensure that the modules dealing with other people have a filtered view of the world
  • Showing knowledge of information can imply an obligation to act on that information
  • It’s only defecting if you’ve been told that you’re in a prisoner’s dilemma

Modularity, Signaling and Belief in Belief

  • Humans are social animals
  • Social domains have a lot of competition
  • Having more friends allows one to be more successful in social situations
  • Therefore, it makes sense that the brain is optimized to make us look as good as possible in social situations
  • Thus, it may make sense for our conscious modules to have information that is less true, but makes us look better in front of others
  • This explains “belief in belief”, where a person says they believe in something that is not true, but always manage to come up with the right justifications to make the belief unfalsifiable