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Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Final Thoughts

03/08/2013

I think this book definitely deserves its place on the rationality reading list. Not only does it provide a broad overview of human rational folly, it serves as a potential explanation for all of it, which seems to be more than most of the other books even strive to accomplish. Most of them appear mostly descriptive. Keith Stanovich’s book did use the idea of the cognitive miser to explain irrationality at different levels, but its not really thorough, and Kurzban’s objections to the glucose hypothesis seem to be pretty convincing.

And that brings me to the open questions that this book brought up. I’m still wondering how the modular theory of mind fits into mainstream psychology. Kurzban pointed out that it is “controversial” which tells me that it is not a consensus view. This brings me to evolutionary psychology as a whole, which people like PZ Myers have no love for. But how does it stand up to other professionals’ scrutiny? Kurzban certainly seems to be aware of objections, like that it is unjustifiable and such or provides no testable hypotheses. This doesn’t appear to be totally accurate, since there are definite examples of both things, but that doesn’t mean that the field is healthy overall.

Another question is how the modular mind fits into other theories like Stanovich’s three-part mind ideas, or the System 1 and System 2 of Kahneman’s book. What would these author’s say? A thought occurred to me that modularity might be a unifying theory of psychology. I don’t know if it could be, and I’m not even sure what it means to be a unifying theory, but if Kurzban’s evolutionary model is correct, then than may serve to explain human behavior as a whole. We’ve got all these modules (a full theory I suppose would need to accurately catagorize them), and they have varying strengths depending on the person and situation. But perhaps evolutionary models could explain why they vary in certain ways.

So that leads to the next gap in my knowledge that I’d like to somehow follow up on: Kurzban holds to the modular theory of mind, but he doesn’t really explain what modules there are. If we’re split into conflicting desires, what are those desires? He also points out that like split brains, normal brains don’t always send information to other parts. But overall, the whole brain is connected, right? So what’s the physiological basis for lack of communication in areas? Or is Kurzban not speaking literally. I suppose it might be a decent experimental prediction if our brains were separated in physically distinct ways consistent with the irrationalities that humans show.

And lastly, there is the issue of the ramifications of Kurzban’s beliefs being true. He hints at some moral problems (locking up one module, and not others?). Then there’s the dissolution of the “self,” which makes things so much more confusing. I posted as much to Alonzo Fyfe. There’s actually a potential to make answering questions of the self easier to answer, since a modular mind might break up an impossible question into smaller solvable questions (I have no example of this at all. . . ). Maybe when the consciousness project comes up, Kurzban’s ideas will make more sense, or at least lend some useful insight.

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