I enjoy reading PsyBlog (here). The information is straightforward, backed up with scientific evidence and well explained. I recommend it. That said, I am having problems with one of the recent postings, ‘How to Live With an Unknowable Mind’, not with the main message but with the intro.
We can accomplish things by pulling on strings but never by pushing on them. Some things only act in one direction. We have to get over the old Freudian idea that there are two minds and they both can act, often in opposition. There is one mind, it is us, and its processes are unconscious, so we are aware of only a small set of cognitive results – those that are made conscious. The mind can make unconscious ideas conscious but there is no conscious mind forcing conscious ideas into the unconscious. We can’t push the string. I believe it is not helpful to encourage people to distrust their own minds as in the first paragraph of the PsyBlog posting:
How do you imagine your own mind?
I sometimes picture mine as a difficult and contrary child; the kind that throws a stone at you for no reason and can’t explain itself. Or while at the beach it sits silent, looking miserable. But, at a wedding is determined to scream at the top of its lungs through all the quiet bits.
One reason minds can be frustrating is that we only have access to part of them, by definition the conscious part. The rest, the unconscious, lies there mysteriously, doing things we don’t understand and often don’t seem to have requested.
Who is this ‘we’ doing the requesting? It is the mind (real working unconscious-type mind) talking to itself through the medium of conscious awareness. When will we get comfortable with consciousness and forget about a conscious mind? Minds think; consciousness displays. I am not saying that consciousness is without function (far from it) or that the brain can work well without it – just that we don’t do cognition consciously.
What the blogger says is lack of self-knowledge. We do not have accurate notions of our personalities, attitudes, self-esteem. I have to say that I have never been particularly curious about these entities. There are times when I am introverted and times when I am extroverted but I should not be labeled as either. Other personality traits are the same. The important thing to me is whether I act appropriately to the situation, whether I can notice when I am inappropriate and whether I learn from it. I know my justifications for my actions are guesses and the important thing to me is to try and make good guesses if I have to and not to bother if I don’t have to. My self-esteem varies from high to low depending on what I am trying to do. Again the important thing is how appropriate it is to the situation. I do not wish to over-estimate or under-estimate my skills. Self-knowledge is important to me but not these kinds of self-knowledge.
Now just went I am really disappointed in the posting, it is turned around. So here is the final advice from PsyBlog (and my wholehearted agreement with it):
Taking all this together, here are my rough-draft principles for living with an unknowable mind:
The mind is a tremendous story-teller and will try to make up pleasing stories about your thoughts and behaviour. These aren’t necessarily true. (Right, they are always guesses – no way to know how true or false a guess may be)
Using introspection you can’t always (ever?) know what you really think or who you really are. (Right, introspection is never reliable)
Using introspection to work out what you are or what you think can be damaging, encouraging rumination and depressive thoughts. (Right, playing mind-games with yourself is destructive too)
- This isn’t depressing, it’s liberating: now you know it’s perfectly normal not to understand some/most aspects of yourself, you can relax. (Right !!!)
If you must push for greater self-knowledge, try to become a better observer of your own thoughts and behaviour. Notice what you do and when, then try to infer the why. But don’t push it, always remember points 1-4. (Right, but don’t think of the goal as self-knowledge but as better living – better goals, better behaviour, better learning from mistakes, better problem solving, better forecasting etc.)
And I would add a 6. whatever you do, don’t divide yourself in two (into a conscious mind that is ineffective and a unconscious mind that is unreliable). Be one person with one brain which contains one mind with consciousness just a small by important part of that mind.
Again, the blog is a good one, recommended, so don’t let my disagreement with the intro to this particular posting put you off following the blog.