|Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind by Robert Kurzban.
Robert Kurzban is a student of the “modular mind” theory of John Tooby & Leda Cosmides.
The modular mind
“The human mind consists of many, many mental processes – think of them as little programming subroutines, or maybe individual iPhone applications – each operating by its own logic, designed by the inexorable process of natural selection”
“the mind consists of many different parts. These parts often “believe” different, mutually inconsistent things. Sometimes this is obvious, as illustrated in case of brain damage and optical illusions. Other cases are less obvious, but no less interesting.”
“the different bits of our brain have functions. Just as some of our mind’s subroutines are for seeing, some for processing language, and some for controlling muscles, […] choosing mates, […] making friends, and – one subject I currently study – some with morally condemning others for doing things.”
With the concept of the modular mind, human irrationality, ignorance and self deception cease to be a confusing riddle.
“This book is about contradictions. […] It’s about how you can, and one at the same time, want the government to leave people alone as long as they’re not hurting anyone and also very much want the government to interfere with people’s lives even when they’re not hurting anyone.”
Evolutionary Psychology Primer & Reading List
The usefulness of being wrong and ignorant
We evolved play many different kinds of strategic games with others, and our brains are built to exploit the fact that being knowledgeable, right, and morally consistent is not always to our advantage. Because humans are such social creatures, while being right is still really important, it’s very far from everything. In fact, being ignorant, wrong, irrational, and hypocritical can make you much better off than being knowledgeable, correct, reasonable, inconsistent. As long as your’e ignorant, wrong, irrational and hypocritical in the right ways.
Against predators or forces of nature, ignorance will not help.
you’re playing a game against other people. Here, the rules are very different. Ignorance and stupidity can help.
But, while crossing the street in Philadelphia, facing rude car drivers, feigning ignorance is bliss.
Cross the street looking a little lost or confused; try to “walk like a tourist.” […] Appear completely – blissfully – unaware.
The goal is to appear conspicuously ignorant. [… The driver’will] slow down.
Who am I?
“You” – that part of your brain that experiences the world and feels like you’re in “control”– is better thought off as a Press Secretary and as the president. This view helps explain certain puzzling things about human psychology. In chapter 5, I discuss why certain modules might not be designed to seek out the truth, and what the advantages are of ignorance. In chapter 6 and seven, I go beyond the value of ignorance and discuss how certain modules function better if they’re not just ignorant, but actually wrong. Chapters 8 and nine show how inconsistencies in the modular mind give rise to interesting phenomena surrounding “self control” and, finally, hypocrisy. […]
Even though it might feel like there’s one “you”, and that “you” are in charge, in fact, just as Whitman said, you contain multitudes. The multitudes are designed to work together, but nonetheless contradict one another with some frequencies.
In this lies the origins of human inconsistency, and the explanation for why everyone in the world except you is a hypocrite.
This book is central to our blog. It deals with stupidity as a strategy, hypocrisy, self-deception.
It endeavours to explain why someone in New York was an implacable persecutor of prostitution, but was client #1 of a luxury prostitution ring. And why a famous politician is against sex education and against pre-marital sex, but got her unwed daughter followed human instincts, had sex, got pregnant and got a grand child out of wedlock.
It can probably shed some light on the nature of witch hunts, on the adaptiveness of joining in on the witch hunt. On the dangers of opposing the dogma of the time and seeing what nobody else wants to see.
We will post more about Kurzban’s book.
14 thoughts on “Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite (Robert Kurzban)”
Feelings are the basis of human motivation. Humans try to formalize their feelings using logic to build models explaining what is right and wrong. But due to contradictory nature of feelings (due to contradictory modular human brain according to the book) their logic is also doomed to be contradictory. Technical/economical/social shifts (i.e. changes in combination of factors) lead to changes in prevailing emotions of some human groups which leads to other motivation of those groups and other models (ideologies) with which they try to explain (in fact egoistically, following their own emotional needs) why previously considered good is now bad and vice versa. So when those groups enlarge and gain power then shifts in ideologies happen. That is why ideologies are also doomed to be contradictory and changeable. That is why for example it is ok to think that women should not have electoral rights and a century later it is unacceptable to think so. In fact the basis of all is contradictory human nature. That is why i do not believe at any ideology at all.
Your article didn’t really explain what’s so significant about Robert Kurzban’s analysis.
Most people reading your review would just think ‘so what’? People are hypocrites and can be self-deceitful, and we don’t need an evolutionary psychologist to tell us why this can be advantageous (to the hypocrite).
Perhaps it’s my philosophical background, but perhaps you could have attempted a more conceptual analysis of Kurzban’s thesis and really done his important ideas some justice?
Perhaps you’re trying to explain that Kurzban thinks that the ‘I’ is a convenient fiction, and that really the brain, and therefore the self, are really collections of almost competing units, each subject to their own selection pressures and ‘goals’?
I never understood philosophy. Most of it is intellectual speculating out of thin air.
Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, is a science. In prior articles I pointed out how animal behavior is often mathematically predictable.
So evolutionary psychology comes up with scientific hypotheses. Often these are called “just-so” stories, but even these attempt to give a good explanation based on evolutionary science. Very often these hypotheses can be tested scientifically, to be confirmed experimentally.
Robert Kurzban is a student of John Tooby and Leda Cosmides whose life work is showing how the human brain is composed of specialized modules and not of a general purpose computer.
So yes, he explains how some of these modules can have differing and competing attitudes.
He explains one riddle that left psychologists and philosophers dumbfounded:
How can self-deception exist. How can one person deceive himself. How can a person honestly believe something when at the same time the same person knows that the opposite is true.
This seems to defy pure logic. But, if one invokes the “press secretary” module, that module’s purpose is to give a good impression, and not to be honest, truthful, or logical.