Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Tue Mar 15 21:59:03 2011
Towards a Theory of Human Nature: Cognitising

This is foundational for how I think about the mental lives of people, so it is likely either so simple as to be uninteresting (in which case I'm just attaching new names to common concepts), or reasonably different from the way others think about human nature. It's written in semi symbolic form, which I hope is clearer/more direct than pure sentences.

Mental lives of humans: we live layered lives. On one extreme: instinct, where our actions are simple and heavily driven by genetics. On the other: the considered self, where our actions are driven by complex, structured thought that relies on broad principles/values that are not situation-specific and may require some effort to apply in a given context. Between we have many layers: intuition, situational thinking, tradition, and others.

As we develop and age, we grow more capable of abstract reason. People never extend the considered self over their entire lives; this would be too great a burden, and for some topics it would create alienation. If we handle a task cognitively and others handle it instinctively, we behave differently. Also, broad categories of tasks become automatic when mastered (particularly tasks requiring physical coordination), taking them out of the realm of abstract reason. However, as beings uniquely capable of philosophy, we are capable of expanding our considered self into new areas. If we imagine a person who always has social interactions with someone that are confrontational (due to social posturing and raw reactions to damages to our feeling of self-worth), we might consider those interactions less cognitive. Were we to then introduce self-reflection onto those interactions and construct a theory that we'd take to the next confrontation that would reshape how this person would act, that would be an expansion of that person's considered self. (Note: in social interactions, high-level thinking comes unavoidably close to the idea of manipulating others)

We distinguish between topics which we have only brought into the realm of conscious thought, and those integrated into a framework that includes all the other topics we've considered; as an example, if we consider ourselves feminist, other considered topics will likely be consistent with that part of our considered self. This consistency should not be assumed within other layers of who we are. It is possible that our considered self is as a whole different from our other layers. Some people who grew up in a racist environment may make a conscious decision not to be racist, and may have thought considerably about race in progressive ways. They may also find that they have gut reactions/intuitions that are not in line with their ideals; a twinge at seeing an interracial couple or greater feelings of fear when alone with someone of another race.

The layers of mental lives I discuss here is not that of the id/ego/superego but it is not inconsistent with it; it is distinct in that it is not a theory of immutable categories/entities (which I believe that the id/ego/superego are). This set of layers is explicitly mutable and is defined by the level of cognition we apply to various topics.

Styles of therapudic psychology can be analysed in terms of this division; many types of therapy operate at a subcognitive level by removing or weakening associations between triggers and unwanted emotional states/responses (Gestalt therapy, for example). Others, particularly cognitive therapies, have the patient build frameworks to understand traumatic events at a high cognitive level, either relying on those frameworks to directly solve problems, or building styles of thought that will cause patients to handle the less-cognitive layers of therapy on their own.

I often think about this.