The Mind as an Italian Family Reunion


Today, I read an argument that made that often too simple assumption that our minds are machines, things that can be programmed. The argument aimed at dismissing scientific knowledge by claiming that it is a belief programmed in our brains. It was then anchored to its final conclusion that the theory of evolution is false. It was a whole can of rotten worms disguised as philosophical argument, undoubtedly argued by the non-philosopher of course.

So let’s get to the Chinese Bamboo Root of this can… It’s all but too easy to compare the mind to some kind of computer, and frankly it happens too often. The mind-as-machine analogy is an outdated enlightenment idea, an idea that was inspired by the desire to describe the world in a logical and ordered way. A desire that I would say the world as a whole still has. Enlightenment thinkers often compared the mind to a clock. Today, it’s a super computer whose hard drive can be programmed with anything and everything.

The primary problem with this analogy is that the world is not orderly, logical, systematic, but rather messy and ugly. The universe is not akin to a stop watch, and neither is the human brain. I often hear neuroscientist say that the brain is one of the most complicated systems in the universe. I despise this idea. Again, it’s all but too easy to say that something is a system, but then also say that it’s the most complicated thing in the universe. So complicated, that we barely understand how it “functions”, and therefore we can say whatever we want about it.

The idea of the brain functioning, again is another offspring of the mind as machine line of thinking. Function implies that there is a cause and effect– a consistent pattern. The effect being the function of the cause.

The world is messy. Our internal lives are messy. The way I understand the brain is similar to the idea of talking heads in the brain, only there are 25 heads all talking at once over each other. It’s like an Italian family reunion, with unlimited quantities of wine. You have heads that are smashed, and other’s that are completely sober, only you can’t tell whose talking, because they’re all you, and not you at the same time.

Now each one of these heads are impressionable in various way. Head Uncle Tony believes anything anyone says about aliens and UFO’s. Head Cousin Nico thinks he’s god’s gift to womankind and won’t believe anything you say about him being an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. Head Aunt Alberta should have been a nun, and is a Jesus freak. etc. etc. etc….

There is some truth to the idea that we are a product of what we consume mentally. But in the end, no two people think the same about anything. But “hey!” you might say, “all neo-conservative Christian Republicans think the same things about evolution being false”… In response imagine this: If we took two of these so-called identical thinkers and were able to be guest at both of their Italian head family reunions, and we listened to each of the heads speak from both families, do you think we would meet the same heads? I think not. We might meet the same kinds of heads, but all the talk and words, and how the different heads got to where they were would all be different.

So true, on the outside the identical thinkers may appear and say the same things, but on the inside the chaos would all be different. The mind as machine/super computer/too complicated to understand system/clock is a vast oversimplification of chaos; a convenient way to dismiss the harsh reality we live in.

People believe what they want to believe because at some fundamental level it makes them feel better.

Christians don’t believe in the theory of evolution because it puts into question some of their core beliefs about the world and their place in it.

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