The Society of Mind

Posted by Hakan Erman

Have you ever returned home from a ride and while you were unpacking and securing your bike  , instead of the joy of a day on the saddle, you had that disturbing feeling of guilt for not-so-clear wrong doings? A few cross your mind, more could follow if you thought about the whole day, but should you bother? After all it was a good day, nothing bad happened (although it could). Should have been more cheerful but clearly you are tired, you move on, there are things to do.

I remembered such after-ride thoughts of mine while I was reading a part from neuroscientist David Eagleman’s book, Incognito.

He argues that the human mind operates not as one entity but many small ones, each with different expertise, all working for the “goodness” of the whole. However, each entity has a different picture of goodness and they all put different and often contradictory pressures for the final decision which happens to be our behaviour and attitude. Marvin Minsky, the man who is referred to as the founder of artificial intelligence called it “The Society of Mind”. He compares mind to a society where every member has a different role in and opinion about the whole. If all “members” are well harmonised, the society/mind becomes effective.

When we are offered a big slice of cake, for example, at least two components in our minds start to debate: one, based on million years of experience argues that our survival depends on sugar and oil intake. The other one, formed by all articles recently read, warns against: not so healthy, it make us fat, maybe sick. Most likely the ancient one wins the votes and we reach out for the cake.

Or we take our bike for a ride and our survival instincts are active as always. The central task should be to be back home safely enjoying the experience but a different mind pushes in different direction searching to prove worth, ability, bravery: not riding but racing. A different mind keeps us pushing when we feel tired ignoring the one mind telling us to stop and rest.

Probably staying safe is a strong motivation; however, finding a mate and reproducing is stronger. This one is not about us, it is about the survival of our species. We must compete and win and earn the admirations of the tribe and the rights to mate with the most healthy and fertile partner. So we have to show  and win the competition in the cave we call traffic.

All this while the other sapient mind talk about knowledge, experience, risk control and capabilities. Countless motives compete in our minds for each decision we take.

Our consciousness is there to listen to all of these voices and improve in giving better decisions each time. There is a method for looking inside our minds, for observing and directing our motivations, pleasures, anxieties, rage, feelings while they move and excite us?

Hakan Erman, August 2018

One thought on “The Society of Mind

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  1. I feel the urgency to thank for the message in “The society of mind”. Yes i had same thoughts after many rides with the engine still clicking in the garage, losing the heat and dripping some oil. Mind works strangely in the after ride moments and the considerations in the note are really reflecting some of the ideas circulating in my garage. It could be a guilty feeling of wasting energy and time for nothing?
    It could be that we know inside that there are more valuable ways of using a day in the week? Maybe Seneca is right: “…we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it”

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