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The Mind

Although this category and the category Memes are closely related, I want to try and make a distinction between the two. It's basically the same distinction as between computer hardware and software—the memes, like software, start out as passive information, then the mind, like hardware, manipulates the memes and does things as a result. So, what I'll be concerned with here is the different kinds of things the mind does … the different kinds of operations it has, if you will. There must be some branch of psychology that studies exactly this, but I don't know the correct name for it.

You can also look at it in terms of the analogy between memes and genes. In that context, the analogue of the mind, or hardware, is the proteins and whatnot that manipulate the genes (DNA), and the things I'd want to write essays about would be replication, transcription, recombination, suppression, and so on. (I admit I had to look some of these up in a molecular biology textbook.)

* * *

I had a couple more thoughts that might help explain what this category is about.

First, consider the nature versus nurture question—how people debate (or used to debate) which one is more important in determining behavior. To me, that debate always seemed misguided, and now I think I can explain why. The distinction between nature and nurture is exactly the same as the distinction between hardware and software. The two are completely different things, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and both are necessary. Instead of wondering which is more important, we should just study both.

In those terms, this category is supposed to be about the natural behavior of the mind. I may not be a perfect judge of what's natural and what's cultural, but that's the distinction I'm trying to make.

Second, my goal is not to produce a grand unified theory of the mind, but simply to describe some interesting things I've seen my own mind actually do. (Observing what your own mind does is known as introspection; see also introversion.) Some of these things, I hope, will be not only interesting but practical—see the essay Don't Fight Your Mind for more thoughts in this direction. The main point to note, though, is that these are things I've seen my own mind do. I imagine other people's minds are much the same, but I don't want to promote the fallacy that all minds are identical. Once you get an idea like that in your head, it's hard to remove—consider the analogous fallacy in medicine, that all bodies (or metabolisms, or whatever) are identical.

While I'm thinking about it, let me note that I don't think a grand unified theory of the mind is a worthwhile goal. Returning to the computer analogy of which I'm so fond, imagine trying to make a grand unified theory of computer hardware. Computers have CPUs, buses, memory, peripherals, and so forth, but there's no profound meaning to the whole—it's just a bunch of different parts hooked together so that they work. The best one can do is make a list of the parts and study how the different parts function and interact. The reductionist approach of looking at transistors (or neurons) does lead to a satisfying uniformity, and is worthwhile, but it only explains the parts, not the whole.

* * *

Speaking of the mind, if you've seen the Monty Python sketch It's The Mind (hint: “I have this strange feeling of … déjà vu.”), please imagine the opening sequence playing right now.


  See Also

  Back to Neurons
  Big Picture, The
  Body, The
  Cricket, The
  Don't Fight Your Mind
  Excerpt from Walden Two
  Favorite Things
  Footnote (Antiviral Memes)
  Footnote on Artificial Intelligence
  Grand Analogy, The
  Long-Distance Driving
  Not Liking Uncertainty
  On Walking
  Personality Types
  Physical Awareness
  Relative Speed

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