The Mind is Flat
On Friday evening, I went to a talk by Nick Chater about his new book, The Mind is Flat. A brief summary is tricky, to say the least, but in essence he argues that we have no subconscious, beliefs, desires, fears and no personality. For each circumstance in which we find ourselves, the brain essentially makes things up in milliseconds and will continue to make things up if our response is challenged. The 'mind' does not dive into complex memories and thoughts of the past but can only deal with one thing at a time. For a more professional and complete account, you could go to:
Why the mattresses? In the car on the return journey, I was thinking (perhaps?) of my own view (unsupported by scientific study) of the self, of the mind, of the storage-and-retrieval mechanism I had simply taken for granted. My 'mind' provided the metaphor of a pile of mattresses, one for each year of life and each one, in some mysterious way, containing the impact which our experiences have had upon us.
I imagined the arrival of a new experience. It would get a lot of 'bounce' out of the top mattress but (particularly with my 69-mattress-high archive) only a minimal response from the one at the bottom. Minimal - but not a lack of response. More Freudian but … this talk seemed to repudiate Freud.
Nick Chater did mention metaphorical frames and suggested that we have traditions of thought into which we tend to put our spur-of-the-moment responses. It was an idea he repeated when I asked him if it was possible for anyone to have integrity. That part of his theory made me feel more comfortable but (i) is it a contradiction of the central thesis and (ii) is it a way of letting myself off the hook? I don't know but I thank Nick Chater for making me think.
I also thank him for saying, again in opposition to Freud, that we can't resolve issues by returning to the past; we can only overlay our difficulties by creating new ways forward. As an emotional ruminant, I tried very hard to think I might put that into practice.
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