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Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind

Robert Kurzban
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite
    Book Description:

    We're all hypocrites. Why? Hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind.

    Robert Kurzban shows us that the key to understanding our behavioral inconsistencies lies in understanding the mind's design. The human mind consists of many specialized units designed by the process of evolution by natural selection. While these modules sometimes work together seamlessly, they don't always, resulting in impossibly contradictory beliefs, vacillations between patience and impulsiveness, violations of our supposed moral principles, and overinflated views of ourselves.

    This modular, evolutionary psychological view of the mind undermines deeply held intuitions about ourselves, as well as a range of scientific theories that require a "self" with consistent beliefs and preferences. Modularity suggests that there is no "I." Instead, each of us is a contentious "we"--a collection of discrete but interacting systems whose constant conflicts shape our interactions with one another and our experience of the world.

    In clear language, full of wit and rich in examples, Kurzban explains the roots and implications of our inconsistent minds, and why it is perfectly natural to believe that everyone else is a hypocrite.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3599-7
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Robert Kurzban
  4. prologue
    (pp. 1-3)

    Ignorance can save your life in Philadelphia.

    If, like me, you’ve spent some time in Southern California, then you’re probably accustomed to cars stopping when you’re in a crosswalk. You might even occasionally make eye contact with a driver coming your way.I see you, you see me, so we both know you have to stop.

    This could get you killed in Philadelphia. If a driver sees that you see that he’s coming, then he knows that you know that your best bet is to stay out of the street, since in the game of person versus car, person always...

  5. chapter 1 Consistently Inconsistent
    (pp. 4-22)

    The very constitution of the human mind makes us massively inconsistent. In this book, I try to persuade you that the human mind consists of many, many mental processes—think of them as little programming subroutines, or maybe individual iPhone applications—each operating by its own logic, designed by the inexorable process of natural selection; and, further, that what you think and what you do depends on which process is running the show—your show—at any particular moment. Because which part of the mind is in charge changes over time, and because these different parts are designed to do...

  6. chapter 2 Evolution and the Fragmented Brain
    (pp. 23-44)

    One of my favorite little books is calledVehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychologyby Valentino Braitenberg.¹ The book is even cooler than you might think from the title, consisting of a description of increasingly complex Vehicles in a series of thought experiments. In the first one, the Vehicle—think of something like a shoe-sized Matchbox car—has a sensor on the front attached to motors, which are in turn attached to the wheels. Suppose the sensor detects heat and we’ve hooked it up so that the more heat there is, the faster the motor driving each wheel goes—in reverse....

  7. chapter 3 Who Is “I”?
    (pp. 45-56)

    When I worked at Walt Disney World,* one of the attractions I worked on wasCranium Command. Getting to work on it was a stroke of wildly good fortune: This was perhaps my favorite attraction in any of the parks, and it’s good to work on an attraction you like because you have the opportunity to see it over and over and over and over. And over.

    Cranium Commandis based on the whimsical idea that inside each person’s head is a little person called a Cranium Commando, a specially trained brain pilot who sits at a control center and...

  8. chapter 4 Modular Me
    (pp. 57-75)

    In the television seriesThe West Wing, a key plot arc in the second and third seasons was that the President, played by Martin Sheen, had hidden the fact that he had multiple sclerosis from the electorate. Inevitably, he was found out, generating all sorts of interesting twists that keep shows likeThe West Winghumming along.

    When the White House Counsel spoke to the Press Secretary, C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney), he asked her a series of questions about how she had asked about the President’s health. Had she asked if there was anything else sheneededto...

  9. chapter 5 The Truth Hurts
    (pp. 76-97)

    Prominent philosopher Jerry Fodor, inThe Mind Doesn’t Work That Way, asserts that “there is nothing in the ‛evolutionary,’ or the ‛biological’ or the ‛scientific’ worldview that shows,or even suggests, that the proper function of cognition is other than the fixation of true beliefs.”¹ Philosophers in general and Fodor in particular talk that way, but all he means is thatallyour brain is good for is figuring out what’s true. So, he’s saying that pretty much all of the stuff I’ve been trying to argue for—that your brain has modules for solving adaptive problems—is bunk. Fodor’s...

  10. chapter 6 Psychological Propaganda
    (pp. 98-131)

    Modularity implies that there isn’t one, unified “self” in your head, that there isn’t a “real” “you” in there somewhere. The intuition that there is might be useful for various purposes, but if modularity is right,¹ then this intuition is wrong.

    So what?

    Well, modularity makes certain phenomena that are otherwise very puzzling easy to understand. We’ll look at several examples, but this chapter begins with a perennial favorite in psychology and philosophy, “self-deception,” which, as Shelley Taylor puts it, “has always presented philosophers with a logical paradox: How can a person know and not know information at the same...

  11. chapter 7 Self-Deception
    (pp. 132-150)

    Fred has cancer, a kind that is, unfortunately, terminal. He has been told that he has roughly six months to live, nine at the outside. Not only that, but in order to have a chance of making it even to six months, he needs to undergo some painful procedures once a week.

    Fred says that he thinks a positive attitude is important for cancer patients. When people ask him how he feels, he tells them that he is going to surprise the doctors and pull through, making a full recovery. In fact, he’s so sure that he is going to...

  12. chapter 8 Self-Control
    (pp. 151-185)

    In the first chapter I mentioned that economist Steve Landsburg thought that there were two great Mysteries of the Universe: why there is anything at all (rather than nothing at all),¹ and why people lock their refrigerator doors at night. This chapter solves the second Mystery, using ideas surrounding modularity.*

    To review, first, recall why Landsburg thinks that locking refrigerator doors is such a mystery. His and many others’ view of how people make decisions is basically what I’ve called the Magic 8-Ball model, seeing the mind as distinctly non-modular, and it starts with the deceptively innocent assumption that people...

  13. chapter 9 Morality and Contradictions
    (pp. 186-205)

    If all sexual activity—literally all of it—were banned completely in the United States of America, we might be a lot better off.

    In a stroke, a ban on sex—effectively enforced—would send the rates of the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) plummeting. Not only that, but poetic justice would be done: Only lawbreakers would be getting any new cases. Treatment costs for STIs would take a tumble, as it were.

    Consider that all the time people spend on trying to get someone else to have sex with them—which is, I’m told, a lot of time...

  14. chapter 10 Morality Is for the Birds
    (pp. 206-217)

    It’s easy to explain why people don’t, by and large,commitincest. Because of the genetic costs of inbreeding, people who avoided mating with close relatives left more offspring than those who did not, and the genes associated with incest aversion spread over evolutionary time.

    This is a very good, convincing argument.¹ However, it most certainly, by itself, does not explain why people care thatother peopledon’t commit incest.

    I don’t pretend to know the reasons for the existence of the moral intuitions surrounding incest or the other areas I discussed in the previous chapter. Instead, my interest in...

  15. epilogue
    (pp. 218-220)

    American independence from England began with the self-evident truth that people had certain “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,Libertyand the pursuit of Happiness.” When Americans pledge allegiance to the flag, it is to a republic withlibertyfor all. In our national anthem, we celebrate living in the “land of thefree.” Other nations highlight their commitments to liberty as well; the French, for example, putlibertéfirst in their top-three list.

    I don’t know what else “freedom” and “liberty” might mean if not the idea that I should be able to do as I please as...

  16. notes
    (pp. 221-244)
  17. references
    (pp. 245-266)
  18. index
    (pp. 267-274)