Monday, 24 March 2014

The Beauty of Two Brains

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

Don’t despair. Yes, we are Homo Sapiens. Very Sapiens indeed. Our brain has evolved and has a brand new neocortex, which is responsible for all those noble things like judgement, morals and apparently free will. Descartes told us: “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am). Sure. The problem is that when we developed the neocortex, we did not get rid of the old layers of brain (paleocortex) which control pretty much everything else, such as emotions and any other primal animal behaviours. 

We really have two brains. That’s not bad! What makes us human is the coexistence of both and the subtle dynamics between them. Homo Sapiens shows off in the eloquence of your speech, the complexity of your thoughts, the elegance of the scientific rationale, the richness of introspection, the beauty of poetic writing and even in the elaborate, perhaps contradictory, mysterious and baffling intricacy of your religious thoughts.

Homo Sapiens takes his children to school, reads the newspapers, goes to work, fills in spreadsheets, uses machines, plays tennis, gives lectures, texts home, creates art and has drinks with friends. But inside this Homo Sapiens there is also a more primal Homo Imitans. The threads of the rich tapestry of behaviours of Homo Sapiens are made of imitation and influence. We copy others or are influenced by others, or they copy us or are influenced by us. And this happens much more than we care to admit. Most of this copying (some good, some bad) is unconscious, but it’s there.

We are intellectually complex, rationally stylish, highly enlightened, unsophisticated copying machines. Most people who buy newspapers buy the ones which have ‘close-to-home’ views of their world. Perhaps, simply put, you can’t stomach that left/right wing, so you buy X which you will continue to buy forever. By doing so, you join the club of people who think like you and make similar choices. You are now de facto linked to a social network of individuals who read the same newspaper and see the same adverts. The belonging to the invisible club is self-reinforcing. 

Exposing yourself to more of the same (view of the world) will make you continue buying that newspaper. It has an influence on you. You think you make a daily rational choice (after all, you don’t have to do this), but the habit and social self-reinforcement are in the driver’s seat. This is a caricature example, but we are composed of hundreds of these daily caricatures.

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