Clipping #14 — Knowing Your Own Mind

Alex Rosenberg challenges the assumption that we can know our own minds.* “Introspection, ‘the mind’s eye,’ assures us with the greatest confidence that it is the best, in some cases the only authority on how the mind works, because we all think it has direct, first person access to itself. We’re all very confident that we just know what’s going on in our own minds, from the inside, so to speak.” Research undermines this confidence.

“In fact,” Rosenberg reports, “controlled experiments in cognitive science, neuroimaging and social psychology have repeatedly shown how wrong we can be about our real motivations, the justification of firmly held beliefs and the accuracy of our sensory equipment,” Evidence from empirical science shows that introspection and consciousness are not reliable bases for self-knowledge.

Trying to read the mind of others helps to deal with the reality around us. But, our experience with this is often wrong. Reading our own minds is like the mirror image of reading the minds of others. And, what we read is often wrong.

Reading our own minds can be tricky. It can get us trouble. What is the upshot of this? Keeping an open mind makes us receptive to more data to inform our readings. Recognizing that better knowledge comes from persistent exploration is a self-correcting attitude. Suspending assumptions to allow a deeper plunge into what is important, can contribute to optimizing our potential.

*Footnotes: Alex Rosenberg, “Why You Don’t Know Your Own Mind,” New York Times, The Stone, July 18, 2016

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