The Situationist

The human being is a pecu­li­ar creature. While all of its senses, and almost all of its capa­cit­ies, are matched and exceeded by count­less oth­er anim­als, some­thing strange and unim­it­ated lies between the ears of Homo sapi­ens sapi­ens. I speak of noth­ing less than the mind.

Funny, isn’t it, that I’m using my mind to describe the abstract idea of the mind, and your mind is busy recon­struct­ing the mean­ing of my words?

The mind is not good about think­ing about itself. That’s because it doesn’t really know what it is. It makes itself think that it does; that’s why psy­cho­logy under­gradu­ates arrive at uni­ver­sity with the notion that study­ing the mind should be straight­for­ward. After all, they’ve got a mind, and have been using it expertly for many years.

But the mind plays some quite delib­er­ate tricks upon itself. For example, it thinks that cer­tain men­tal objects it holds — memory — rep­res­ents an accur­ate record. It also thinks that it has free will. To believe the oppos­ite would under­mine its agency.

When the mind chooses to do some­thing — for example, walk down a cor­ridor — the mind feels com­pletely in con­trol. Everything is determ­ined by inten­tion. But we’ve dis­covered, using exper­i­ments, that a per­son who has been exposed to the concept of old age will walk down a cor­ridor more slowly than one who has not.

Think about that for second. What oth­er situ­ation­al factors might be influ­en­cing your beha­viour right now? Are you fully in con­trol of a recent decision to drink a Coke, or was a sig­ni­fic­ant com­pon­ent of that beha­viour attrib­ut­able to uncon­scious nervous asso­ci­ations between its sug­ary taste and the beha­viour steps that lead to drink­ing it?

An aware­ness of this stuff is fairly import­ant. It can help to have a work­ing know­ledge of the things that might influ­ence you, and can help avoid situ­ations in which the rather poorer aspects of cog­ni­tion sur­face: racism, snap judge­ments, the inap­pro­pri­ate attri­bu­tion of caus­a­tion, and much more.

I’ve just come across a blog called The Situationist. Here’s a snip­pet from their rationale:

There is a dom­in­ant con­cep­tion of the human anim­al as a ration­al, or at least reas­on­able, pref­er­ence-driv­en chooser, whose beha­vi­or reflects pref­er­ences, mod­er­ated by inform­a­tion pro­cessing and will, but little else… “The situ­ation” refers to caus­ally sig­ni­fic­ant fea­tures around us and with­in us that we do not notice or believe are rel­ev­ant in explain­ing human beha­vi­or.

It looks pretty inter­est­ing. Now, will you click the above link because you want to or because of the product of myri­ad mech­an­isms over which you have no con­trol, such as the his­tory of rein­force­ment in click­ing links on my blog? Don’t answer that. You can’t.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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