I got covid and it changed my theory of consciousness
Two comments (kept brief in honor of you being sick).
First, there's a new-ish school of therapy (though not yet of psychology) that explores the consultant being a whole team of consultants and offers tools on how to talk to them. It's called Internal Family Systems Therapy.
Second, I read your piece at the Atlantic and would like to make another plug for Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Grandmother Principle', which states that we should treat seriously only those studies in social sciences that replicate your grandmother's common sense suggestions on how to live. (I hasten to add that Taleb is old and from Lebanon, so his grandmother likely had levels of common sense wisdom only accessible to our great-great grandmothers.)
This analogy of the CEO/consultant in the brain reminds me of a point Robert Wright made in his book "Why Buddhism is True." He is talking about the modular view of the brain, particularly our conscious mind.
To summarize, Wright basically says "The modules aren’t like employees in a company. There is no CEO. Modules don’t utilize obedience or harmony. However, they do sometimes collaborate, yet they also sometimes compete with one another. Maybe the most accurate comparison for our conscious mind would be not the president/CEO but the Speaker of the House. The Speaker of the House presides over votes and announces the outcome, yet doesn’t control the votes. Although the Speaker of the House does do some behind-the-scenes nudging of influence to the votes. We can’t rule out that the conscious mind gets to do some nudging here and there."
Hope you're coming up for air and sunshine in that basement!
Interesting read, thanks. I like these lines from Martina Navratilova, who runs more with the "home" metaphor than the "corporate leadership" one: "Every game in life is actually played on a 6-inch ground – the space between your two ears. We don't live in bungalows, duplexes, or flats. We live in our mind which is an unlimited area. Life is great when things are sorted and uncluttered there. Keeping the mind messy with hatred growing on the table, regrets piling up in the corner, expectations boiling in the kitchen, secrets stuffed under the carpet, and worries littered everywhere ruin this real home.
The key factor to performing well in life and in every arena is the ability to control the quality and quantity of your “internal dialogue”. Performance is potential minus internal interference. Live in peace, not in pieces."
PS Recover well!
Consultant certainly sounds better than CEO, though I still might prefer some less, you know, corporate, capitalist language for how our brain works. On the other hand, capitalism is all up in our brains in terms of how we think, so why not? Hope you feel better soon.
Buona guarigione! - very fine writing, could be tl;dr of Robin Hanson "The Elephant in the brain". He compares it not to a "consultant" (though it often is) but a press officer, if not spin doctor: it has no access to all our motives so to be more credible when explaining our action as "all fine and well-intentioned". - Kahneman wrote "not the captain, but the guy in the crow's nest, desperate to make himself heard".
You have a beautiful way with words and metaphors. I won't be able to unsee the Covid-as-yoyo-incident one now
Hope you're feeling better.
There are meditation practices that direct attention to this (assumed) CEO. One is from the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition, called the "pointing out instruction". The practice involves directing attention to the presumed CEO, which typically results in its dissolution. The conclusion drawn is that the CEO is an illusion or construct (like any other thought).
I've practiced this method quite a bit, but I'm still uncertain about the conclusion. While I can accept that this specific approach for apprehending the CEO may not be effective, I find it difficult to generalize and assert that ALL methods for finding the CEO MUST fail. And further that this is because there's nothing to find.
Anyways, it's cool to be able to make the CEO disappear at will, it helps me not take myself so seriously. IDK, in some kind of "you are not your thoughts" or "you don't have to believe everything you think" kind of way.
Excellent Atlantic article! For sure, intelligence is knowing that talking to strangers is good, wisdom is knowing to not show up to a party uninvited
Really like this article. Gives me a new way to look at how we function. Thanks!
i found this very interesting, because as someone with severe adhd, my worst ‘adhd brain’ days feel just like what you said: someone murdered my ceo/consultant and i can’t even think at all; all i do is just. sleep, mindlessly scroll on my phone and maybe eat sometimes. using my brain feels so hard and i can’t hold a thought in my head let alone utilize any of the other executive functions (holding information in your head aka working memory, using your internal voice, prioritizing, motivating yourself to work, having a concept of time at all, etc)
for me it feels like absolute hell: like someone shut my brain off and i’m not in control of myself. ive never experienced it positively—as taking a break—it’s only ever been a few horrible flashes of ‘i hate how i am right so badly and i want/need to do other things’ in between the ‘no thoughts head empty’. i become a vegetable with zero willpower. i’m not having fun or feeling rested, i just feel powerless, stuck, and utterly miserable.
anyways, apologies for the rambley comment, i just really wanted to share my experience and i hope you find interesting (and that you recover well)!
I’ve still not caught the plague yet either, but if and when I do, I’m not going to miss my CEO! Love the analogy. And yeah, for all the good they do, consultants still suck.
Very well done.
A friend of mine was for years a partner in a clinic and he loves to hate on CEOs. Apparently they went through quite a few of them just getting worse and worse. So, the suggestion was made in a partners meeting that they would be better off if they just paid the CEO to stay at home and leave the company alone. I think he(I'm guessing 'he' I was drunk all three times that I heard this story.) didn't last long after that. So, the anti-CEO faction managed to convince the partners after that to just pick several of the partners to run the clinic. So one partner ran the office, my buddy ran the medical side and the lab, and a third dude ran whatever else there is. Apparently it went pretty great.
Consultants are usually even worse than CEOs in my experience, so maybe an even better analogy for our conscious minds, which are definitely not the best part of our selves.
I had a boyfriend who referred to a "person" in his head who was always causing him trouble. He had some mild OCD so I suppose that is how he felt - not entirely in control of what was going on in his mind but very regularly perturbed by it. Reading your extended analysis made me chuckle about him and - as per usual - come away with tons of interesting things to ponder about myself, others and the world around me. I hope you get well soon. I for one will be watching Minority Report soon because now you've got me wondering about that, too. So stoked to see your piece in the Atlantic, too. Well done!
Thank you. Lots to chew on here (executive issues happening, plus Covid in January, and currently in bed post-gum surgery this morning). Hope you have a restful recovery. I’m watching Madam Secretary. It, too, also holds up. Ukraine and Russia, anyone?
Ong, I love this and it made me laugh! It is also totally wise! Our mind can be a friend or enemy, so it is good to not let it have too much power in some areas...thanks for a great essay, I hope you feel better soon....I too have avoided the ‘Rona and May yet have to do as you have done....if yes, then minority report is on the movie list!!!