Daniel S. Levine's Explorations in Common Sense and Common
Nonsense observes human decision making, ethics, and
social organization as illuminated by the scientific disciplines of neural
network theory, neuroscience, experimental psychology, and dynamical
systems theory. It is a book whose aim is advocacy as well as
research. Its goal is to use an understanding of our brains and
minds to better operationalize Aldous Huxley's admonition to "try to
be a little kinder." It wanders over examples from sociology,
politics, economics, religion, literature, and many other fields but looks
at all as examples of a few common themes.
The "common nonsense" of the book's title refers to widespread popular
beliefs that are harmful to human welfare and artificially limit human potential. The
"common sense" refers to other popular beliefs that promote positive growth and
are largely supported by the emerging results of psychology and neuroscience. A few of the
book's major conclusions are listed below, first in the form of "bumper sticker
statements" that appear in the preface, then in the form of longer
"bullets" that appear in the first chapter.
"Bumper Sticker Statements"
||What you get is more than what you see
Don't bite my finger, look where I am pointing
People don't want to be evil
People don't want to be neurotic
Reason and emotion aren't opposites
Reason isn't superior to emotion
Improbability isn't impossibility
The majority of a group isn't all of it
All knowledge is interconnected
Everything is a dynamical system
Order may be good or bad
Disorder may be good or bad
- Modern methods in brain science and neural network theory provide insights into why we
humans don't always meet our potential. These insights also suggest how social
institutions, therapy, education, et cetera might be structured to enhance human
potential. As brain science develops further, its social applications will form a growth
field. This doesn't mean the natural sciences will replace the social sciences or
the helping professions. Nor will science replace folk psychology or the intuition
("common sense") of average people. Instead, science can be a partner with all
these other pursuits in joint work toward social progress. At best, scientific insights
can destroy the "cult of the expert" by bringing out the creative
"scientist" in everybody!
- Human nature is neither "good" nor "evil" in the senses that most
people think of these words. The same person can have radically different and mutually
inconsistent behaviors in different contexts. When two or more conflicting behavioral
patterns coexist in the same adult, Darwinian natural selection isn't much help in
choosing between them.
- There is a standard for the best possible human functioning, often called self-actualization,
which has some biological basis that is yet to be well understood. But human behavior
doesn't always self-actualize or optimize potential.
- The fact that we don't always act optimally should be a cause for hope, not despair.
This is because it means that war, poverty, environmental pollution, and rigid dominance
hierarchies are not the result of optimal functioning, so they can be improved
- Common nonsense falls into one or more of a few repeating patterns. Some
of our common nonsense beliefs can be characterized as promoting dominator
relationships based on hierarchical rankings, as opposed to partnership
relations based on equality and mutual respect. Others fall into a pattern
of making false "either-or" distinctions (e.g., one can be
socially responsible or pursue pleasure but not both). Still others result
from confusing the average attributes of a group with the attributes
of every individual in the group, or confusing the way someone acts most
of the time with the way he or she acts all the time. Our common
sense, creative responses to problems often come from seeing through
appearances to the variability in each person or group. What you get is
more than what you see!.
- "What you get is more than what you see" leads to some norms for behavior. It
suggests that we need to try to avoid judging people as incapable of doing
something (whether it's being good parents or learning mathematics or anything else) just
because they aren't currently doing it. It also suggests that a long-term
perspective needs to replace a short-term one, whether in politics, economics, science,
psychotherapy, or health care, for example. Attitudes we take on in any one of these
spheres, whether helpful or harmful, tend to carry over into other spheres.
Chapters are in PDF Format.
Table of Contents for
Explorations in Common
Sense and Common Nonsense
Daniel S. Levine
"Bumper Sticker Statements"
PART I: HUMAN NATURE
AND ITS PARADOXES
Chapter 1: Beliefs Matter!
Case 2: Entrenched Social Systems
Case 3: Judgment Under Uncertainty
Irrationality and the Brain
Brains, Beliefs, Attitudes, and Society
"The Good I Will I Do Not..."
The Brain and Human Nature
Chapter 2: Neural Networks: Not Just Clever Computers
Current Uses of Neural Networks in
Neuroscience and Psychology
The Microstructure of Cognition
Chapter 3: What Do People Really Want?
What is Self-Actualization?
The Hierarchy of Needs and the Drive Reduction Concept
Hedonistic Neurons and Maximal Utility
Drive Representations and Frontal Lobes
Neurosis Versus Long-term Reinforcement
Reason and Emotion Revisited
Chapter 4: Actuality Versus Optimality
What Evolution Can and Can't Tell Us
Multiple Stable States
War, and Excessive Fear of Danger
Repression of Feelings
Some Neural Prototypes of Nonoptimal Behavior
Optimism or Pessimism?
PART II: COGNITIVE APPROACHES TO SELF-ACTUALIZATION
Chapter 5: How We Make Categories and Constructs
Probabilities and Certainties
Tendencies Are Not Unbreakable
Cortical Versus Limbic Categorizations?
A Tentative Neurochemical Theory
Chapter 6: Remaining Open to Change
The Lessons of Coke
Looking the Dragon in the Face
Taming the Dragon
The Psychology of Role Playing and Role Breaking
Unfreezing Our Neural Networks
Chapter 7: Negotiating Cognitive Dissonance
Levels of Mental Conflict
Self-actualization as Optimal Cognition
Global Versus Local and Part Versus Whole
How Can Our Brains Meet More of Our Needs?
Self-actualization and Information Processing
Norepinephrine, Serotonin, and Pattern Classification
Promoting Global Thinking
Chapter 8: Self-actualization as Creative Synthesis
Reason and Emotion
Mysticism (or Religion) and Science
Pragmatism and Idealism
Selfishness and Altruism
Playfulness and Seriousness
"Masculinity" and "Femininity"
A Duty For Our Neural Networks
Chapter 9: Therapy, for the Person and Society
Aesthetic and Religious Experiments
Implications for Psychotherapy
Focusing on Health, Not Disease
Building Healthy Work Places and Organizations
Implications for Politics
PART III: WHERE CAN WE TAKE OUR WISDOM?
Chapter 10: What You Get is More Than What You See
Nature and Nurture
Prophecies of Doom
What Sometimes Passes for Common Sense
"There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth ..."
An Attitude of Hope
Chapter 11: Brain Science for Humanity
Understanding Daily Life
The Social Brain and the Frontal Lobes
The Lessons of Dynamical Systems Theory
Science Versus "Scientism"
Chapter 12: The Compassionate Revolution
Calhoun's Historical Schema
Population, Environment, and the World Food Supply
A New Equality of the Sexes
Obligation Without Coercion
Tolerance and Diversity
Go Now in Peace
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