The human psyche has been a subject of much speculation and debate.
How did we develop it, how do we communicate with it, and what is the nature of the human condition?
But in the latest edition of The Science of Psychology, John D. Gottman and James B. O’Leary argue that we know far less about the mind than we think we do.
The book has been hailed as one of the most important books of the 21st century, and it has been widely praised as a landmark in the field.
In this first in a three-part series, I talk to Gottman about his new book, Why We Think We Know So Much About Ourselves.
What is it that makes us so confident in our own minds?
Gottman: There are two things: the capacity to think about our minds and the capacity for the sort of thinking that we do in general.
In other words, we don’t just think about the minds of people who are not us, but we also think about what happens in other minds.
That’s the kind of thinking we do when we think about ourselves, when we’re in conversation with someone, when talking to ourselves.
When we think like that, we can do things like see that they are looking at a wall, that they’re thinking about something, that’s very important.
And that’s the sort, the ability to see that there are different people in the room.
We see things in their eyes, we know how they feel, we’re able to distinguish between our own thoughts and their thoughts, which makes us very confident in what we know.
But we’re not really sure how we actually make sense of these mental processes.
In order to think and to be able to understand the world, we have to be conscious of these different types of thoughts.
And the way that we’re conscious of them is in the brain.
In a sense, we are conscious of our own mind.
And when we are, it’s in the prefrontal cortex, in the frontal lobe.
And so, what you’re seeing in the visual cortex is a lot of the information processing that takes place there.
And in the temporal lobe, in that area that controls the timing of thoughts and actions, there are areas that we are very confident about that are telling us what’s going on in our brains, which is, we’ve developed this sort of mental map that we have of ourselves that we can use to distinguish what is going on.
And if you have a map of yourself, it will be very easy to distinguish the fact that you have thoughts, and that you are conscious, and you’re not just thinking.
What are the different kinds of things that you see in your mind?
There are the ones that are just mental pictures, such as you and I and a particular person and the world.
Then there are things that are real and visible.
For example, you might see that I am standing in front of you.
Or maybe you see the world as a tree, or a tree in the forest, or the sun.
And you might think, “Oh, I am sitting in the middle of a forest, looking at trees.”
Or you might be thinking, “I’m standing in a field, looking in the direction of the sun.”
And those are the kinds of visual things that we tend to have a very strong sense of.
You might see the sun, you can see trees, you are able to differentiate between the things that I see, and those things that they see, which make you feel very confident.
And those things, in turn, make you very confident that you’re in a very good place in the world in that sense.
The other kind of mental picture, the kind that’s not mental, is that you might actually be aware of something, which could be an event, or it might be a thought, or something else that you can feel.
And what’s important here is that there’s a sense of what you are.
You’re aware of the physical world.
So the world is there for you.
So, for example, if you look at a tree and you see it, you’re aware that there is a tree on the tree, and if you go outside and you look around, you see that it’s a little bit smaller, and the trees are smaller, because you’re outside.
And then you think, and there’s the possibility that the world could be a little more beautiful if you were a little closer to the tree.
So those kinds of experiences are what make you so confident.
It’s the ability of our mental map to distinguish them.
When you’re very confident, the map will tell you, “Well, I can see this tree, but I’m also seeing that I’m a little, little bit more beautiful.
So I’m not that far away from the tree.”
And that makes you feel a little better about yourself.
When people are not so confident, what happens is that the