At a recent house party full of psychology PhDs, I saw something marvelous: an eight-inch tall tattoo of Sigmund Freud, the turn-of-the-twentieth century psychologist–an image whose origin I can’t trace, but which the Internet seems to have titled “What is on a man’s mind?”
The tattoo’s owner explained why she liked Freud so much, even though much of his work seems to be rightly dismissed by many psychologists. She said she loved the depth to which Freud viewed himself as an object worth of study, analyzing his own thoughts and actions with curiosity as if they were the actions of another person.
The conversation pulled together for me a number of threads I have been pulling on recently, including:
- The Buddhist idea of the “monkey mind,” the generally unwieldy thought process that our brain carries on by default
- The rise of mindfulness in the US, perhaps best expressed in the popularity of the meditation app Headspace
- Another friend’s view of the Walking Dead as a commentary on the human condition, in which some people go zombie-like through life, responding to stimuli without reflection on their own actions
- Philosopher John Dewey’s reflective thinking, his antidote to the zombie-ism my brother identifies
- Psychologists’ Kahneman and Tversky’s assertion of humans having two mental “systems,” one which responds in the moment and another which reflects on actions and attempts to tame the unruly, animalistic system (Jonathan Haidt calls this the “elephant and the rider”)
- The use of the dialogue (“thinking together,” from the Greek) in literature, conflict management, and creativity
- The tendency for Western religions to posit the existence of a soul, or a self separate from our actions/body
- The Greek Oracle at Deplhi’s advice: “Know Yourself”
I am still puzzling over how to tie (some of) these threads together. At the very least, it seems the case that in multiple spheres of human thought, we seem to view ourselves not as coherent wholes, but as a dialogue with at least two participants.
What am I missing? What am I wrong about? What should I read next?
For a fascinating read on how we are (not) that different from other animals, settle in with this Economist essay from which I yanked the photo above. Not a selfie.