Letter To The Editor: Response To Councilman David Reagor

Los Alamos

In a sincere effort to understand the political sides of the discussions in our county and country over the last several years I’ve ended up reading a lot on cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience for the lay person. Scientists in these fields like Steven Pinker, David Eagleman, Daniel Kahneman, Robert Sapolsky, and Jonathan Haidt probably aren’t heard of much around this town full of scientists of another kind, but nevertheless they are doing very important work for our world. Oh, and Cal Tech physicists Sean Carroll and Leonard Mlodinow have been studying and writing on how the brain works as well.

It’s important to know that they have found that we homo sapiens aren’t always so rational in our behavior—even you extra intelligent ones. For one thing it seems that our behavior is ruled by our unconscious mind (see the book “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior” by Leonard Mlodinow the scientist that co-wrote Steven Hawking’s last 2 books or David Eagleman’s “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain”) which is full of biases and innate morality even. Seems that liberals and conservatives in general have a different definition of “fair”, liberals believing that equal equals fair and conservatives feeling like a proportional factor is necessary in there (see Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind: Why GOOD People are Divided by Politics and Religion”). These are the moral foundations that have worked to enable their tribe (another popular term from psychology) to flourish and are embedded in our unconscious mind.

I’ve also read recently in Scientific American that conservatives and liberals in general even have differing brain structure—for one thing conservatives tend to have larger amygdala – that part of the brain that registers fear when triggered. So we’re even predisposed to be conservative or liberal! These folks with larger amygdalae might just fear immigrants more than others, see a need to support weapons development over education to protect kin and country, fear those with different skin color or from another tribe more, and see alliances against them and therefore come up with more conspiracy theories than others. This happens in our unconscious brain and in some cases would be warranted and others not so much.

So they say our behavior is ruled by our unconscious mind and our more evolved and rational brain mainly spends it’s time rationalizing the decisions our unconscious mind has made. We all do this to various degrees, and this is why Daniel Kahneman in his Nobel Prize winning book “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink” say we should pause and reflect and allow the prefrontal cortex to consider our decisions.

So what my little very liberal mind (see how you come out at YourMorals.org) still sees from Councilman Reagor’s recent letter (link) in response to Mr. Skolnik is a rationalization in the form of a conspiracy theory for being against welfare programs in general. (Well I still made a judgement, but give me credit for trying to understand.)

I need to read some more, but we need to figure out how to get along.

If you aren’t up to reading any books on this, these scientists all have lectures and TED talks that you can Google on You Tube. What they are finding out about human nature is fascinating!

I wish some organization in town or maybe UNM would offer some classes for us all, or maybe we could all learn to meditate and calm our amygdalae down and cooperate and compromise better.


Joyce Carlson


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