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20160716 – Ego



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The main idea here is to use personal narratives about 9/11 to link human behavior and attitudes to evolutionary development of human brain, its connection with technology and social connections, and, most important, provide support for the idea that human evolution continuing and it would lead to dramatic expansion of conscious understanding of environment and ourselves. Authors believe that this evolution eventually limit influence of individual ego and integrate people into “ the larger process of live”, moreover turning ego into “relic of our past”.


Part I: The Prison of Feelings

Chapter 1 Evolution’s unfinished product

This is retelling of 9/11 events with stress on psychology of perpetrators as avengers for perceived humiliation of their group: Muslims. Here authors introduce the key idea they borrow from Einstein that “human being is part of the whole limited in time and space” and that individual’s perception of self as separate entity just an optical delusion of consciousness, kind of prison we should strive to free ourselves.

Chapter 2: What are emotions for?

This is discussion of need for emotions as necessary for survival mechanism of feedback allowing quick identification of situation and needed actions of do/do not type without involvement of conscious self. They illustrate need for such quick unconscious feedback by presenting the story of man with pathological absence of pain that keep getting into dangerous situations and needs constant supervision because such feedback is lacking.

Chapter 3: The emotional nervous system

Here authors review 3 parts structure of feedback constituting human biological controlling system: reptilian brain that maintains bodily functions, limbic system that support emotions, and neocortex that is new and specifically human part of the brain. There is also illustration of such processes as love, adjustment to environment, and parenting emotions.

Chapter 4: The pursuit of happiness

This is discussion of evolutionary meaning of happiness as reward that doing what is best for supporting survival of individual and his group. However there are limitations on happiness applied via hedonic adaptation mechanism when unusually high impact events either positive or negative are discounted overtime, leading to return to the emotional level specific to individual.

Chapter 5: Why do I care?

The final chapter of this part is about emotions related to others including “kin selection”, mirror neurons, evolutionary advantages of cooperation, and presentation self to the group. Based on research and such examples as blind athletes’ bodily and face expressions after winning or loosing, authors conclude that expressions of emotions is genetically predefined and consistent throughout humanity.


Part II: The Prison of Thoughts

Chapter 6: Becoming human

This part is a look at human individual as prison of thoughts via prism of the 9/11 terrorists. Basically it looks at the role of linked ideas in consequent actions of individual. In addition to thoughts and linked ideas of terrorists, authors provide example of monkey who selects fewer dates if it learned that more dates leads to less water. Then they look at human brain as machine for learning ideas and connections between them and then exploiting this knowledge.

Chapter 7: The conceptual revolution

Here authors review the next step that follows linked ideas–development of conceptual thinking including exclusively human ability to model past and future. Eventually we can find that all human live in artificial environment of concepts, models, and ideas that are built in their heads and eventually cause actions via which individual interacts with the reality. The development of these abilities directly connected with development of language and consequently the theory of mind as usual illustrated by Sally-Anne experiment. Other animals clearly demonstrated both abilities, but in very limited form. At the end of chapter authors look at pluses and minuses of our conceptual thinking, use of theory of mind, and ability to emphasize.

Chapter 8: Prima donna

This chapter is about individual’s ability for self-cognition and development of concept of self and ego. Authors use Osama Bin Laden as example of this process gong out of hand and causing hugely negative consequences for huge number of people including owner of the ego. This chapter also describes some charming experiments such as people’s preference for letters of their name and other Implicit Association Tests (IAT). Authors even try to present a history of civilization as “a natural history of the ego: dominance, control, and power struggles”.

Chapter 9: Wake-up call

This chapter looks at situations when individual’s concept of self and environment gets screwed to such extent that they commit acts of huge stupidity sometimes causing self-destruction. Thy provide example of astronaut Lisa Novak and then discuss interplay between contemporary technology and ancient, evolutionary developed workings of our brain. Another example of conceptual thinking distorting reality, relates to conspiracy theories of 9/11. Author looks at how these theories developed and how they used to spin evidence to fit into preset conceptual framework. At the end of the chapter authors reaffirm their idea of illusory nature of self-representation.


Part III: The Enlightenment Revolution

Chapter 10: The organism is in charge

This chapter is about unconscious functionality of organism. It is again uses examples from 9/11 to demonstrate how much our unconscious self influence our actions, ideas, and even problem resolution without clear control of our conscious self. Here authors bring idea of conscious and unconscious ego being a prison, which walls prevent us from unification with the universe and nature that we are part of and express hope that development of knowledge will allow to break out of these walls.

Chapter 11: Developing enlightenment

This is about the process of psychological development that starts even before birth. Authors present an interesting graph and then discuss all phases of development:

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The final post-personal phase is the point of jailbreak from limitation of ego to merge with nature and humanity

Chapter 12: The rise of an enlightened humanityHere authors extend their model of development from individual to humanity overall:

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The direction of development is to move away from ego, its limitations, and individuality to some kind of better world where people understand illusion of individual separations from others and nature, merge into one with universe, and eventually set themselves free from the human condition.


This is an interesting approach to humanity that is completely alien to my own thinking. The book is build around idea that individual ego is kind of prison developed by evolution to separate human individuals from unification with nature and other people in some kind of happy bliss. I, on other hand, believe very strongly that human individuals are separate entities, moreover the only conscious entities that exists and that our problems could not possibly be solved by elimination of ego, but rather by building rules and methods of interactions between egos that provide for the best possible opportunity for everybody without hurting anybody. I believe that we are product of dual evolutionary process: group selection and individual selection within the group. Authors seems to agree with it, only they see future development as elimination of individual, especially his/her ego, while I see future development as increase of freedom for every individual and merge all groups into one with very limited power of interference into individual live.


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