Friday, February 19, 2010
Absurd Man v. Simian Man
So, are there ways to change your behavior, to mold the hard-wiring of your brain in some way? That is the focus of a new book titled Switch: How to Change things When Change is Hard.
The answer is yes. The authors maintain there are psychological principles you can use to change your behavior and overcome some hard-wiring. We’ve not read the book and don’t plan to. We saw a review in this morning’s Wall Street Journal and the thoughts in there inspire today’s post.
See… we’ve often talked about how there are parts of us that are hard-wired to be anti-absurd. And so in the past we’ve written about ways to be more absurd and overcome this hard-wiring.
The authors have some ideas… and it begins with the idea that humans don’t have one central decision-making unit. You may think of the brain as one unit, but in fact, our brains have two halves. There is a rational and logical part of the brain. And there is an emotional and impulsive part of the brain.
For our purposes, let us call the first the Absurd Man and the second, Simian Man. The first is what writes this blog. It’s our thinking, deliberate side. The side that weighs evidence and does the heavy lifting of (trying) to figure stuff out.
The Simian Man is the anti-absurd part of our brains that make us do un-absurd things – like getting upset in traffic or ticked off at work. It is the reactive, emotional part of our brains.
Having these two sides is like having your own internal Jekyll and Hyde show. Absurd Man tries to wrestle down monkey brains and keep things copacetic, while Simian Man has his own ideas and plays havoc with Absurd Man’s neat view of the world.
Simian Man can get in the way of the liberating feelings of absurdity. In the past on this blog, we’ve often talked about this Simian Man as something to beat down and control. But we are leaning more and more to accepting Simian Man and his non-absurd impulses as part of what it is to be human. If sometimes we act non-absurd, then so be it. Recognize it and move on.
The authors, however, have a few other useful ideas we thought we’d pass on. They say that in order to change your behavior you have to address both sides of your brain. So if you want to be more absurd, you have to appeal to both reason and emotion. You need concrete information (the rational arguments of the absurd) and you need a more emotional mental image of why it is “good” to be absurd (say, peaceful images of how calm and care-free you might be, of equanimity and acceptance, of the idea of emancipation).
The bottom line is you need to bring both systems onboard for change to occur. You need good rational arguments to appeal to Absurd Man… but he can’t do it alone. You also need to appeal to Simian Man.
The authors have other principles, too. One is to recognize that we are influenced by those around us. Our environment is an important part of the puzzle of our behavior. So, in order to be more absurd, the authors would advise you seek out like-minded people and create an environment more conducive to want you want to do.
This blog, we suppose, can serve that kind of purpose. It creates, in a way, a place where like-minded people can find some reinforcement and swap ideas about the absurd and similar viewpoints. It’s helped us be more absurd in our daily living. After all, absurdity, like a good offal restaurant, is a rare thing in today’s society. Even Simian Man would agree with that.
Posted by Inigo Montoya at 9:44 AM