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The Ornamental Mind

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 2 months ago



        The Ornamental Mind

               from The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller




This "ornamental mind" theory leads to some quite different metaphors drawn from the entertainment industry rather than the military-industrial complex.  The mind as amusement park.  The mind as a special-effects science-fiction action film, or romantic comedy.  The mind as a Las Vegas honeymoon suite.  The mind as a dance club, cabinet of curiosities, mystery novel, computer strategy game, Baroque cathedral, or luxury cruise ship.  You get the idea.


Psychologists who pride themselves on their seriousness may consider these metaphors trivial.  To them, the mind is obviously a computer that evolved to process information.  Well, that seems obvious now, but in 1970 the mind as a computer was just another metaphor.  It was just slightly better than Sigmund Freud's metaphor of the mind as a hydraulic system of liquid libido, or John Locke's metaphor of the mind as a blank slate.  The mind-as-computer helped to focus attention on questions of how the mind accomplishes various perceptual and cognitive tasks.  The field of cognitive science grew up around such questions.


However, the mind-as-computer metaphor drew attention away from questions of evolution, individual differences, motivation, emotion, creativity, social interaction, sexuality, family life, culture, status, money, power, birth, growth, disease, insanity, and death.  As long as you ignore most of human life, the computer metaphor is terrific.  Computers are human artifacts designed to fulfill human needs, such as increasing the value of Microsoft stock.  They are not autonomous entities that evolved to survive and reproduce.  This makes the computer metaphor very poor at helping psychologists to identify mental adaptations that evolved through natural and sexual selection.  "Processing information" is not a proper biological function - it is just a shadow of a hint of an abstraction across a vast set of possbile biological functions.  The mind-as-computer metaphor is evolutionary agnostic, which makes it nearly useless as a foundation for evolutionary psychology.  At the very least, the metaphor of the mind as a sexually selected entertainment system identifies some selection pressures that may have shaped the mind during evolution.





                    ---the map is not the territory---

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