Nick Chater believes that the “hidden depths” of the mind are illusory. If we perceive our actions to have motivation, or suppose ourselves to have beliefs and desires, then we are wrong. He holds that we generate our beliefs, values, and actions as we go along.
“Thoughts, like fiction, come into existence in the instant that they are invented and not a moment before. The sense that behaviour is merely the surface of a vast sea, immeasurably deep and teeming with inner motives, beliefs and desires is a conjuring trick played by our minds. The truth is not that the depths are empty, or even shallow, but that the mind is flat: the surface is all there is.”
This position rejects psychodynamic theory, and validates cognitive behavioural therapy which, in attempting to change behaviour and belief in the now, is attempting to manipulate something more fundamental that an imagined unconscious self.
Chater has written an entire book (The Mind is Flat: The Illusion of Mental Depth and The Improvised Mind) on this idea. This article for the Observer is a neat summary.
One in six of us will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some time of our lives. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health problem in the Western World. It is worse for young people, and the focus of our anxieties tends to change over the course of a lifetime.
This article asks if it is getting worse, what are the causes of anxiety, whether there is such a thing as an anxious personality, and what are the best strategies to combat anxiety (physical exercise is quite a good one).
“The amygdala is linked to parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex that process social information and help us make decisions. During bouts of everyday anxiety, this brain circuit switches off then on again – but Oliver Robinson at University College London and his colleagues have shown that in people with anxiety disorders it seems to get stuck in the on position.”
New Scientist No. 3094, 8th October 2016, p.32-35.
Meditation and mindfulness are entering the mainstream as psychological techniques for combatting stress and promoting psychological well being. But are the effects wholly positive? Research shows that there can be adverse effects as well as beneficial ones: twitching, trembling, panic, disorientation, psychotic breakdown and other undesirable effects. Japanese soldiers in the second world war used meditation to lose their sense of self, and to “become” the orders that they received. Should society at large be more aware of these possible negative consequences?
New Scientist No. 3021, 16th May 2015, p.28 -29.