Vacation Posting pt. 2: Brain Modules, Fertility, and Conspiracy

Sorry, I’ve been on vacation (and no, I do not like vacations.) This has interfered with my normal writing schedule, (it is now past 4 am) but here are the notes I managed to jot down in the car:

2. Brain Modules

This is relevant to my previous post on “The Modular Mind,” in which I proposed that people use a kind of compartmentalized or “modular” thinking to break down the complexity of life into manageable chunks. People can hold two beliefs at once that they think are “logical” but contradict each other because each belief is sort of “lodged in” a different module.

For example, Module 1 likes to think about Pensions. Mod 1 knows that pensions are paid for via current workers’ salaries, so we have to have enough future workers to fund future pension obligations.

Module 2 likes to think about the Environment. Mod 2 knows that we only have so many resources and that a growing population will quickly exhaust them, so we must reduce birthrates to save the environment.

Mod 1 then looks around and panics because, Oh no, there aren’t enough young people around to fund the pensions!

Mod 1 doesn’t bother to check in with Mod 2 about why there aren’t enough babies around. It just has some vague idea that people don’t want to make babies for some reason, so it goes and finds some people who do make babies and propose that we let more of them into the country.

Mod 1: Problem solved!

Mod 2: Oh no, look what all of those new people just did to our carbon footprint! We will have to reduce and conserve even more!

Modular thinking lets people process one problem very effectively, but interferes with seeing connections between those problems. In this case, they don’t see why mods 1 and 2 are working in opposition to each other.

From the outside–to someone who encounters both thoughts at once and so doesn’t process them separately–it makes no sense that someone could advocate both at once. They obviously contradict. Hence, outsiders tend to assume this contradiction is deliberate, caused by conspiracy, malice, or ill-will.

(Don’t worry, this is the last of the vacation posting.)