Whenever a system becomes sufficiently complex, like a giant company, it needs a CEO, and that’s essentially the role of consciousness in the brain. The brain is made up of many different subparts and systems that are always competing for control, and what I suggest is that consciousness is essentially the company president that has to arbitrate all the different mechanisms.
The history of understanding that there is an unconscious that’s riding under the radar of conscious awareness is such a new idea, historically. Several hundred years ago, people got pieces and parts of the idea, but it wasn’t until Freud that he really nailed it.
And neuroscience has drifted off a little bit from the directions that Freud was going in terms of the interpretations of whether your unconscious mind is sending you particular hidden signals and so on. But the idea that there’s this massive amount happening under the hood, that part was correct and so Freud really nailed that. And he lived before the blossoming of modern neuroscience, so he was able to do this just by outside observation and looking at how people acted.
But nowadays, we’re able to peer noninvasively inside people’s heads as they’re doing tasks, as they’re thinking about things and making decisions, perceiving the world, and we’re able to go a lot deeper into understanding this massive machinery under the hood.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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