Home' Nova National : March 2011 Contents 15
© NOVA MARCH 2011
They enjoyed great drunken parties
together but never saw eye to eye. They
formed alliances against each other for
passing gain. They supported human
champions on either side of the Trojan
War, and they were even able to gang up
against Zeus himself.
This model of the psyche explains
why the “I” can’t exert perfect control.
The “I” is just the constitutional monarch,
or the chairman of the board, or the
apologist for what has already happened,
or the strongest in a team of strong
players. The most successful “I” is not the
visionary leader. It is the skilful negotiator
who can marshal forces larger than
himself towards a common goal.
The mind is operated by a team of
specialists, each with its own cubbyhole
in the brain. Individually, they handle
memory, language, thought, emotion,
drive, concentration and co-ordinated
quality control. They constantly inhibit
or reinforce or just chatter to each other
through a process that is called regulatory
feedback or “reverberant reentry”. Each
member of the team on its own would
be utterly useless. Put them together, and
let them haggle for acceptable outcomes,
and the results can be miraculous.
Most beliefs are more or less harmless.
We can have decorative beliefs, like
wallpaper, that mirror part of our soul
back to us. Once a belief starts to affect
our behaviour, however, its potential
for damage should be acknowledged.
A healthy belief is one that has a good
dialogue with doubt and opposing points
of view. Beliefs should be provisional until
the facts or better theories come in. Fixed
beliefs, or those that regard doubt as a
moral weakness, are virtually guaranteed
to produce narrow mindedness, if nothing
Some people dramatically change
their lives for the better, and a key driver
is that they believed it was possible. We
look at them and think, “I could do that
too.” Without that kind of hope, we
would stay in our ruts. Even if we haven’t
been able to escape drinking or over-
eating or depressive tendencies in the
past, we know it is possible by observing
what others have done.
A belief that we can change if we
try hard enough is a necessary starting
point – but it won’t do it on its own.
Researchers have repeatedly shown that
willpower is a limited resource that gets
fatigued over the day just as muscles do. The
more frequently you resist a temptation,
the more vulnerable you become to the
next one. Repeated exposure is almost
guaranteed to break us down, as torturers
The best kind of belief is one that
stays as close as possible to the facts.
Experience tells us that positive change
is possible but not necessarily easy. It
usually takes cunning, persistence and
self understanding. It needs most of that
team of specialists in the brain.
The sunny optimist (“I can do it!”) in
the left hemisphere needs to listen to the
moody right hemisphere. The memory
bank reminds us what will happen if we
do or if we don’t. The emotional brain
pumps out the necessary enthusiasm and
persistence. The bullshit detector tells
us when we’re talking nonsense or trying
to ignore our injuries. The storeman
tells us when our energy is depleted,
and the palace guards fight off the rabble.
We certainly need vision, but it is this
motley crew of disparate characters that
actually does the work.
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