“The Social Animal” by David Brooks: Part One

The cognitive psychology kick continues. When we know ourselves better we can make better decisions. My pursuit of thought includes understanding how my brain works. This helps me accept that there are some things that I cannot change. It also helps me understand the tricks my brain tries to play and how I can use those tricks to my advantage.

  1. Mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness organize our thinking, shape our judgment, form our characters, and provide us with the skills we need in order to thrive.
  2. Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops. Yet by far the most important decision they make are about whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses.
  3. The essence of that wisdom is that below our awareness there are viewpoints and emotions that help guide us as we wander through our lives.
  4. Somewhere in the back of his brain, he knew that a breast is merely an organ, a mass of skin and fat. And yet he was incapable of thinking in that way. He went through his days constantly noting their presence around him. The line of a breast on a piece of paper was enough to arrest his attention.
  5. They [breasts] do serve as signaling devices and set off primitive light shows in the male brain.
  6. People can make snap judgments about a person’s trustworthiness, competence, aggressiveness, and likeability within the first tenth of a second. These sorts of first glimpses are astonishingly accurate in predicting how people will feel about each other months later. People rarely revise their first impression, they just become more confident that they are right.
  7. It’s an example of how lack of emotion leads to self-destructive and dangerous behavior. People who lack emotion don’t lead well-planned logical lives in the manner of coolly rational Mr. Spock.
  8. But in reality, of course, high school is a machine for social sorting. The purpose of high school is to give young people a sense of where they fit into the social structure.
  9. Most people will assume people with big eyes and puffy cheeks are weaker and more submissive than they are. (Perhaps in compensation, baby-faced soldiers in World War II and the Korean War were much more likely to win awards for valor than soldiers with more rugged features.)
  10. This rule holds that in high school we all fall into social circles and become acutely aware of which personality types are our social allies and which are our social opposites. The adult personality—including political views—is forever defined in opposition to one’s natural enemies in high school.
  11. But within weeks, students forget 90 percent of the knowledge they learn in class anyway. The only point of being a teacher is to do more than impart facts; it’s to shape the way students perceive the world; to help a student absorb the rules of a discipline. The teachers who do that get remembered.
  12. People with knowledge about a topic become faster and better about acquiring more knowledge and remembering what they learn.
  13. The human brain is built to take conscious knowledge and turn it into unconscious knowledge. The first time you drive a car, you have to think about every move.
  14. “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
  15. Expertise is about forming internal connections so that little pieces of information turn into bigger chunks of information. Learning is not merely about accumulating facts. It is internalizing the relationship between pieces of information.
  16. But the Greeks tended to assume the opposite, that human beings were united at the highest level: There are certain ideal essences, and the closer one is to taking possession of the eternal excellence, the closer one is to this common humanity. Thumos is the drive to rise up to those heights. It is the dream of the perfect success, when all that is best within oneself blends with all that is eternal in the universe in perfect synchronicity.
  17. There is no dictator determining the patterns of behavior that make up culture. But out of the actions and relationships of millions of individuals, certain regularities do emerge.
  18. No complex behaviors in free-ranging humans are cause by a linear and additive set of causes.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

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