From the book “Sophistication”

Self Help books

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was published in 1936. It is still one of the better-selling books in the world. Carnegie was somewhat sophisticated about human psychology.  He had read the work of Sigmund Freud, who died in 1939. Freud’s ideas about how the mind operates consciously and unconsciously are called psychoanalysis or depth psychology.

I read Carnegie’s book long ago, but I am pretty sure it suggests that influence over others can be promoted by using their names a lot, being friendly, and dressing nicely. Wearing a hat may have also been suggested. These recommendations were not psychoanalytic depth psychology.  But they were plausible enough and people bought the book.

Since How to Win Friends, thousands or millions of books have been written that help readers become more popular, happy, rich, thin, spiritual, and so on.  These are called self-help books. Self Help books are ‘how to’ books or instruction manuals. They promise to increase readers’ success in achieving social goals like popularity and wealth.  This is somewhat different than manuals that help you fix a car, for example.  In self-help instruction manuals, you are the car.

This book may be of some practical help to readers. It is based very loosely on a formal neuroscience theory (Bernstein 2011, 2014, 2015). The theory, experiences I’ve had doing biology and psychology, plus some limited knowledge of Yiddish have contributed to what I say here.

The book describes four states of mind that we all experience.  When a state of mind becomes very habitual or chronic, it defines who you are.  It is your personality.  I call these mind states or personalities: shmo, schmuck, schadenfreudist, and sophisticate.

 A personality is made up of all of one’s strong habits of thinking and acting.  We have thousands or tens of thousands of habits that are in mutually controlling relationships.  If some of your habits persist long after childhood, such as being afraid of strangers, you probably have what is called a personality disorder.

In any case, our personal mental habits influence the nature of the decisions we make.  The primary function of the mind, which sits in the brain, is to make decisions.  Most generally we can only make three kinds of decisions in response to objects in the world and in our minds: avoid, approach, or freeze.

You can move your legs and approach another person on the street. Or, you can run the other way when you see them.  And freezing or ‘playing dead’, has some advantages. Physical approach involves moving your muscles. Mental approach involves moving your mind’s eye to attend to or avoid specific contents of mind (e.g. thoughts, feelings, intentions).  Moving the mind’s eye is neurologically very much like moving the muscles that control the eyeballs next to you nose.

Decisions controlling your organs are made mostly automatically, unconsciously in the brainstem. The neocortex, which sits on the top of brain, is where conscious awareness works to form intentions and control overt behavior and private thoughts.

Unlike other organs that have very few conscious inputs, the lungs are controlled 50% by nerves emanating from the neocortex. Breath control is so important in yoga inasmuch as the lungs represent equally unconsous and conscious processes—the borderline between psyche and soma. 

Deciding explicitly or unconsciously to avoid thinking about an upcoming colonoscopy is somewhat like avoiding looking at parts of the body associated with the feared procedure. That is, the derriere.  Conflicting thought and conflicting real things can cause confusion and nervousness.  Being nervous can degrade a person’s ability to think and make good decisions.

I am assuming here that a person in a mental state of sophistication can make better decisions than others. If sophisticates make better decisions than do shmos, schmucks, and schadenfreudists, they should be more successful at work and love than others.  This book offers some suggestions about to become more sophisticated.  These might lead somehow to you becoming more successful in life.  Or not.