The Great Deception


We’re Less in Control Than We Think

January/February 2014


At the tail end of a sweltering, humid Chicago day in 1993, I took my family to the community pool for a dip. As the children splashed gleefully, I sat nearby reading Robert Ornstein’s new book, The Evolution of Consciousness, unaware that my life was about to change.

Seven years earlier, I’d emerged from my doctoral studies utterly dissatisfied with existing answers to the question of why people continue to behave in self-defeating, irrational ways despite clear evidence that their methods aren’t working. Few questions were more important to the enterprise of psychotherapy, yet the answers at that time were highly speculative—running the gamut from unresolved childhood issues to low ego strength to family homeostasis to secondary payoffs, with little scientific evidence to support any of them. Deeply discouraged, I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong career.

From the first page of Ornstein’s book, it was clear to me that he was on to something new. Using hard neuroscience data, he proposed that we behave irrationally because our brains are simply not set up to produce rational behavior. Throughout history, he argued, we’ve been operating under a great deception—we tend to believe that our thoughts and actions result largely from our conscious intentions. In fact, while our rational mind has a degree of veto power, the inclinations that fuel our perceptions, interpretations, and actions primarily come from neural processes that operate beneath the level…

Already have an account linked to your magazine subscription? Log in now to continue reading this article.

(Need help? Click here or contact us to ask a question.)

Not currently a subscriber? Subscribe Today to read the rest of this article!




Read 100662 times
Comments - (existing users please login first)
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *
E-mail Address *
Website URL
Message *
3 Comments

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:33:15 PM | posted by meghan oconnell
this is really a good and insightful article

Saturday, March 1, 2014 4:57:38 PM | posted by David Widelock
A behaviorist thinks he discovered the unconscious mind? This isn't the Onion. He never read Freud?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 12:14:47 AM | posted by Roger Schwarz
This is the best article I've read in the Networker. It's especially realistic about the overarching importance of the habit-forming work the couple has to do between sessions. It makes clear the role of the therapist to lay the groundwork for and teach the rubric to be learned and practiced by the couple. Everything else is commentary.

livechat