I read the first chapter of the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, and his description of a divided mind rings true. I’m an anxious guy, my body constantly seeks to influence my conscious thought, and I often feel like I’m wrestling for control. The internal division of mind and body makes sense evolutionarily. I have a complex system keeping me alive, if it didn’t run automatically, I’d be unable to do anything. But automation comes at a price – the body becomes other, its influence lurks beneath the surface. Sometimes it effects my mood without a clear reason why.
Haidt’s most valuable insight is his metaphor of the elephant and the rider. To restate it here – our conscious mind is like a rider on a wild elephant (the subconscious), but we are both the elephant and the rider. This view elucidates the subtle control we may have on our elephant but pushes towards acceptance of its wildness. It can be tamed, directed, but never fully controlled.
I see opportunities to make the internal divisions of the mind clear, making sure the elephant doesn’t take over the show, and bring awareness to its role in my daily thought. Simply quantifying my biological functions could help bring awareness to my body’s effect on me. Perhaps one day we can clearly see all of our inputs and outputs and understand the complex system inside of us. I’ve imagined a future where computers can regulate our bodies. A completely quantified self with a total ability to respond – via drugs, vibration, any means that may influence the body based on the computers understanding of what’s happening inside. The implications of such a system are both exciting and terrifying.