THE MYTH OF IRRATIONALITY: The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek by John McCrone

THE MYTH OF IRRATIONALITY: The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek

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A sometimes intriguing, if uninspired, examination of the history of psychology and the workings of the human mind. McCrone, a science and technology writer based in England, returns to the turf of his previous book, The Ape that Spoke (1991), to examine the mind and the importance of language in shaping our ability to think. He argues that all of our higher faculties are language-driven abilities that we learn as children. McCrone claims that this is distinct from the theory promulgated throughout history about human capacity for creativity and inspiration. He blames Plato for creating the tripartite fiction that the mind is divided into base appetites (the animal in us), rationality, and higher abilities that are the divine spark in us. The myth, perpetuated by Romantics like Rousseau and codified by Freud in his theories of the unconscious, is that some mysterious ability to be irrational allows humans to transcend themselves. In reality, says McCrone, the mind is only a twofold mechanism with its animal, instinctual ""hardware"" and its socially conditioned ""software"" driven by our ability to use language to order the stream of consciousness. Beyond the basics, everything is driven by culture. Language ability must be learned when one is a small child or it can never be fully acquired. As evidence, the author delves into the reported cases of feral children, who have grown up in the wild deprived of human contact. He also examines seemingly ""mysterious"" examples of supposed irrationality, such as dreams, insanity, emotions, and ""peak"" experiences (in which reality is heightened) to demonstrate how they can be explained by his scheme. McCrone claims the stakes are high and that a new view of the mind is sorely needed. Caricaturing his opponents, he does little but rehash the Enlightenment view of the self without bringing much new to the table.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Carroll & Graf