MULTIMIND by Robert Ornstein


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Psychologist Ornstein (biology, Stanford) comes at the reader with a rush of news stories and headlines--Marilyn Monroe's suicide; a People description of Tina Turner as ""Devout Buddhist, $5,000 an hour shopper, Mother of Four and World Class Vamp""--in a calculated move to tell us that we are all conglomerates of talents and ""simple minds"" that ""wheel"" in and out as the occasion demands. We are motivated by the immediate need to identify what's different; what's it to me; come to the point. . . all the result of built-in needs for survival derived from our evolutionary past. Now comes the tradition of Western science and psychoanalysis, the one seeking simple analogies of mind as glorious machine for logic and reason; the other building the familiar iceberg of unconsciousness topped by shells of ego and superego. All wrong, Ornstein proclaims. We are none of the two above but a multimind that makes us the inconsistent creatures we are, acting now this way, now that, an inconsistency that we sometimes cover up by coping with cognitive dissonance (lots of material from Leon Festinger here) but an inconsistency remains, leaving us foils for environmental influences (again, homage to Influence by Robert Cialdini). In more extreme cases, inconsistencies emerge as the separate personnae of aberrent multiple personalities. So much for the message. To shore it up, Ornstein dabbles in a bit of neuroscience here, cognitive psychology there, some tales from the East, some examples of hypnosis, and the usually compelling anecdotes of multiple personalities--here, Billy Milligan, who successfully beat a rape rap on the basis of the personality disorder. The problem with books of this type is that the pendulum swings too far out. We are not really totally inconsistent. There is a ME and a YOU there and, indeed, in the last chapter Ornstein invokes the need for an agent of governance to take charge; reign in the ""simple minds"" and talents. The good of the book is the argument against simplistic ideas of what constitutes intelligence and the testing thereof. The not-so-good is the weak neuroscience. The brain is not a random stack of old and new evolutionary tissues ever contending. There is a vast interconnectedness that the reader might never fathom with all Ornstein's autonomous operating systems. For a similar but less exaggerated position, see Howard Gardner's nicely elaborated Frames of Mind.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
ISBN: 1883536294
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin