Robert Ornstein:

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

The American psychologist Robert Ornstein developed his "multi-aspect" theory of the mind in reaction to prevailing "identity" theories of the mind. In his opinion, the mental has an experiential (the experience of feeling a feeling), a neural (the corresponding brain processes), a behavioral (the related action) and a verbal (the related utterance) aspect.

The human mind is viewed as many small minds, each operating independently and specialized in one task. In other words, the body contains many centers of control. The lower level ones developed millions of years ago for basic survival activities, and humans share them with other animals. The most recent ones (e.g., the cortex) deal with decisions, language, reasoning. The brain is not a single whole, it is a confederation of more or less independent brains.

The goal of the mind is to simplify, to reduce the complexity of the external world to what is useful for the body. Minds are therefore attracted only by four types of events: recent events, unusual events, relevant events, events that can be compared to other events. When information is meaningful, it gets organized (i.e. simplified). That is the role played by the mind for the benefit of the body.

The mind is an adaptive system that has been shaped by the world. It is the way it is because the world is the way it is. Ornstein has even retraced the (presumed) evolutionary steps of the bodily organs that now make up the mind.

The mind develops during growth according to a variant of Gerald Edelman's "neural darwinism": human minds are initially endowed with many possible ways of evolving (e.g., with the capability for learning many possible languages), but only some are pursued and the other skills are lost during growth. The mind could potentially adapt to many different environments, but will actually adapt only to the ones it is exposed to. During development, a number of specialized, autonomous centers of action develop. These "minds" within the mind compete for control of the organism. Each one tends to stay in place for as long as possible, with its own memories and goals, until the circumstances favor the takeover of another mind.

In a sense, this is a darwinian model, compatible with Edelman's model for the neural structure of the brain. There are many selves that take control of the brain and succeed or fail based on natural selection. Some die out, and some get stronger, depending on how often they succeed.

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