Why are we driven by desires(from Buddha, Plato through Sigmud Freud to J.Haidt)



Metaphor makes concepts easy(Buddha, Plato and Sigmud Freud)

Humans tend to have a penchant towards metaphorical narratives. We fathom new or complex things in relation to things we already know(lackoff and johnson, 1890)

It’s hard to fathom the intricate mechanism undergriding psychological aspect of our brain, but once we pick a metaphor it guides our thinking.

That is what Gautam Buddha resorted to so as to impart his nuggets of wisdom coherently. He said

“In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it. Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by the trainer”

Plato used a similar metaphor in which the self (or soul) is a chariot, in which rational part of the mind holds the reins.

Plato’s charioteer had to control two horses.
For Plato, some of the emotions and passions
are good (for example, the love of honor), and they help pull the self in the right direction, but others are bad (for example, the appetites and lusts).

Sigmund Freud offered us a related model 2,300 years later.

Freud said that the mind is divided into three parts:
the ego (the conscious, rational self);
the superego (the conscience, a sometimes too rigid commitment to the rules of society);
and the id (the desire for pleasure, lots of it, sooner rather than later).

For Freud, the goal of psychoanalysis was to escape this pitiful state by strengthening the ego, thus giving it more control over the id and more independence from the superego.

Jonathan Haidt metaphor.

Social scientists,in the last third of the century, tried their luck whole-heartedly with “information processing” theories to explain everything from prejudice to friendship.

Economists came up with  “rational choice”
models to explain why people do what they do.But failed to come up with theories that could explain coherently the dyanamics of human pyschology.

 Jonathan Haidt ,a social psychologist,  came up with a beautiful mataphor in his book, Happiness Hypothesis, to illustrate  the dynamics  of our mind. He goes as follows:

“my ego is a rider on the back of an elephant. I(refering to ego) am holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him”.

To understand most important ideas in psychology, one is bound  to understand how the mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict. We assume that there is  one person in each body, but in some ways we are each more like a committee whose members have been thrown together to do a job, but who often find themselves working at cross purposes.

written By Malik Mohsin


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