La idea de subconsciente, planteada y defendida por Freud, puso en entredicho a principios del siglo XX la omnipotencia de la razón, que desde la Ilustración y durante las revoluciones industrial y científica decimonónicas se presentaba como el motor del mundo. Por debajo de la superficie, verbal y socialmente expresada, había otras fuerzas, instintivas y salvajes, que pugnaban por expandirse. A juicio del fundador del psicoanálisis dichas fuerzas eran reprimidas por un censor cultural. En una batalla interior entre el yo, el superyo y el ello, cada ser humano dirimía su personalidad y su comportamiento.
Este fue un primer paso, si bien ligeramente mal encaminado, en el reconocimiento del fundamental papel de las emociones en nuestra cognición y en nuestras conductas. El neurólogo Freud se había desviado del camino de la medicina para adentrarse en el de la psicología-ficción y la literatura mágico-científica. Todavía no se disponía de conocimientos y técnicas para comenzar a interpretar correctamente el funcionamiento de nuestro cerebro y nuestra psique, así que Freud postró a sus pacientes en un diván e interpretó los sueños.
Al igual que la Razón extendió sus potentes tentáculos hasta bien entrado el siglo XX, con nefastas consecuencias, la escuela psicoanalítica ha tenido una importante influencia hasta finalizar el siglo. Desde una neurociencia reforzada con los estudios de neuroimagen y una sociobiología penetrando en nuestra psicología evolucionionada y en nuestra mente adaptada, la década final del siglo, ha visto el declive definitivo de las ideas de Freud. Ningún Ave Fénix podrá ya resurgir de esas cenizas.
Esta evolución la ha podido vivir, experimentar, sentir e interpretar cabalmente el psicólogo Dylan Evans. La ciencia, en cuya empresa él participa activamente, se plantea ahora otros retos, tales como dar a luz robots que sufran y padezcan, que disfruten y gocen, que jueguen y se diviertan, que tengan emociones y sentimientos. Sin ellos ningún ser podrá considerarse racional, o no al menos racional en un sentido humano, dador de sentidos. El Doctor Spock, ese ser carente de emociones y completamente racional que nos presentaba Star Trek es, sin duda, un personaje de ficción.
El Profesor Evans ha tenido la amabilidad de concedernos una entrevista. Marzo ha traducido sus respuestas, en todo su contenido racional y emocional, al castellano.
1. You started as a psychoanalist. What does remain of psychoanalysis in modern Psychology?
Not much. Freud’s theories have been completely discredited. Some psychoanalysts such as Mark Solms think that contemporary neuroscience has validated some of Freud’s ideas, but they can make this argument only by stretching Freud’s texts beyond all reasonable bounds. It’s more honest to say that Freud was simply wrong.
2. What are emotions? What are feelings? Is rationality only a puppet in the hands of instincts?
Emotions are the mechanisms that implement preferences in humans and other vertebrates. Feelings are the subjective component of emotions and other related bodily states. The question of whether reason is the “slave of the passions”, as Hume put it, or their master, depends very much on how mature a person is and the situation they are in. A mature person can control their emotions, but a child or a drunken adult may well be at the mercy of their passions.
3. What was selected and what simply did emerge in human nature?
That’s a big question. You have to take each trait or feature one by one and ask that question individually. And even then, the answer is often unclear. For example, evolutionary psychologists disagree about some aspects of human cognition. Some believe that these were selected directly, while others (such as Geoffrey Miller) think that some of them may be by-products of traits that were sexually selected.
4. How did mind evolve? When do you think symbolic thought arose?
Again, this is another huge question. Read Dan Dennett for the best answer.
5. Is the human mind ready for the challenges imposed by a society as complex as the one we have created? Do our minds not keep behaviour and understanding patterns that were adaptive in the evolutionary past but today can be detrimental for coexistence and survival? What is the utopian experiment?
The human mind has many elements that were well adapted for life in the stone age but which are maladaptive in today’s modern world. However, the human mind also has a great ability to learn, so there is some hope that we can adapt to modern ways better than we do at present, simply by new educational techniques. Before too long, we may be able to supplement this process by novel pharmacological and surgical tools, and so become post-human.
The utopia experiment was an attempt to figure out how life in Britain will be affected by climate change and the end of cheap oil during the next few decades. Between April and November 2007, volunteers of all ages and walks of life lived in a small community in the Scottish Highlands based on three main ideas: LEARNING – each member had some area of skill or knowledge that they can teach to the others.
WORK – everyone had to contribute by working. TIME-LIMITED – this was not an attempt to found an ongoing community. Volunteers stayed for up to three months. The experiment lasted for nine months.The volunteers pretended they were living in the future, informed by a detailed scenario. It is hoped that the project will stimulate debate about the need for our society to adopt a more sustainable way of living. Information about the project will be disseminated by means of various media, including the internet, and a book that I am writing about the experiment.
6. Will robots some day experience emotions?
7. What are you working on now? What is your highest intellectual challenge? What is the mystery you would dream to uncover?
PREDICTION MARKETS: I recently teamed up with Intrade, the world’s leading prediction market company, to investigate possible uses of these markets to forecast key indicators of public health in Ireland.
DECISION MAKING: I set up the Health Decision Making Research Group (HDMRG) in the School of Medicine at University College Cork to foster interdsciplinary collaborative research on decision making in health contexts. The HDMRG has recently launched an ambitious programme of research entitled Future Medical Decisions. I am also setting up an elective course for undergraduate medical students on “Decision Making in Medicine and Health” which I hope to teach in UCC School of Medicine in 2009-2010. I am particularly interested in the application of expected utility theory to medical decision making.
GAMBLING: Expert gamblers seem to be less prone to the cognitive biases that affect most of us. As a result, they can think about risk more clearly. I am interviewing expert gamblers to learn more about the way they think about risk. I just presented my initial findings at the Fourteenth International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, in May.
My highest intellectual challenge is to find ways of making humans more rational. I would like to invent new tools and techniques for doing this.