Defraying the Costs of “Analysis Paralysis”

Christopher D Lynn (University of Alabama)

Defraying the Costs of “Analysis Paralysis”: A Neuroanthropological Model of Dissociation, Deafferentation, and Trance

Human intellectual efforts frequently seek to extend awareness and expand consciousness, but there may be a functional ceiling on such self-reflection. Humans are uniquely self-aware and capable of attributing mental states to others based on this awareness. Theorists suggest that self-awareness presupposes mental state attribution and that selection for self awareness may have been driven by selection for theory of mind among our gregariously social ancestors. I propose that the costs of self-awareness outweigh the benefits without the concomitant utility of mindreading and that there are mechanisms for limiting our conscious awareness to mitigate these costs. To explore this, I discuss a tripartite conceptualization of consciousness consisting of self-awareness, theory of mind, and dissociation. Dissociation is the psychological term for partitioning of consciousness, which I will also discuss as trance, or the external-social manifestation, and deafferentation, or the internal-neural correlates. This outline provides an operationalizable model for neuroanthropological research programs. I will explore this approach with regard to anthropological studies of dissociation in religious contexts and psychological studies of self-deception and fireside relaxation response. Studies of Pentecostalism find associations between dissociation and stress reduction, while self-deception studies link partitioned awareness to reproductive success and fireside trance to the evolution of the social brain. The evolutionary model suggested has implications for conceiving of consciousness as part of our evolved behavioral allostatic system.  [Originally Published in the AAA 2013 Conference Program]