Posts Tagged ‘breaking up’

Social Prosthetic Systems

March 22, 2019

This is the sixth post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” When we don’t have the ability or skill to do something we need to do, we should turn to someone (or something) else for help. Sometimes there is a reluctance to ask for help. The authors recommendation is to overcome a reluctance to ask for help. Then the question is to whom, exactly, should we reach out to. The answers can be found in the principles of what the authors call social prosthetic systems, a name coined by drawing an analogy to physical prosthetic systems. Should we lose a leg, we would rely on a prosthesis to walk. The prosthesis makes up for shortcomings allowing one either to accomplish a task or to better accomplish a task or achieve an objective. Whenever we use a calculator we are using a cognitive prosthesis.

The authors note that the Internet has evolved into what can be called the mother of all cognitive prosthesis—the place many of us turn, typically via Google and other search engines to find facts, directions, images, translations, calendars, and more. We store personal data and cherished memories in the cloud, from which they can easily be retrieved. James Gleick, author of “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”, calls the many billions of pages that constitute the Internet “the global prosthetic brain.”

The authors note that this statement is not quite correct. The Internet is a vast memory, but less useful as a tool of reasoning—especially when emotion is involved. Despite its informational power, the Internet is of limited use when we need wise advice to help us navigate a thorny situation. The main cognitive prosthesis we rely on for such help is not software or machines, but other people: individuals who can help us extend our intelligence and discover and regulate our emotions. In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, these social prosthetic systems are part of Transactive Memory. There is an entire category of posts labeled Transactive Memory. Transactive Memory is memory that cannot be accessed directly from our brains. Paper, technology, and our fellow humans constitute Transactive Memory. So these Social Prosthetic Systems are part of Transactive Memory.

As the senior author defined it in his first paper on the idea, social prosthetic systems are “human relationships that extend one’s emotional or cognitive capacities. In such systems, other people serve as prosthetic devices, filling in shortcomings in an individual’s cognitive or emotional abilities.” The authors note that with the possible exception of a committed hermit, every person belongs to one or more of these systems.

The authors present an example of our being in an emotionally fraught situation—on the verge of breaking up with a spouse or partner. “Your partner complains that you work too much, and you feel trapped between the requirements of your job and your desire to maintain the relationship. You would probably not want to seek the counsel of someone who typically operates in Stimulator or Adaptor mode. A person operating in Stimulator Mode might simply offer a knee-jerk reaction, perhaps giving you the first idea that springs to mind (“Maybe you just need to explain why your job is so important to you”) and a person operating in Adaptor Mode might try to minimize the issue (“Life has its ups and downs—if you wait awhile this will probably get better”). So that would leave you with the choice of counsel from someone who typically operates in Mover Move or Perceiver Mode. And that choice would depend in part on your goals for the outcome. If you wanted strategic help on how to handle the situation, the theory suggests the person in Mover Mode would be the most appropriate (perhaps suggesting ways to achieve more work/life balance by avoiding work on weekends). But if you wanted reflection on how you were actually feeling, and on what you wanted and needed, the person who typically operates in Perceiver Mode might be more helpful (listening as you try to sort out why you feel so torn). Putting this together, you might want to seek counsel from two separate people to garner the benefits of both kinds of input. Thus informed, you could more wisely make decisions.