Our mental processes--our "cognition "--play a complex and
dramatic role in our lives. Our cognition makes us human. We can
cope only by first sensing and understanding the environment.
Sometimes we misperceive and wrongly interpret the situation,
causing problems. Our expectations and response sets partly
determine how we see the world. Our attitudes, suspicions, and
conclusions about others also determine how we relate to people. Our
hopes, dreams, and/or fears become self-fulfilling prophesies and
determine the future to some extent. As we saw in chapter 3, our
values and goals determine the directions our lives take. Our
knowledge of human behavior, including self-help skills, and our
rational planning partly determine our success in achieving our life
goals. Our motivation also determines how far we go in the directions
set by our needs and values. The discrepancies between reality and
our ideals will determine how satisfied we are with ourselves and our
lives. Most importantly, humans are the only species which can
systematically study its own thought processes; we know some of our
inner selves. This entire phenomenal world of cognition is due to 2 1/2
pounds of 100 billion nerve cells inside each human head. The brain
weighs less than 3% of our total weight but burns 25% of our total
oxygen intake. It is a busy, powerful, phenomenal, mysterious place.
Humans are the only animals endowed with enough mental capacity that they may glorify themselves by
believing they will spend eternity in heaven with a God who looks like them, or, at the other extreme, they
may denounce and abhor themselves so much that they choose to end their lives.
Between 700 and 1500, the concept of the "self" referred to only
the weak, sinful, crude, "selfish" nature of humans. The evil "self" was
contrasted with the divinely perfect nature of a Christian soul. Joseph
Campbell believed the concept of an independent, self-directed "self"
didn't start to develop until about 800 years ago. So, it is a relatively
new idea (somewhat older than the idea that we are not at the center
of the universe) which has grown in importance. In medieval times,