Submarines and large ships are built to exploit compartmentalization. If one section springs a leak, the crew quickly isolates that section from the other compartments in order to protect the whole vessel from flooding and sinking.

Humans have a similar compartmentalized mental structure. Thus, an otherwise apparently sane person can have one compartmentalized section (isolated from the sane sections) that believes or practices startling bizarre things. We see this in religion, politics and all other activities of the human mind.  And thus fortunately, with these protective mechanisms, our your U-Boats (get it?) do not sink even though a part of us is flooded with bizarreness.

To me, this is not surprising because of my understanding of how the mind is actually composed of many-selfs (see here). Compartmentalization is a fantastic protective mechanism.  In US politics, for instance, Federalism can serve a similar function. Federalism allows states or providences to experiment on their own and if they fail, the whole nation does not fail and can recover easily while it learns. But I resist the temptation to wax political any further.

We all compartmentalize — all of us.  It is one of the ways our minds work. I see compartmentalizing all around me. In medicine, I get to know people very intimately. I am amazed daily how deeply neurotic and dysfunctional some of our compartments can be and yet most of us can still hold jobs, drive cars and have relationships.

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

12 responses to “Compartmentalization

  1. That’s a great analogy! I suspect that a few of my compartments suffer not-so-slow leaks. Good thing I don’t stray into terribly deep waters, eh?

    But when I do…

  2. a You-Boat. hahahaha! i am certain of the truth of your claim but i am left wondering how much compartments can be taken down. i am wondering because i feel my faith (i.e. what i believe) is pretty close to all encompassing and that i’m struggling to make it so with little to no hypocrisy. this may be impossible, but i’m trying. what do you think are the chances of having one over-arching theme that affects the other compartments? can there be someone with no compartments?

  3. @ Brandon:
    Thanks. Loved your analogy too.

    @ Zero:
    Great question. Fantastic question.

    (a) No, I don’t believe there can be anyone with no compartments. It is our biology. But there are lots of people who want you to believe they have no compartments or their favorite hero does not have compartments. History is repleat with such exposed myths. But, unfortunately, I can’t think of a measurable way to empirically test my claim or your wondering. But, damn, I will bet I am right! 😉

    (b) Is it possible to make some of our compartments a little more open to others — yes. I strongly believe that. But there will always be compartments. And how thoroughly the are opened is hard to say. But there will always be totally closed compartments. And there will also always be the delusion that our compartments are more open than others!

  4. coooool. i think we’re in agreement even though neither of us can prove it.

  5. Tim Smith

    Ascriptions of a self in the Western philosophic tradition have been cast as variants of either mental continuity or bodily continuity. My model of a self is something along the following lines. My sense of being at one time a child and now a man provide a memory whose source, being singular, is the memory of that self. One cannot experience or have someone else s memory. so it is thus my memory of my self. My memory of ‘me’ at ten years old is almost certain to be incorrect in regard to the true state of affairs that obtained when I was ten. This is as it must be I would suppose. In just the same way bodily continuity is not the continuation of the same body in so far as the man differs physically from the boy. If we are strict about it, we are not even the same mentally or physically moment to moment. This is obvious but not trivial. The important thing regarding the ascription of a self is the fact that the center of awareness was and is, of indexical necessity, the same. Me here now; me here now-then. To expect unity of thought and purpose, all systems in symbiotic order with no cognitive dissonance, is a tall order and one not likely to be filled. Your analogy of the you-boat and it’s compartmentalization, is apt and point on. The history of these changing compartments is the history of the self. Whether the compartments are leaky, out of balance, contradictory or non-symbiotic, does not negate the core reflexive identity of the boats owner. Even with a lack of transitivity wherein ( for example) the old man remembers the exploits of the young man but forgets the antics of the child we cannot deny a self to the interpretee. It is still’ I am here now’, warts and all. The old man who forgets his childhood self is the owner of his forgetfullness. You can forget your name but I cannot forget it it for you. So neither does lack of memory invalidate self-hood.

  6. @Tim
    Well written. Indeed, your use of the self as some tracking of a body has some obvious truth to it. I contend that the average person’s notion of “myself” is vastly more greedy and ambitious than your stripped down version. But your version is needed for many practical reasons — property, for instance. So I will not contend that. Perhaps as will many words, having subscripts to separate out the many uses would facilitate progress in exploring this issue. Funny how language itself can stall communication.

  7. This is great, because it’s a topic I’ve never seen anyone write about before. And yet this human function of ‘compartmentalizing’ is actually quite pervasive in our being, and also as you say, in the world- federalism, etc.

    In a way it is kind of an inner, mirror reflection of the interdependence of all things. On an outer level we are all connected, and at the same time on an inner level one person contains many people/aspects within them. I’ve never quite thought about it that way, but it seems true somehow.

  8. @ Craig,
    Thank you. It is fun when the metaphors and that images work for me click with someone else. Talking about “many selves” rarely works even though it is a metaphor that deeply resonates with me but that may be because of my twisted mind (as you can see in my weird experiences). The submarine metaphor may be helpful.
    Thanx for the commnet.

  9. I know I compartmentalize. If I didn’t I would surely sink. And even though I’m trying to ward of bizarre beliefs, it’s still an exercise in self-preservation to compartmentalize. The parts that are difficult to deal with can be closed off so they don’t saturate and fill the parts that are easier to deal with. Somehow that helps me stay sane. 🙂

  10. @D’Ma
    Well said! Compartmentalizing can sometimes be the wisest thing to do until new chambers, new safety shunts and pumps are built to be sure, when combining sections, the ship does not flood.

    Sometimes people ignore our logic because they realize that their present compartments are needed.

  11. So true, compartmentalization is our way of organizing our thoughts I think. It’s so true, the diagram of the sub, everything is always hidden below the surface but does show up in us at some point when we ‘discuss’ them.

  12. @ Society,
    I don’t think we “organize” our thoughts by compartmentalizing — just the opposite, we avoid organization by separating. Imagine that in each room of my house I had separate books. If I ever organized them in one room, I may be amazed at my collection.

    Indeed, I have kept some books in one room vs. another and when vistors come to my house, unless I give them a tour, they may never know all the other weird stuff I read.

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