Saturday, July 30, 2005

Everyday Decisions

Here goes the relatively practical post I promised last time. Keep this stuff in mind next time you have to make a significant decision, or see people claiming they just decided to do this or that. Unfortunately for people who feel fully in control of their minds, the logical evidence and empirical research suggest that rational and willful decisionmaking is at least partly a fantasy.

Let me start with a riddle: Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side, perhaps. No! He crossed the road because the stimuli that permeated his brain compelled him to cross the road at that time. That's a rewording of something I once read in an Introduction to Sociology textbook.

So, what really drives human decision making? When someone decides to buy a certain make and model of car, commit suicide, start a business, marry a particular person (or any person at all!) social forces play a significant role.

What does this mean for you? Good question.

First, maybe you shouldn't feel so bad about making a poor decision. Maybe you shouldn't feel all superior because you keep making good decisions. Both outcomes are largely a product of your brain chemistry, brain physiology, and social environment. However, you can still take some steps to improve your decision making.

Second, maybe we should all be more careful about the influences we allow into our lives. Stay away from dopers, racists, shallow people, and shopaholics! Avoid anything in the mass media that promotes materialism, egoism, or a feeling that your life is really tough. After all, those are the sorts of stimuli that lead people to overeat, binge drink, use the opposite sex for sex, get into ruinous debt to finance a "winner's" lifestyle, and contribute to depression and white collar crime.


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