Clipping #15 — What Makes You Decide?

When a batter in a baseball game sees the ball leaving the pitcher, what shapes the response? Experience has programmed the brain for that response. Action is a reflex of that program.

Robert Burton cites neurophysiologist Ben Libet who, “Showed that the brain generates action-specific electrical activity nearly half a second before the subject consciously ‘decides’ to initiate the action.”* Our mental states, based on our experience, the environment in which we live and the cultural norms we have adopted; shapes our decisions before we “decide” what to do.

Try this new dish. Will we decide based on what it looks like, how it smells, and the recommendation of the chef? Not entirely! That decision would be grounded on neurons in the brain pre-conditioned and ready to shape that choice. Example: My readers would not likely find grilled monkey brains an appealing entre, but in other cultures it would be a delicacy based on the previous programming.

Is what we find meaningful and purposeful in our lives based on rational thought or has the brain’s inventory of what we stored in it pre-programmed the meaning and purpose that shapes our lives? Our brains help us to live according to what we have told it that is important.

When we look at decisions from this perspective, what difference might the speed and revocability of our daily choices need to be?

*Footnotes: Robert A. Burton, “A Life of Meaning (Reason Not Required), The Stone, New York Times, September 5, 2016

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