Making the Right Decisions
How to Make the Best Choices and Why We so Often Don’t
By: J. Marlando
PART ONE: Investigating the Self
Just about all of us will agree that in hindsight we are always right. Well, sure, when we know what the results of our choices are going to be, it’s darned easy to know what to do…or, I should say, to know what we should have done.
Making choices, however, is much more complex than merely choosing one thing over another because all our experiences come into (subtle) play even when we are deciding to do the simplest task like drive to the market or leave shopping for another time. The complexity escalates of course when we are making major decisions such as getting married, joining the Navy, changing careers, making a major purchase or making an investment of some kind. And, making these kinds of decisions have to do with how self-assured we are…the degree of our self-esteem…what our childhoods were like and so forth. Indeed, it is probably true that all our experiences become part of our brain’s computation before we decide much of anything.
In regard to this, a female with low self-esteem might rush to the altar with a man who is apparently “wrong” for her but who she desperately wants to marry anyway—dumb thing to do, yes, but the brain’s insight is based on its life experiences alone and so its foresight is extremely limited.
Our “thinking” brains are simply vulnerable to all the stuff that happens to us along our way. For example, were we born to loving, nurturing parents or unloving and neglectful parents; were we born into wealth or poverty; were we popular in school? It isn’t only these kinds of experiences but our conditioning also plays a heavy role in the choices that we make: Our brains after all are absolutely susceptible to all kinds of degrees of “brain washing.” In fact, we begin our journey through life believing that our parent’s world is THE world. Then as we venture further out in the world we are indoctrinated with the beliefs, superstitions and concepts of our teachers, preachers and other social engineers of our society. Indeed, all our racism, sexism and many other prejudices arrived from these sources.
How we “decide” is also connected to those sources and why we so often hear statements such as, if I’d only have done this or that I’d be so much better off now, I’d be happier, richer, more secure and so on. After all, there is no doubt about it: wherever we are at this very moment is the result of the chain-event of all the choices we’ve made along our way. And, we are responsible for the choices we’ve made…right?
There is a populated arena in the sciences and in academia, however, that do not believe that we are actually responsible for the choices we make. They believe that our genes dictate what we do and how we think. In fact, our mental life *as Steven Pinker tells us can be explained in terms of information, computation and feedback. This view corresponds to Richard Dawkins’ who said in his book, The Selfish Gene that we human beings are, “…survival machines—robotic vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known to us as genes.”
This existential view shadows much of the world today because biologists and biology keep deconstructing philosophy and spiritualism—in fact I call today’s biologists “the final reductionists” because they are convinced that we are the totality of our parts and nothing more—to the modern biologist, saints and sinners, smart and dumb, capable and incapable are merely the results of genetic dictates. As a result, a great many college professors and other so-called scholars and pseudo intellectuals are supporting this with the same enthusiasm that they have been supporting atheism (the being and nothingness view) over the past few decades.
The truth is that our brains are a “blank slate” when it comes to the exterior world and first make our entrance into the world. After all, it is prepared to learn Chinese, Italian, English and/or some other language; to become one with the “herd” of its own culture; to be humanized and so socialized, so to speak, by experience and information.
We can then, view our brains metaphorically as the motor that runs the machine; this seems to support the Dawkins view of what life is all about….survival, period.
The question is, however, what or who is running the “machinery?”
This article sets out to show you why you are in charge of your own destiny; in charge of the joys and sorrows and the successes and failures of your own life. We will begin by answering the question asked in the above—you are!
*Pinker, Steven * The Blank Slate * Penguin Books
First of all, as a social species you have been indoctrinated since birth to follow as opposed to think. As part of your socialization your parents pass down their beliefs, superstitions and ideas to you from which you begin to draw your own values. Later your school teachers became extensions of your parents and finally so do the church and state. As a result, by at least the age of seven you have been molded to fit in with your culture and conform to the totems of its mores and morals. You know that you must keep your dress down and pants up; that some behaviors are acceptable while other behaviors are not.
Your brain most virtually believes EVERYTHING that it is told. If it is told that you are smart, good, and talented it will assume those qualities. If it is told (by some significant other) that you are dumb, bad and lazy, it will assume those qualities. In this sense, to one extent or another, we are all the results of the labels given us—sweet or sour, loving or unloving and so forth.
As a quick aside (and I have written this many times before) many doctors believe that when a child is continually called, for example, lazy that child may develop a lazy heart or liver or immune system. The reason is that the Brain, if you will, simply follows orders. You can test this for yourself: Look at a wonderfully cooked meal, for example, and keep telling yourself that it is sickening and see what happens when you bite into it.
Now apply this same theory to telling yourself that you are unhappy, bored, angry, hateful, exhausted, disappointed or in some other state of depression and see how proficient your brain is in delivering what you have subliminally instructed it to deliver. (Yes, this works in the reverse but we’ll be talking about the positive a little later).
But wait, according to modern rationalism this shouldn’t be so because the mind is a mere epiphenomenon of the brain. That is, a mere extension of the workings of the physical brain. And so, there is no “I” of you beyond or, if you will, within the machine. And so, I repeat, modern rationalism sees you as the sum total of your physical parts and nothing more.
Nevertheless, when you come to a fork in the road that you are traveling and have no idea where either trail leads your brain has nothing to lean on except the information it has stored; all it can do is draw from its memory to predict the future and so it cannot make a logical decision to follow the path to the left or right. Well, it is a machine after all and like a computer it operates from it’s “software.” It only knows what has been programed into it either by nature or nurture. And so, it is the “I” of you that decides which unknown to take.
In regard to this, Dr. Paul Pearsall in his amazing book, “Super Joy” says this:
“…the “I”, the self, is much more than the reverberations of neurons and we are much more than what we ‘think’ we are. We are also what we believe, hope, feel and sense. We can tell the brain not only what, but how to think.”
The “I” of you has a quality that the brain lacks: Intuition!
I can say this with a certain amount of assurance since among the things that so-called artificial intelligence cannot be given is “intuition.” In other words the machine is only capable of objective biases based on the information (memory) given it. Intuition is strictly a subjective view; a talent of consciousness as opposed to a process of the mechanical or, if you will body-function.
The problem is that in such circumstances as standing before a fork in the road, the brain and mind (the self and the body/brain) can fall into a dilemma of tug-of-warring. The “I” of us says, “I feel like taking the left fork will be best but the brain argues that the right heads into the sun and so, it explains, we will always know which direction we are headed.
Now then, in the above circumstance we will say that we permitted the brain to win the argument. We go right instead of left. And upon going right, in this instance, we end up facing a rocky cliff that we cannot climb; that stops us from pursuing our freedom or happiness. And so, in our regret we sit down sobbing and blaming ourselves for not following our feelings; our intuition…our hearts!
We human beings do this often. We simply surrender our power to control our own destinies to the brain’s limited knowledge. The brain, as said however, knows nothing beyond its own limited experiences.
This fork in the road syndrome can apply to the choices we make to marry, to build careers, to invest and, for that matter to all our life’s choices. And, no matter what circumstances we are presently in, we are in those circumstances as the result of the choices we’ve made.
Aspects of Free Will
Modern rationalism gives we humans little advance over clockwork existence. To them we are merely following our genetic dictates and therefore destined by them. If success or failure is in our genes…well then! This view obviously takes away both individual responsibility and the moral concept. This means that every good and evil doer is innocent of their actions—one was born to build and the other destruct or, in another scenario, one person is born with failure genes and another with success genes or one with happy genes and another with unhappy genes.
Now obviously I am over simplifying here but the point is that modern rationalism denies free will and supports biological determinism, the idea that our genetic inheritance dictates how we develop as individual human beings. This has gone so far as to offer that some people are predisposed to poverty or wealth. This is ever an obvious absurd notion but the notion is nevertheless held by at least a few in science and academia.
This leads us back to the earlier offering in this narrative that we are all made victors or victims by our socialization. While our genes has, for sure, given us our hair color, our skin color, other physical attributes along with, perhaps, a basic personality inherited from a long line of relatives we are not genetically condemned to make the choices that we make. What does condemn a great many of our choices are the indoctrinations we have been saddled with over the course of our lives. We humans live a lot outside of anything we might call actualities but create our realities out of concepts alone.
It is not only the indoctrinations that we have been given of the world and others but of ourselves. How much the average person attempts to live up to what the significant others in his or her life told him or her what they were like is impossible to say but, probably, it is more than anyone would like to admit or…is even aware of.
For example, when mom and dad places their son or daughter in the center, that child is going to grow up being more secure and self-assured than the son or daughter who was neglected by mom and dad or treated aloofly. No matter how many official arguments are made against it, the fact remains that our prisons have a large population of adults who were not given love and attentiveness as children.
In regard to the above, when we have been called “bad” or “good,” “smart” or “dumb,” talented or untalented,” “lovable or unlovable” our brains sooner or later believe the label and begin supplying the chemicals to produce the effect. Going back to Paul Pearsall for a moment, he also says: “The highs and lows that the endorphins produce are actually related to alterations in the way the brain pays attention to its world and what we tell our brains to pay attention to.”
If we were raised being told that we were loving and lovable, we will typically grow up to own those qualities; our brains will simply believe what it’s told and produce the chemicals to create the reality. If we were raised to believe we’re not very loving or lovable, our brains will produce the chemicals to create that reality. Granted these labels are mere concepts but again, much of our human lives are dictated to by the concepts we have been raised to believe.
It isn’t only our sexism and racism that is learned biases, but our nationalism and religious views are typically conditioned prejudices as well. And, the social engineers of every so-called civilized society are expert in brain-washing because they know exactly how vulnerable the human brain is to suggestion. And in many instances, unless we are very conscientious, our brains can overcome our will—which belongs to the “I” of us.
This is one reason why so many students of our humanism deny that we have free will at all. For example, the recent suicide bombers are obviously acting out of their indoctrination and while they no doubt believe they are acting out of freedom of choice, they are responding to years of nothing less than brain-washing.
In less radical situations, there are people that marry the wrong person, choose careers they don’t want, live entire lives that never seem comfortable to them. While they may blame themselves they might have made those choices to please others or…even to displease others. I heard one young woman say once: “I married my husbands because my parents forbid it.” The only saving grace was that at least she realized why she had made the unhappy-making choice, a lot of people—most people—never figure out or even stop to contemplate why they’ve made the choices they have made.
In regard to the above recall the demonstration at the top of this article; of standing at a fork in the road: This unfortunately is the way most people stand before the rest of their lives and why, no matter how well or poorly they are doing, they feel more lost than found.
Staying with the “fork in the road” scenario, as long (we’ll say) as the brain wins the argument to go one way or the other, the argument has been won from pre-conceived notions—remember the brain is the totality of its experiences and nothing more or less. This is why I am fully convinced that intuition is not nor can be a part of physical brain function. Indeed, I am just as convinced that we all make a great many unnecessary mistakes, called poor choices, in our lives because we permit the limits of the brain’s logic to overrule what we know, way down deep, to be the intuitive truth.
One of the major abstractions that biology and so modern rationalism has made for us is to denounce vitalism, the belief or doctrine that offers that there is more to us humans than our bodies. That is, that we people cannot be explained fully in chemical and physical terms so in other words, vitalism tells us that we have a soul or spirit or an I-ness that is the life-force of the physical self.
Biology (science) in this sense even denies that we are conscious in the way that we ordinarily think of consciousness. To many of today’s Biologist we are robots of a most advanced kind but robots all the same. And, the biologist includes himself in the description by the way: he merely believes that his genes have given him superior intelligence but in the end he will be ever as much of a stick of firewood as everyone else. The idea of hereafter to the modern rationalist is something that most people need to justify their existence, to keep going and to conjure meaning and purpose in their lives. The idea that there is actually a “ghost in the machine” is absurd to them. In fact, the idea that our bodies are inhabited by a soul or spirit is deemed beyond reason by them. To them, the “I” of us is our bodies and nothing more—they have rejected their own intuition in favor of the brains objectivity, necessarily based on the brain’s limited knowledge. If you will, they permit the brain to win all the debates or, in other words, when they reach a fork in the road that they are traveling they reject all alternatives except those which the brain gives to them. God forbid that they ever follow their hearts.
We use the term “heart” as a metaphor for the I-ness of ourselves, our souls also called mind or consciousness. And speaking of our hearts, today it is agreed by many physicists and other scientists that there is such a thing as a heart/mind which is in direct connectedness with the body/brain. And, that it sends the brain messages of behaviors and beliefs that are compassionate, empathetic, understanding and yes, wise but the brain has the power to accept or deny the message based on its own desires. Yes, yes, the thief says, I know it’s wrong to steal but if I take the money (or object) I will be better off and happier. Why should I not do what it takes to make myself better off and happier?
This obviously brings up the topic of conscience but conscience is a subject for another article except to say that the brain can “bury” conscience in many circumstances. The point here, however, is that the brain operates out of (learned) knowledge, not wisdom; out of self-centeredness not benevolence. Indeed, we can agree with Dawkins to this extent—the brain is a survival machine but we are not our brains—our brains may “think” they are us but we are the consciousness within; the spark that awakens the body to life; call it the ghost in the machine!
While the body/brain yearns for insight and foresight to make its best choices, the “I” of us is gifted with intuition and so the immediate awareness of the truth of some proposition and a conscious or unconscious sense of connectedness to Universal Mind.
It is with this conclusion and so at this juncture that we can push forward into part two of this essay.
PART TWO: Making the RIGHT Choices
How many times have we’ve heard the following said: Oh, if only I’d followed my heart…or, I knew in my heart I was doing the wrong thing...or, I just wish that I’d listened to my heart?
Remember we spoke of the woman with low self-esteem marrying the wrong man for the wrong reasons? We can safely assume that she was going against the feeling in her own heart and listening to all the reasons of her brain—but if you don’t marry him, there may never be anyone else…it doesn’t matter how selfish he is, he’ll change once we’re married and so on.
We too often make decisions out of fear, out of anxiety, out of anger, out of sexual passions, out of greed and other impulses. Now this will sound conflicting to some readers because they have been indoctrinated to believe that the seat of emotions is in the heart. The reverse of this is true, however. It is the brain that conjures jealousy, hatefulness, greediness, self-centeredness and so forth. The heart is loving after all and being loving, it is open and generous. It is the brain that is limited by its own egocentricities, demanding reciprocation and reward.
With the above in mind, the truth is that our earliest socialization indoctrinated us in the belief that to listen to the heart was folly; that our brains with all their calculative power were to overrule the heart’s desire. How many times have children been told to “use their heads,” without ever being told to “use their hearts?”
This is because the heart has historically symbolized foolishness, puppy love and other emotional immaturities. But what I am saying is that it is the brain that whimpers and whines, that want’s it way and often swells with self-absorption. What is needed to understand all this is to realize that the brain is “of” this world while the soul or spirit is only “in” it. And because of this all the brain knows is necessarily learned. This is why there are those who are tremendously educated, even PhDs if you will, who have lots of information but little understanding; they were excellent at remembering or maintaining the information given them by their professors but lack the ability to apply that knowledge to the realities life. The heart, on the other hand, that is the soul-self, has innate-knowing; the wisdom of the heavens so to speak. The problem is, as said, we are taught from the time that we are small children to disregard the heart’s desire and to follow the dictates of the brain. And so, with this in mind, the wise old sage asks the student, how has that been working out for you?
The Brain and Choosing
The brain is a wonderful, even miraculous organ but it is a mere physical tool and should be thought of in that way as opposed to thinking about it as the center of one’s being. The brain exists to serve the body and the “I” of us and has been equipped with over ten billion nerve cells to do this. It is a receiver and transmitter of information, however, not an intellectual center. Indeed, the mind is not located only in the brain but rather throughout the body, it is the “I” of us also known as soul, spirit and consciousness.
Granted, there are a great many people, especially those among the Modern Rationalists, who cannot grasp this. They are too convinced that we can be explained by the clock-work mechanisms, electromagnetism and Newton type physics. As stated earlier they believe that mind is a mere function of the physical brain, an epiphenomenon!
What I believe that the brain does, however, is to interpret, index and relay information coming in from both the outside and inside and so creating our realities from both the physical and the psychical.
The problem is that the brain begins to believe that it is the creature it serves. And yes, I am fully aware that this is all hypotheses but, on the same token, ego-self-awareness seems to belong to the brain and like Rene Descartes it tends to believe, I think, therefore I am.
We are all familiar with Descartes cogito, ergo sum but the physicist, Amit Goswami, does not accept this and says instead, opto, ergo sum, “I choose, therefore I am.” That we choose is, in and of itself a major clue that we are NOT merely an extension of our parents’ DNA turned into robotic matter with a brain that thinks it thinks. But dwell on this for a moment and you will realize that the decisions we make are always choosing between the heart and brain.
Going back to standing at the fork in the road, our brain will use its history to calculate the future—if we go “right” it says, we’ll be headed west and therefore will never be lost. But what the brain cannot predict is whether or not the fork to the right will lead into good or bad fortune. Bad or good fortune, the brain assumes, is left to fate or happenstance. The heart, however, is intuitive—it is all-knowing and when not corrupted by thought which is a basic brain function will unfold the right choice. In this view, we can say that if the person hadn’t stopped at the fork in the road to intellectualize a decision, and simply took the direction that felt most natural, the right choice no doubt would have been made.
Our spirit (call it mind) speaks through our “hearts” and is in every cell in our bodies: “Don’t get involved with that person,” it says or “don’t go down the dark alleyway” or on a more positive note, “you can trust this person” or “keep going you’ll be fine.” The problem is that we are in such habits of consulting our brains that we lose touch with our intuitions. In this view, it is fairly accurate to say that animal instincts are intuitive and thus not some mechanical response as some philosophers and scientists would have us believe. Intuition after all flows with the tide or, in other words is, as that old song says, “Just doin’ what comes naturally.”
The brain believes that it is outside of nature: It is always over here with everything else being over there. The heart, on the other hand, is in oneness with nature or in spirit with nature. Yet, the brain, unlike the river or stream that naturally goes around the obstacles in its way and never tries to run uphill but instead, has the tendency to swim against the tide, to climb over or go through the obstacles in its paths. The major reason for this is because our brains want to control but to control is an unnatural act, a motive of ego. Civilization itself, our kind’s so-called great achievement, is an unnatural environment wherein a great many human choices are dictated and, as a result, free will is simply taken away. This, by the way, is because so many people with brains that have greater knowledge take advantage of those with lesser knowledge and this is perhaps the greatest of all evils?
I will digress here for only a moment because the above paragraph reminded me of one of my favorite poems. The following was penned by the 15th century poet, John Dryden, perhaps you, the reader, will enjoy it as much as I do:
I am free as nature first made man
Ere the base law of servitude began
When wild wood and noble savage ran
In any case, I believe it can be said that we “must clear our heads” and open our hearts especially before we make major decisions. This, by the modern-day rationalist is absurdity because he believes that memory, the brain’s great influence, is needed to make decisions but the heart acts out of intuition and not mental constructs. This is why choices of the heart are invariably the right choices!
I believe that I can safely say that if your life has not gone well, if you find yourself in unfavorable circumstances the chances are that you have tried to think your way along your path. Well, after all, you have been taught by a great many that thinking is your key to the future. But you know yourself in your heart and your heart knows you—and your heart knows what is right not only for you but for others. Your heart knows what is kind and what isn’t, what love is and what merely the pretense of loving is—your heart makes choices based on all this knowing while your brain is capable of misinterpreting and judging. And so, when you want to make the right decision, do not decide…that’s right, do not decide, simply follow your heart!