Unraveling Reality {35} Decisions


“Life is the sum of all your choices.” ~ French philosopher Albert Camus

The grooves of our lives are etched by the decisions we make. Only a relative few of those relate to physical necessities. The great remainder are propelled by desires, most of which have a social seminality.

The mental machinery for decision-making runs a coarse course. The cognitive calculators of logic are shoddy. Stepwise logic is terribly taxing and cannot consider everything which should weigh in; hence, we rely upon rough rules of thumb called heuristics. There are hundreds of human heuristics: some complementary, some contradictory, most tainted by bias of some sort, all fallible.

Heuristics operate subconsciously. Like a puppet on invisible strings, decisions are mentally presented with the built-in biases behind them out of view.

“Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.” ~ English magician Robert Heller

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The mind connects dots of coincidence to construe a pattern, and readily sees patterns where none exist. This is where decisions begin: with available input massaged by the mind. Here is the first and most significant bias. Perceptions are heavily filtered by a framing effect: viewing situations from a certain perspective, typically personal gain or loss. The context that underlies decisions is itself a bias.

“Belief creates the actual fact.” ~ American psychologist William James

Cognitively, our lives are driven on a bumpy road, full of potholes. Because the lensing lays deep within, along with a built-in bias to uphold self-esteem, looking back does not readily provide a corrective view. We tend to see things in a way that justifies what we did. This makes self-correction problematic without questioning the motivations and unexamined assumptions that propel us forward.

First and foremost, decisions are determined emotionally. We live by affect, not reason.

“The mind is always the dupe of the heart.” ~ French author François de La Rochefoucauld

As much as we can, we do what we like. By contrast, doing what is good for us falls under the astringent aegis of discipline, which most people lack.

“Choices are the hinges of destiny.” ~ American poet Edwin Markham