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02-01-2011 - Choice and consequences

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As a popular movie's character states, "People can't see past choices they don't understand". The inference is made that people have, in effect, already made their choices whether they realize it or not. In a practical sense, this could mean that once a conscious or subconscious decision is made or conclusion reached, the mind looks no further and other options are disregarded. This makes sense as the mind would be hard-pressed to function with no restrictions or containers. Conversely, better understanding may generate more and better choices.

If you're familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test, it does not mean anything in itself, but the manner of its construction and the huge number of results available for study makes it extremely accurate as a means to characterize a personality. If you saw mine, even though it was done thirty years ago, it pertains as much today as it did then, if not more so. It's actually a bit disturbing; with an understanding of the test results you could probably predict my behavior better than 75% of the time. Whether you state it in philosophic or psychological terms, we appear to be more hard-wired than we might prefer to think.

How free is your free will? There are various ways to approach this question, but I think it might be a mix of certain aspects of the predominant modes of thought used to tackle the issue. There are physiological, psychological and, perhaps, spiritual aspects to consider.

Physiologically, our brain is like an onion with the earliest evolutionary development, the brainstem, in the center. The cerebral cortex is the latest addition and inhabits the outer layers. As an analogy, the cortex is the modern, rational, sophisticated human while the brainstem, sometimes called the "alligator brain", is the instinctual, wild, survival-level beast within us all. It is the brainstem that calls the shots when in fight or flee mode. It is the hermit with the 10-gauge shotgun above the fireplace living in the basement of the house the modern guy added onto...ready to storm out of the basement if need be. This could be a lesson in how potentially close we are to being back in the cave. What this means is that the brainstem can dictate actions without someone really understanding why. Many feel it could be implicated in addiction. The need for a substance can become a survival-level drive, or need, like food or water. One interesting theory is that of the "bicameral mind". Basically it states that early in our evolution we did not understand where our internal voice was coming from when it first developed. We thought it was a version of God talking to us because our brains were not as organized or as fully integrated as they are now.

Psychologically, the rational mind feels in control. If that were the case, no one would suffer from mental issues, or it means none of us have the capability to be rational. It's probably a combination of both. Neurons use electrochemical processes to function together in order to create an organ capable of hosting consciousness. It is one of the least understood subjects on the forefront of science, but is what we use to make these same subjects understandable. The complexity of the brain can render psychology worthless in some cases, yet, as described above, people can be predicted. The problem is that, for instance, the MB test is a model that doesn't utilize any rules resulting from psychological understanding; the rules were extrapolated from the data and applied to others. The underlying fundamental cause and effect relationships regarding psychological function are not well known. The key here, as in the movie, is to know thyself. No one else can get in there and the more familiar one is with their own internal workings the better they can understand themselves, their choices and everything around them.

Spiritually, it's hard to say. There is research concerning the difference between the mind and brain. Some believe they are separate; the brain being the hardware and the mind the software, so to speak. Is the mind/brain set up to take suggestion from realms other than the physical? The literature is full of speculation concerning the actions of the unconscious and subconscious mind. Lucid dreaming, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, etc. provide for some interesting reading. Maybe the question should be: Are we subject to a fate we cannot change? Is fate real and connected to a higher reality? Can fate be overruled through understanding? I don't know, but it is an oft repeated theme throughout history.

With the world changing at such a pace understanding our choices can lead to better solutions. To illustrate, the movie shows that when we do not understand the choices, or are not even aware that there is a choice, the choices will be made for us. This scene, and an accompanying sub-theme throughout the movie, actually embody thousands of years of philosophical thought as well as modern understanding...

I hope you know Kung-Fu (metaphorically speaking ;-)

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