The Forces Which Act On Human Decision Processes.
Copyright April 2013 by author. Reproduction permitted with acknowledgment.
“I am right. I know that I am right. Of course I am right!”
Humans regard their decision making capabilities, which they perceive as “reasoned”, with contentment. However this is often not the case. One reason is that the inputs into conscious decision processes are limited.
There is a good biological reason for limiting the input, because a simplified cognitive mechanism, a perceptual heuristic, permits humans to minimize the period of un-certainty and more rapidly reach decisions. This speed is necessary for individual and species survival. It is the compromise between precision and speed.
As a result the information as processed by the “conscious” component of cerebration results is an incomplete and blinkered compendium of limited factors. Therefore conscious decision making processes become primarily linear, binary algorithms with restricted input variables.
Certainty vs. Uncertainty. These are emotion based decisions. Whilst the conscious, cerebral process of decision making is operating the disquieting emotion of “uncertainty” exists.
When the decision making process closes (or is considered closed) the “certainty” emotion is generated. This is necessary to allow the individual to “escape” the period of uncertainty and instead focus on the resultant “action”. “Certainty” is therefore a compromise, because of the limited number of variables analysed. As a result while the contentment of reaching “certainty” might be an anxiolytic, it does not reflect “scientific certainty”, merely an emotional satisfaction.
Intuition. Human decision making and resulting behaviour is also replete with numerous subliminal components which include intuitive and instinctive contributions which cannot be consciously registered. What is important is that these simultaneous, but subconscious, forces act in a nearly balanced equilibrium of many different, sometimes opposite, vectors. The powerful influence of the intuitive, which operates outside the conscious, is taken as a cognitive “given” and therefore does not delay decision-making significantly. The complexity of the intuitive drives is so great that any form of adequate dissection or precise analysis is improbable. The result is a complex equation reduced to a single outcome, the balance of many inputs resulting in a single behavioural action.
Other subliminal influences on decision making and behaviour include blind-sight, deaf-hearing, and likely many others including complex pattern recognition components. These are clearly beyond the boundaries of consciously derived “certainty”.
This contrasts with the perception held by most, which is that their rational thoughts are evolved by an all-embracing, conscious, linear algorithm, and so justify their “certainty”.
Unsound Convictions Unfortunately, in this more complex, modern world, a far greater number of variables exist when compared with those confronting humans during their evolution. The complexities and imperatives of the “modern world” necessitate certainty is sought rapidly, repeatedly and often urgently. At times this is too rapid for full processing of input, and is hurried in order to end the disquiet of indecision. Despite this newly evolved complexity of context the individual still perceives that, by reaching “certainty”, they have encompassed enough knowledge about their decision context and reached a sufficiently “rational” explanation to support their actions.
This contentment with “certainty” seems to have been enhanced, not necessarily for the better, by the age of science, where humans are led to believe that almost everything is understood and that which is not understood will invariably become understood in their near future.
The Danger of “Certainty. These “short-cut, high speed” cerebral processes and their termination with “certainty” often result in inflexible conviction, which is dangerous. This is because the emotional assurance provided by “certainty” contrives authoritarianism and arrogance. This combination of “certainty” and arrogance is displayed, not only at the level of the individual but, via politicians and other influencing personalities, in group behaviour. In this way entire nations can be carried on these waves of self-reinforcing self assurance with the “certainty” that these prevailing decisions are immovably correct.
Righteousness. There is not a great distance between self assurance and righteousness. It is therefore interesting that many of the great “social movements” of the 20th and 21st century have been founded on the quality of righteousness. Such righteousness, when shared or exploited has been the adhesive which has allowed critical numbers of acolytes to embark on their destructive “swarming”, all self-assured that this is absolute appropriate behaviour.
Destructive Righteousness Whether directly or indirectly, this righteous “certainty” has coincided with, and perhaps has been instrumental in, the greatest wars of humanity, and the most brutal, widespread and destructive acts of humans. Almost without exception these destructive movements have been justified, propped up and reinforced by the widespread conviction of the perpetrators’ “certain, righteous, assurance”.
The common factor amongst all of these movements, however destructive, is the “certain” belief that it will be for the “betterment of society”.
Indeed these qualities of righteousness have probably been more destructive and anti-humanistic than the sum total benefit of the “freedoms” so earnestly aspired towards by populations and so flamboyantly marketed (as “democracy”) by the politicians of the West. The not very distant relatives of democracy, also propounded and forced on populations, disguised as “socialism”, “fascism” or “communism” have similarly suffocated “freedom” by the hand of certainty.
Self Preservation. Destructive righteousness is very different from the mechanisms of self preservation, which require freedom of speech and freedom of association. These inherent qualities are expressed by a form of self assurance which allows the individual or smaller group to garner the help needed to protect individuals and groups. One characterizing difference is the relative smallness of the group.
Perversion of reason. Ironically, humans as highly social animals with capabilities, deeply engrained during evolution, are very good at organizing themselves within societies. Politicians with their new, inordinate, powers – so recently acquired in evolutionary terms – but with their untrained background, often tainted with self interest and naivety try to engineer human social behaviour. It seems that politicians believe that they can “administer” (and for that read “socially engineer”) on the basis of their own intuition and inherent instinct. The irony is that these are the same inherent mechanisms by which groups of humans have successfully governed their social behaviour since time immemorial.
It was these small homogenous groups, clusters of humans, which mediated the (self evident) successful socio-biological evolution of humans via their intuitive directives.
Out of their League. Modern politicians believe that they can succeed in manipulating, not small homogenous groups, but millions of diverse peoples, forcing upon them a universal compliance with the wishes of that extreme minority, the politicians. These politicians must inevitably fail to match the highly structured mechanisms which mediated orderly social behaviour in small, homogeneous, groups of evolving humans.
It is not implied that humans will not quarrel. That will always occur, as will quarrelling groups, in the form of “mini-wars”. Perhaps that is a necessary evolution. The recent Great Wars of mankind are a very different matter, which will be addressed in later posts.
As a result present day politicians are – given their covert weakness and the impossible dimensions of their ambitions – ultimately doomed to failure.The outcome, after an attenuated period of stress forced on the subservient society, can only be an inevitable catastrophic derangement of all social structures.
Post Script. The counter currents indicated here are complex.
On the one hand imperfect acquisition of understanding at a conscious level can allow diametrically opposite interpretation of the same context by different persons.
At the instinctive level many inherent drivers have different vectors, and the relative relationships of these can be deviated further by conscious input – which will vary significantly.
It is hoped that these essays can steer a perspective shift. Even if minor, such changes might be sufficient to reappraise the mechanisms of the worst behaviour of humans, the most destructive of their evils and the erosion of many of the qualities of humanism, so necessary for a social animal (like humans) to survive in contentment.