My tired mind almost caved this morning. There were voices trying to convince me that I could cheat this morning, giving in to my drowsiness and sleeping in, which by all accounts I did, as one foot wouldn’t fall in front of another until 04:25. Those little voices try to tell everybody what to do, don’t they? Think back to times when you’ve had to make a choice, and it is literally like having an argument, scratch that, it is usually more like hearing an argument between two personal impersonators. It seems most people believe this is the process of them choosing, like they have control over the little voices in their heads.
“It’s just a piece of cake. So fucking good.”
“Yeah, but she got so pissed last week when I had those skittles. Diabetes sucks.”
“I could eat it before anybody really notices.”
“She’ll taste it if we kiss, and I know I shouldn’t. What a let down.”
“But one piece can’t actually kill you unless you’re choking on it.”
At various points in the dialogue above, the mind would have also been interjecting visualization sequences, emotional reactions based on olfactory bias, as well as a whole slew of other tactile memory/emotional recollections. The dynamic between the cool, dense frosting and the soft, moist cake, or perhaps the internal guilt we’d might feel over giving in to desire would both be talking over one another to win the argument. Sometimes there might be a third or fourth option (although a fourth option would be difficult to maintain based on the bits per second processing limitations of the consciousness function in the brain. In other words, there are likely several voices going on, but we’d only be aware of the “loudest” few in the bunch), and it certainly seems like we are at the wheel for at least some of these moments.
Of course “you” aren’t at the helm of your brain ship, because “you” are a rationalized product of the resultant behavior from all these little inner dialogues. The choice to do one thing or the other is in a sense noticed after the fact of choosing. That can lead to backsliding. Once we become aware that the brain seeks to make a choice, the natural feedback loops that allow us to know the world can activate as a response triggering the whole damn cascade of inner argument to start over, and once again, we will be uncertain the outcome until after intense debate.
I haven’t seen the movie Inside Out as of yet, but people tell me that it is a must see for neuroscience fans like myself. Only having seen the previews and trailers for it, I imagine the very seen I laid out above is somewhat mirrored in the movie, and my approval is all but guaranteed.
I am of the opinion that morality will evolve if more people would try to see the world like this. To give up the idea that they have some controlling stake, or worse, a controlling entity (soul) of behavior. The notion may provide some confidence when things go well and did open the door for the concept of accountability, both hopeful predictors for the next evolutionary wiggle of cultural conscientiousness past the soul fallacy. Embracing the brain state called “confidence” may accelerate the conditioning of a certain beneficial proficiencies, and accountability is a state of mind seeking causation and explanation for social circumstance. Both are honorable notions when observed analytically. Where we could fall short is when other selfish and impulse based bias create feedback loops because of the control fallacy. “I did great, so I deserve…” There are immediate moral red-flags with line of thought, but we all have had that feeling. What about, “they messed up, so they deserve…” We, all of a sudden, feel a little better about the world after reading that one. And there is a strong statistical bias toward punishment for deviant human behavior, even though it is an ineffective conditioning factor (creating aversion as opposed to conditioning). We evolved this imperfect rationalization system as it increases the likelihood of doing beneficial acts as well as more often quickly crushing, or “punishing” opposition to what works in the present or immediate future, even though what works now may be harmful in the long run. “Selfish” and “shortsighted” seem like potentially harmful behaviors.
This was just a small example with a couple of observations, but it’s easy to see why this issue concerns me.
When we think we can control this world, even the internal one, we make unnecessary mistakes, mistakes made more avoidable by conditioning away from the old notion of behavior’s cause. And hey, you still get to feel like you are sometimes running your own show, and in this world, that may be the perfect amount of hope.