We like to think we’re logical beings. We believe we use reason to make important decisions and assume we’re not slaves to emotions. But unfortunately we’re wrong.
We delude ourselves every day with the biases we carry around, the emotional baggage we were unable to check at the door. The more we think about our memories, for example, the less reliable they become because our current state of mind influences those recollections. A memory is only a representation of reality; it is not an exact replica.
Part of the problem is that perception is everything (see my blog post of April 22, 2015). What we see is not what others see. What we experience is different from our neighbors’ experience. Every mind creates its own version of reality. We see what our subconscious tells us we should expect to see. Our minds create a narrative based on our perceptions of the world and we filter our sensory input through that lens.
We believe we know what truth is. We might say, God exists. I know God exists. Therefore, all you who deny him are being illogical and you will suffer once the truth becomes known to you. Or you might say, I know cow’s milk is bad for humans, so all parents who give cow’s milk to their children are bad parents.
Yet our truth is not necessarily the same truth others endorse. It is only our perception we are asserting when we announce that we know the truth. And our perception is heavily influenced by subconscious emotions, heuristics that helped us survive for hundreds of thousands of years.
Our brains lie to us every day. We use reason and logic to rationalize the decisions we’ve made, to make us feel as if we’re in charge of ourselves, but the truth is that our subconscious brains often lead the way, prompting us to move in a certain way or accept a certain statement based on some deep emotion we don’t fully understand.
And only afterward, when we examine why we made the choice we made, do we perhaps grasp the illogic of our desires. Even then, however, we often fail to overcome our mind’s preference for using rationalization to justify our decision-making process.
All right, so we’re programmed to follow our emotions, to choose what the amygdala tells us to pick. Does that mean we can’t act logically? That emotion always wins? Of course not. We can and often do act logically.
We may not wish to attend our cousin’s wedding, for example, or mow the lawn. Yet we understand that we will anger certain relatives by staying away and the grass will only get longer if we wait, making the task that much more difficult. So we use the logical part of our brain to choose that which we don’t want to do.
The problem, however, lies in the snap judgment. Sometimes a snap judgment is necessary. When you see a brightly colored snake in the undergrowth, you don’t stand there and go through a checklist to determine whether it is poisonous and you ought to be afraid of it. You run! As you should.
Our default decision-making brain is an emotional creature while Spock’s default decision-making brain was cool logic. So although it’s possible for us to act logically at times, we’ll never be Spock.
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