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Old 12-16-2011, 01:03 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: NW Washington
Posts: 441
Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
So we are not automatons. We can reason that some ways are better than others. But you would say that we feel these things rather than reason about them.
Your concerns are similar to Stephanie's so I'll try to respond to both of you here. I apologize for not being able to make myself clear so far on this point. I suspect my problem has been that I'm trying to get down into the details of my explanation - perhaps anticipating objections at that level. From re-reading both your objections / concerns with my premise I can see that I have not made myself clear at the basic level of stating my premise.

My premise is that the proximate mechanism by which behavior decisions are made in the brain is a mechanism that is driven by emotion (or emotion signals). I call these signals "intuition". Intuition can be described as a non-cognitive "knowing". The important part of this premise is that this decision - at the moment the brain commits us to some behavior choice - happens non-consciously and is the product of intuition.

A large portion of the behavior decisions we make every day occur without conscious notice. Yesterday afternoon I was driving home. My vehicle speed was set at the 55 mph limit by my cruise control. I started watching the steering wheel. Every few seconds (about 4 sec intervals) my hands would move the steering wheel an inch or two to the right or left. As we all do while driving I had intuitively (without thinking about it) set a brain task state to keep my vehicle centered in my lane.

As my eyes noticed any tendency to drift out of that center position my brain would anticipate and correct for it with those quick steering corrections at about 4 second intervals. This required no reasoning. It was an automatic control loop that my brain operated intuitively without any need for me to be cognitively aware of it. (Although I was aware of it while I was observing it because I wanted to describe it here. Still, the corrections were automatic and were not the result of my conscious awareness.)

That is an example of one of thousands of similar behaviors we execute continuously in our lives. I fully accept that reason is often employed by human brains prior to many of our behavior decisions. There are many of those decisions we make every day that benefit from cognitive brain activity - such as reasoning, deliberating, planning, etc. But cognition can not be in control of the process.

For one thing cognition is sequential. Our conscious cognition can only focus on one topic at one time. Cognition is also relatively slow compared to intuition. Intuition can control multiple behavior tasks concurrently and uses minimal energy resources. Walking, driving, speaking - things we do continuously in our lives all require fast multitasking and could not possibly be controlled by the cognitive brain. It's way too slow and uses too much energy. Try to recall the mental load when you first got behind the wheel of a car. You over-steered, you jerked between too fast and too slow, etc. Thinking about those things to control them just doesn't work very well. Like skiing or playing a guitar - you do not start to become competent until you can stop thinking about it and allow your intuitive mind to take over.

I can keep my car in its lane and if my cruise control is off I can also use my feet to slow down, speed up or maintain a fairly constant speed with the gas and the brake pedal. I can do those things while my cognitive brain is completely focused elsewhere - listening to C-SPAN or talking to my wife through my bluetooth phone.

Let's say my wife calls and asks me to stop at the market and pick up some coffee beans. After I disconnect but while I'm still driving, my brain starts reasoning. Which stores will I pass and which ones are closest to the highway, which stores will likely have the beans we like? Then, picking one store, which exit should I use, etc? Let's say I chose the Safeway in Silverdale (because that's just what happened yesterday.)

Why did I pick it? Because it was the most logical and therefore I had no other choice - since my human brain like Mr. Spock's can only choose the most logical behavior in any situation? I'd suggest that I chose it because my intuitive brain - having had the experience of thousands of such similar events in my past (where I had to interrupt a trip to get something at a store) knew from those experiences that I would be happier choosing a store that was conveniently close to the highway. Also, that if I failed to think about that - I could find myself wasting a lot of time and gas in traffic going to a store that was further from the highway. My intuitive brain was quite concerned that I did not put myself in that (emotionally) uncomfortable and frustrating situation.

You could say that I made the most logical choice because I had a bias for logical conclusions - and that would be partially true. I'd say a more accurate description of what happened is that my intuitive brain called my cognitive brain into action to find the most logical behavior choice in that situation - logical for the intuitively beneficial purpose of saving me time, gas and frustration - as well as making my wife happy. None of that involved any conscious choice. Like my steering corrections that kept on as I was thinking through the "market selection" problem, I simply found myself going through my mental list searching for the market nearest the highway.

My intuitive brain accepted that logical conclusion and executed the behavior it called for because it predicted that decision would give me the best outcome in terms of my state of happiness and well-being as a result - compared to any other choice at that time. That is a more complete version of how I believe all behavior decisions are made by human (and any complex animal's) brain.

The intuitive brain is concerned with such matters and is very good at (non-consciously) integrating predictions of my future emotional state into a decision. The logical brain is not so good at it. Another example is the nerd (like me in high school) trying to talk to a pretty girl - by thinking about what to say - instead of allowing his intuitive brain the freedom to have some fun.

Much human activity requires both intuitive and logical wisdom. And so we have evolved with the intuitive brain as the decision-maker - which was there long before primates started to have an ability to reason. In modern humans it intuits the need to call for cognitive assistance - which is a recently evolved resource we have - based on successful experiences in the past in similar situations. It then judges how much to trust the logical conclusions based on the risk of being wrong and also on its past experience in similar situations.

In that way our human brains combine both logical and emotional (intuitive) wisdom to come up with optimum behavior choices. If evolution ever created such a creature in the universe as a Mr. Spock - I'm sure that lineage would die off pretty quickly. It wouldn't even be able to drive a car.

I have my fingers crossed that this helps you both see what I'm trying to say. If you still have doubts - see if you can find an example where a human brain makes a purely logical behavior choice that is not for the intuitively judged purpose of increasing the net happiness and well-being of the person making the choice. I'd say living organisms making such choices do not exist except perhaps in Eugene Roddenberry's imagination.

Added: I just remembered that Jonah Lehrer - in his book "How We Decide" offers a very good exploration of this question. It's a fun book to read and would be a great introduction to recent advances in the scientific understanding of human behavior.
Self determination for DNA

Last edited by Ray in Seattle; 12-16-2011 at 06:42 PM..
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