4. CONTRADICTIONS AND THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
The previous chapter served to analyze the various sources for insight into the phenomenon of existence. It became apparent that all sources have serious limitations. Consequently, one must expect a certain amount of contradiction between the findings from the various sources. How can one handle these contradictions, and how can one arrive at decisions regarding one’s own way through existence?
The searching human mind attempts to establish a coherent explanation of the issue it is confronted with. If there is a gap in understanding, if a question about the gap must be answered with “I don’t know”, the mind is not at rest until coherence is found. It is equally unsatisfactory for the searching mind if two explanations appear possible which are not congruent among themselves, as when they explain the behavior of a person with two different and unrelated motives. Such a situation leaves insecurity.
The interesting point here is that two (or more) different motives for behavior sometimes exist at the same time. The understanding of both motives, though unrelated, provides deeper insight into that person’s multilevel behavior. For example, many people are both selfish and generous. People may donate to a charity, yet, view it as a tax deduction.
In the field of religion and philosophy, the development of single-perspective theories of existence and human society is quite common. In many important cases, the applicability of the theory is its justification. Selective observation or forced exegetic explanations are used to establish a closed system of thought and to give the theory universal significance.
As long as we do not fully understand existence in its multilevel complexity, we may be better served in accepting partial theories for partial explanation of existence in a not-closed system of thought.
In politics, there is room for both liberal and conservative thought. In looking at the world, many people find room for scientific and also for religious thought. In religion, there is room for understanding the Darwinian struggle of lower nature and also for Christian ideals for mankind, with our actual lives still being involved in both. In philosophy, there is irresolvable duality between emotional and rational decisions – and in “moral” philosophy, between self-interest and the three, sometimes quite contradictory, basic, genetically given ethical behaviors of social animals (humans included) in caring for offspring or close relatives, in loyalty or reciprocity for chosen “friends”, and in sacrifice for the social community.
The decision-making process in the human brain is a weighing process, in combination with one’s own drives (passions), emotions (desires), thought (logical rationality), mental creativity (new perspectives, intuitions), and temperament (personality, character).
The weighing of conflicting choices – as presented by reason, ethical values, and personal preferences – is commonplace in our daily lives. When there is no preponderance of one choice, a succession of intuitive solutions goes in circles, and such conflicts of choice become uncomfortable. Some individuals, based on their temperamental constitution, have more trouble than others in resolving conflicts and in arriving at decisions.
The reduction of all choices to a common denominator (for instance, money in business) is analytically possible (utility theory), but it does not always work in practical life. It is, then, a matter of values and character as to what one chooses and how swiftly one chooses.
Practical analysis, scientific research, contemplation, meditation, the appeal to conscience, prayer, the counsel of a wise friend, and other approaches are used to gain better insight or to shift the burden of the decision-making process onto someone else’s shoulders.
One basic distinction between decision-makers is that between individuals who choose what they want and those who want to choose what is right (if they know what that is).
The question of “free will” comes up in this context. It will be discussed in detail in a later chapter. This question was also discussed in the author’s essays, “Ethics” and “Ethics in the Light of Brain Physiology”. As indicated there, “free will” is often meant as “free decision-making”. One limitation to this freedom lies in the limitations of the mental process.
Nature and nurture both play a role in this. However, one’s own thought is also key to mental options, as shown in the essay, “Creative Thought”.
If the limitations of thought are not the problem, external limitations can become paramount, as in job-related decision-making.
Beyond that, a person’s character is the main limiting factor in decision-making. While many people would like to have a different and, preferably, better character, changes are difficult to accomplish – but not impossible (see the essay, “Brain, Mind: Human Personality’s Stability, Variability, and Multiplicity” on the author’s website). The reference to role models is helpful (“how would my role model decide?”).