Self Deception and Problem Solving

We recently had a spring retreat at the Catskills Bed and Breakfast and Spa here in Stamford NY in the Northern Catskills Mountains.

During the retreat we were all sitting in the hot tub talking about how to solve problems. Solving a problem means that one must make effective choices. In order to do this one needs to explore why and how people make certain decisions and once this is understood to create applicable models for making more effective decisions.

The key mental functions that help us to make logical and rational choices are thinking and feeling. This done through organizing data that is received from our conscious and unconscious information gathering functions, usually our five senses or our intuition. We then access this information as best we can, and then we make a choice. Most choices are the result of emotion, not air-tight logic and consistent thinking.

Human beings, more than any other living creature, have a wide range of choices available to them; is it best to respond to our genetic and biological inclinations? Do we repress, suppress, or transcend these instinctual urges? And if we do not act on these urges, is there a price to be paid or can we learn to leverage one urge (the urge to compete, for instance) against another urge (the urge for sex)? Of course sensing and intuition do not seem logical or rational at all. They seem quite subjective and intangible. So knowing this is so how does one make effective choices? The most effective choices are created through a balance between what we are conscious of and what is there but which we are not aware – of which we are unconscious.

In essence, all humans possess the ability to make choices in opposition to instinctual urges if they wish to? Now genes come into play here as well. It would be difficult (if not impossible) to make choices that go against one’s own genes and genetic orientation is not concerned with logic. There is always the question of what is one to do if one has a genetic disposition towards a pattern or behavior, especially if this disposition goes against logic? Is it best to act on it, or if it is negative, avoid it? Should a person with alcoholic tendencies simply avoid imbibing in the beverage? Or should she say, “This is me, it feels nice, I’m going to do it in spite of my genes or rather because of my genes”?

All this comes down to how conscious a person is of who they are and what they need to do. Consciousness is the complete and total of all of which we are aware. Pre-consciousness is the place where all that we can remember voluntarily is stored.

Many choices are made because of subconscious motivations

Whether you are aware of what is going on below the surface or not, your mental life is still influenced by what I call ‘natural law’ – those things that drive us genetically and biologically. It is here, in the realm of natural law, where all of our primal, instinctual, and intuitive impulses and drives reside. It is these drives, which to a large part define who we are and how we act, even if we are not fully aware of them. It is the merging of these drives, memories (both recalled and repressed), ideas, and our emotions that define the choices we will make.

Logic is less of an influence than the unconscious in how we is make decisions. This is often a surprise to those who worship at the altar of common sense.

It is all a result of how the world around us functions. If we lived in a world where there was no culture, gender, race, emotion, belief, faith, competitiveness, ego, or passion – logic might be an effective approach to life. However these factors do define how we think and act in spite of what makes logical sense. Because of this we will not always choose the action that maximizes our performance even if we have access to all of the knowledge and information required to make the best choices. This applies even to ethics. Many people have a culturally specific understanding of ethics, which makes many of the ethical standards held by some cultures seem illogical when seen from outside that culture.

Sometimes you’re at the right place but must be the wrong time?

Here’s a music video on the subject:


Here is also a great TED talk by Michael Shermer on self deception.

Please “friend” me, Lewis Harrison on Facebook and ask your friend to do the same.



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