Friday, July 20, 2012

Pre-determined choices

The debate over free will has been waged for millennia. The issue of whether humans, or for that matter, any sentient being has the power to freely choose among a range options has religious, ethical and scientific implications.  It is one of the few debates where scientists and theologians both argue both sides.  It leads to discussions of an omnipotent God, immutable laws of physics, accountability, and moral standards.

It is a fascinating debate, made somewhat less abstract by recent neuroscience data obtained while subjects think they are making decisions.  Patterns in brain activity allows scientists to accurately predict the subjects' choices BEFORE they themselves are aware of those decisions. That is pretty interesting, but to me it just suggests that there is a lag between the decision making and the cerebral processing of that decision.  We process a lot of information without conscious awareness, so this doesn’t seem surprising.  You know, like when you can’t think of someone’s name until you stop trying, and then it just pops into your mind. 

Which way should I go?

We make a lot of choices every day, or at least we think we do.  And the conventional wisdom is that we are happier with more options to choose from.  Why else would we have semi-sweet, bittersweet, milk, white, and mint chocolate, available as mini chips, standard chips, chunks, and jumbo chips, distributed by Hershey, Nestles, Ghirardelli,  and your generic grocery brand.  That is 80 choices right there.  OF CHOCOLATE CHIPS!  We must be very happy with all those alternatives.

Of course, some would say that we have no option at all, that choice is an allusion.

Omnipotent God, immutable laws of physics and neuroscience notwithstanding, I have a hard time believing that my chocolate chip choice is pre-determined. 

But what do I know?

There is a problem.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have to weigh the pros and cons of each option and make the best possible choice.  And, once I decide on the Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Chunks, I tend to second guess myself, so that instead of enjoying my choice I wonder if I would have been happier with the Ghirardelli bittersweet. It seems to me that when there are too many choices, it is hard to feel fully satisfied.    Decisions about chocolate chips are totally inconsequential; the angst caused by too many options is much more intense when the decision actually matters.

I try not to belabor unimportant decisions but I do think a lot about the significant decisions I make. Instead of second-guessing myself about making the optimal choice, I am guided by a simple question, “Is this who I want to be?”  If so, then I move on.  If not, then I try to choose differently.  It is a pretty simple operating philosophy, but it feels right to me. 

Of course, I probably didn’t actually CHOOSE this philosophy.

But then again maybe I did.

Today I am grateful that Al and I (or omnipotent God or immutable laws of physics) made the decision to take ZigZag for a walk.  It was an absolutely beautiful summer evening in Michigan.

1 comment:

  1. So ... What became of the Hershey Special Dark chocolate chunks to which you allude? !? Great post. Love it.