In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.
The process never ends until we die.
And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
Choice implies judging the merits of multiple options and making a decision – selecting one or more of them. Selecting none is a choice – which is indecision. If the decision is complex, then reasoning, instinct and feeling become more intertwined.
Simple choices might include what to eat for dinner or what to wear – choices that have relatively low-impact. More complex choices might involve what job to select, making vows to a life partner, picking candidates in election, etc. – choices based on multiple influences and having greater or longer-lasting consequences.
Too many choices
Choice seduces the modern consumer everywhere and all the time – coffee can be tall, short, decaf, flavored, spiced, hot or iced, caramel flan, frappuccino. Any fast-food restaurant has a plethora of choices that confuse visitors from other countries. Being in line adds stress, which often leads to no response – one visiting relative called it “instant indecision”. Is so much choice a good thing?
Every day, everyone faces lots of decisions, large and small – what to eat for lunch, whether to change careers or pursue a new romantic relationship.
How does the human brain decide? A new study (1) suggests that it relies on two separate networks to do so: one that determines the overall value – the risk versus reward – of individual choices. The other guides ultimate behavior.
In his TED talk on the “Paradox of Choice”, psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses a central principle of western societies: freedom of choice. He thinks that choice does not provide freedom, but paralyzes. It does not cause happiness, but dissatisfaction. Simpler times, with fewer choices, are appealing to many. (2)
Daniel McFadden, economist at University of California, Berkeley, suggests that most people find too many options troubling because of the “risk of misperception and miscalculation, of misunderstanding the available alternatives, of misreading one's own tastes, of yielding to a moment's whim and regretting it afterwards”, combined with “the stress of information acquisition”. Indeed, the expectation of indecision can prompt panic and a failure to choose at all. (3)
In a paper published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, in 1970, Lipowski wrote, “I maintain that it is specifically the overabundance of attractive alternatives, aided and abetted by an affluent and increasingly complex society, that leads to conflict, frustration, unrelieved appetitive tension, more approach tendencies and more conflict—a veritable vicious cycle.” That cycle, in turn, likely had “far-reaching and probably harmful effects on the mental and physical health of affected individuals.” (4)
Having too many options demands too much effort to make a sensible decision: better to avoid the decision, or have somebody else pick for you. The vast majority of shoppers in a Californian grocery store faced with 24 varieties of something simply choose not to buy any. The French have a saying: “Trop de choix tue le choix” (too much choice kills the choice).
Psychologists say that having more choices raises expectations too high, making even a good decision feel bad. The potential for regret about the options not taken is greater in the face of multiple choices – resulting in confusion, indecision, panic, regret, anxiety.
Often, making a choice is not easy. There are few unanimous choices - 100% agreement in anything is rare.
Change, by definition, requires us to embrace new (or contrary) opinions. When change is necessary, new ideas must be introduced, and new ideas are almost always met with confrontation on some level.
As a leader, it gets really hard to make the unpopular choices. It’s especially hard when a company owner is called upon to make hard, but necessary, decisions such as announcing layoffs and reducing benefits. It’s hard to decide between success and reputation, friendships, and family. It’s likely that someone will be hurt, or unhappy – but that cannot stop the hard choices. One has to have the self-confidence and the “intestinal fortitude” to make tough choices.
Leaders must recognize that friendships can't get in the way of making the right choice. Good people recognize this need and respect it. Teams don't work well when their leader makes only popular choices.
It’s even harder to go against the popular trend when one is just a regular employee. I remember that Action Instruments, the company I founded in San Diego, gave employees who’d been at the company for at least a year the choice to buy stock ownership. Most employees were enthusiastically in favor and we were known as an employee-owned company. But one person refused, saying, “Ownership implies responsibility, which I don’t need.” I respected his motivation and accepted his candid admission. I’m happy to note that this person stayed with the company and kept being promoted for his excellent work.
Now, let’s dig in deeper into the psychological aspects of making choices. Where does free will come in when making a choice? Is behavior (choice) pre-determined, or does it include free will? (5)
It’s commonly believed that humans have free will. Conscious reflection on the available choices is the best way to achieve objectives; and learn from mistakes. Calculation, strategy, organization etc. are interpreted as key elements to help make specific choices in particular situations.
Free Will Theological Views
A benevolent and all-knowing god always chooses the path that causes the most good, which means there is no real choice to be made, no free will. But, god lets evil exist, which is a required side effect of free will. See my blog – Creation Allegory. (6)
In Christian theology God, by virtue of his foreknowledge, knows what factors will influence individual choices, and by virtue of his omnipotence he controls those factors. This becomes especially important for the doctrines relating to salvation and predestination.
According to Islamic doctrine, free will is the main factor for man's accountability in his actions throughout life, which will be counted on the Day of Judgment because they are man’s own and not God's.
On this subject, I won’t presume to pontificate, but will merely summarize what major monotheistic religions believe. Follow the provided web links to probe deeper. (7)
This is the principle that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. (8)
Many think that it “feels” like we have free will. If so, then at what point does it assert itself? At what point does free will change the way our thought processes progress? As neurons fire and trigger cascading events, at what point does it free will suddenly stop, or suddenly start? Is there a point in the cycles of our brains' processes where "free will" determines the outcome? (9)
Some philosophers think that circumstances, in line with the strict determinism of physics and biochemistry, predetermine all choices and therefore, free will is an illusion.
Some approaches in psychology see the source of determinism as being outside the individual, a position known as environmental determinism. For example, it’s been shown that children with violent parents will in turn become violent parents through observation and imitation. Others see it from coming inside i.e., in the form of unconscious motivation or genetic determinism – biological determinism. (10) These are forms of determinism.
Modern quantum physics shows that the universe is not deterministic at the atomic scale, which has profound effects on microscopic processes. At the macro level, the classical deterministic physical laws apply. Philosophers and scientists are still debating whether or not determinism applies in the macro cosmos. (11)
Fatalism is the special form of determinism where every event in the future is fated to happen. This does not require that any causal laws or higher powers be involved. Que sera, sera.
The movie, “What the Bleep do we know?” is a 2004 film that combines documentary-style interviews, computer-animated graphics, and a narrative that discusses the connection between quantum physics and consciousness. This was followed by a substantially changed, extended DVD version in 2006, called “Down the Rabbit Hole”. I confess that I’ve viewed these many times. For those with an interest in both science and philosophy, it’s well worth viewing. (12)
I’m asking you to engage! Don’t just read passively. Answer the following questions, directly in the blog. Plus insert your comments and ideas.
- When simple choices are made, do you like to decide? Or just let things happen?
- For key choices in your life (job, partner, home, move, divorce), did you choose?
- Do you make your choices? Or do they “just happen”?
- Are you happy because you choose to be happy? Do you choose to be unhappy?
- Do you think that some of your bad choices led to good things later? Or, vice versa?
- Does your free will govern your choices? Or are they pre-determined?
- What determines your choices: Chance, Destiny, God, or Fate? Choose one.
1. Making Choices: How Your Brain Decides: http://goo.gl/7LvNr0
2. TED talk – Paradox of Choice: http://goo.gl/WQ9vtM
3. The tyranny of choice – You choose: http://goo.gl/RMgwG6
4. When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices: http://goo.gl/dRwJyd
5. The Choice Is Yours: The Fate Of Free Will: http://goo.gl/rp9SRW
6. Pinto Blog – Creation Allegory: http://goo.gl/Dt3Mv2
7. Free will in theology: http://goo.gl/ehgMcB
8. The Illusion of Choice – Free Will and Determinism: http://goo.gl/YYDvR0
9. Freewill and Determinism in Psychology: http://goo.gl/98OR5a
10. Free Will Vs. Free Choice: http://goo.gl/D3cc79
11. Youtube Video - Determinism VS Freewill: http://goo.gl/m0ZJGm
12. Film – What the Bleep do we know? http://goo.gl/7NWZss
27 April 2015