Common steps and sub-activities
"A decision is the point where you got tired of thinking."
Whole books have been written about the theory of decision making . In computing, there is even a branch of study which looks at the theory of decision making in order that decision support systems can be better designed. None of this should really concern us here, because we are looking at how the decision process impacts spiritual experiences. And in fact this function, in this context, is far less complex than the other functions of the Mind.
In effect this is how the Will works.
The decision making activity never stops working. Not even during a spiritual experience. All that happens is that our Will decides the Composer is the activity that has priority and lets it go ahead.
In fact the moment the will stops working we die, because it is responsible for making sure that there is constant activity. No activity, no life. No Will, no life, which is why we sometimes say that old people are surviving on sheer will power – they are.
Output – various sorts of activity
Once the Will has made its decision, the output is always the triggering of one or more Activities of some sort. The one or more is key, there can be lots of Activity happening in parallel, for example any one of a number of these may be actioned;
- behavioural activity [a learnt function]
- Creativity and imagination function
- Remembering function
- 5 senses system
- Learnt function
Imagine a captain on the bridge of a ship, when he sees an iceberg looming he may instruct the engine room to increase power, the helm to reverse thrust, the emergency crew to get the life boats ready and the rest of the crew to don their life jackets.
All activity is governed by the Will which is why I have called the combined function of Reason and Will as the ‘command and control system’ and why if we stop willing we die!
In our own bodies and in the subconscious the sorts of activities triggered can range from an Emotion coupled perhaps with some form of biological activity triggered via the Sensory systems – so for example fear and sweating and pallor; to a cycling back to the Reasoning system for more information. There may be a triggering of the Sensory systems to get more information via the Perception system, or there may be a triggering of some Behavioural function, in other words a controlled response to a trigger as opposed to just an emotional one.
Activities that cannot be achieved become objectives.
Objectives do not change just because a person fails, what may well happen is that the person may simply choose an alternative course of action. If a child wants attention it might try throwing its toy out of the pram. If that doesn’t work as a course of activity, then it may try crying. If this doesn’t work, it might try gurgling and laughing – this might work and it will store this course of action as a satisfactory solution to achieve that objective. It will learn and this pattern of behaviour will remain a stored course of action for a given trigger.
Dealing with a new event
Faced with a new ‘event - a Perception we have never come across before - of which we have no experience, some people recognise this immediately and invoke their Learning functions to create a new model on the fly that matches the circumstances. In order to do this the person may gather more data, ask questions, use their Perception to try to determine what to do next. He or she will Learn before making the decision.
Others may simply ‘panic’ or become hopelessly fearful and cry!
Others may dogmatically carry on regardless following their objectives – head down, in the hope the event will go away. It won’t of course!
The deferred decision
Although so far I have implied that a decision is always made, there are occasions when the final decision is deferred, ‘put on the back burner’, so to speak. It might be simply waiting for more Perceptions to come in or there may be the decision that not enough is known to make a decision – full stop – and there is no way at that time for extra information to be received. In effect there is no output – no activity – to match the input.
It is then that we say we are being patient. Simply waiting with a decision pending.
Other decisions get made in the meantime, but the deferred decision remains there waiting to be finally made. Nietzsche, incidentally, regarded this ability to defer decisions as a particularly valuable ability saving us from untold harm and also enabling us to make a far better long term decision.
As Bishop Horne once said “Adversity borrows its sharpest sting from our impatience”.
Any Perception found to subsequently be faulty, - a deception or an illusion - can disrupt the normal smooth running of the decision making process. If we suddenly find we ‘can’t trust our senses’ and have been forced at a previous stage to take some instinctive avoiding action, from then on all new Perceptions are looked on with considerable scepticism. It can make us appear very indecisive, but the decision making process is actually being ultra cautious.
It may decide to check and double check, go back to the Reasoning process and get it to provide more knowledge.
There may be even some reprioritisation of the inputs and the importance they have. If a perception was accompanied with a considerable amount of Emotion, but was found subsequently to have quite drastic effects in terms of the results, Emotion might take a very low priority from that point on.
The feedback loop
Once a decision is made, there is a feedback loop that lets us know whether the decision made was correct or not. This feedback loop is usually very simple in operation – wrong decisions often result in pain [emotional or physical] and right decisions don’t.
A very negative result – a poor decision in other words, that results in great pain can result in a complete reassessment of objectives, mental models and learnt function, even to the extent of making some objectives of almost zero importance. A sinner can turn into a saint!
So pain has a reason. It is there to help us improve our mental models.
It is not true that right decisions give us pleasure, we can judge nothing of the rightness of a decision from the pleasure it gave us. A positive outcome – so happiness and pleasure - will tend to reinforce the idea that both the course of action and the prioritisation are correct. In time, these patterns of activity may even become automatic. But they are not necessarily ‘right’. This unfortunately is one of the conundrums of the control loop.
We may eat a bar of chocolate. It is delicious, so we eat another bar of chocolate, this too is lovely, waves of pleasure sweep over us, so we eat another.
Then we are sick. Pleasure is no indicator of a right course of action.
This makes pain the only true indicator. Only pain makes us change and we may have to experience real pain to change the habits of a lifetime.
But we have to admit to pain and this can be very difficult because we know it means we have made a mistake.
Quentin Crisp - If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style
The decision making process uses a whole host of inputs in order to come to some conclusion about the action [or actions] that need to come next. Decisions are made using ….
- Objectives and their priority
- Personality – for example aversion to risk, timidity or boldness
- Reason - The results of the reasoning process – possible courses
- Emotional input from perceptions
- The original Perceptions [threat, opportunity, obligation]
- Input from composer – inspiration, intuition, guidance, love etc
The computer systems that are used in decision making are called decision support systems and not decision systems, because there is the recognition that you cannot program in spiritual input or emotion or personality or objectives or the original perceptions of a decision maker – all you can give them is something akin to the input from the reasoning process.
What we should be able to see from the Model showing the processes is that the Reasoning process – because it comes first in the logical sequence, only knows of the effect of a decision for which it provided input. And it gets to know it in the cycle of processes via the Perceptions. Furthermore, as we can see the Reasoning process’s output is but one of several inputs to the decision making process
Bertrand Russell in his book ‘Human Society in Ethics and Politics’ summed this up well when he said “Reason has a perfectly clear and concise meaning. It signifies the choice of the right means to an end that you wish to achieve. It has nothing whatever to do with the choice of ends”
The Will has the final say.
So independent is the Will from the function of reason, that it is often the case that the Reasoning function is sometimes perplexed by the decision made. We really don’t know why we have decided to do what we have decided to do. As Arthur Schopenhauer says in ‘The World as Will and Idea’ , “reasoning is so alien to the will that it is sometimes even mystified by it; for while it does indeed provide motives for it, it does not penetrate the secret workshop of its decisions”.
Furthermore, there seems almost to be a slight tension between the will and the reasoning function, as though they were separate minds working against one another. As Schopenhauer says “sometimes the intellect does not quite trust the will. If, for instance, we have made a bold decision, we often feel, deep down, though we do not admit it, a faint lingering doubt as to whether this promise is seriously intended, and whether in carrying it out we will not waver or yield, but will have enough firmness and persistence to fulfil it. Only the fait accompli can convince us of the good faith behind our own resolve”.
At any one time, although one input - such as a threat - may present itself to the decision making process, there is no guarantee that the decision will be the same on successive occasions for that same type of threat , because the other inputs may be different – different objectives, different emotions even. Thus on one day a person may see a spider and crush its poor little body into smithereens, and on another day, because they now have the objective of not hurting any little creature, they will gently pick it up and put it outside.
We are rarely consciously aware of the inputs to a decision, not the objectives, not the priority we have placed on objectives, not the impact emotion can play in the process or even how much our personality affects the end result; and we are totally unaware of how it works.
In a sense it is the will that makes us human. Without the will, we would be like little automatons acting predictably to threats, opportunities, obligations, objectives and reasoning. Programmable. But will adds the touch of spice that makes us somewhat more exciting and unpredictable.
As Henri Bergson says in ‘Time and Free will’ “we seek in vain to explain our sudden changes of mind by the visible circumstances which preceded it. We wish to know the reason why we made up our mind, and we find that we have decided without any reason, and perhaps even against every reason. But in certain cases, that is the best of reasons. For the action which has been performed does not then express some superficial idea, almost external to ourselves, distinct and easy to account for; it agrees with the whole of our most intimate feelings, thoughts and aspirations, with that particular conception of life which is the equivalent of all our past experience, in a word, with our personal idea of happiness and of honour”
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Dickinson, Emily - Experience is the angled road Preferred against the Mind
- Hume, David - Decision making and what influences the Will
- James, William - The Varieties of Religious Experience - Emotion and decision making
- Nietzsche - Twilight of the Idols - Learning to see, habituating the eye to repose
- Plotinus - Eighth Tractate - On emotion and will
- Right said Fred
- Schopenhauer, Arthur - The World as Will and Idea - On motives