Thursday, April 9, 2009

Deciding / acting, and experiencing

decisions, actions, perceptions and the experience of life.

Life has two aspects which differ on many counts.
Decision making, acting.

Deciding needs realism. Long terms calculations. Cynicism? (you want to see clearly what will happen on every action - sentimentalism distorts realism). Rationality.

Experience is immediate, folds moment by moment. Irrational. Emotions are important.

One cannot get away avoiding rationality in decision making. You want to get your goals in actual reality. At least for practically important goals (getting your bread, shelter, healing yourself etc.).

So far no problem? We experience life as it is, and we care for our goals. But there are many contradictions.

Attention is a powerful force. When we focus on details of the world that are relevant for actions and for our goals, we may ignore other aspect of life.
Especially for the inner experiental aspects of life.

One comes to a painful trade off. Looking at the realistic technical sides of the world, may help in managing life and attending our goals, but brings a cost in the experience of life. You see the practical you may lose your experience.
It has many other experiental effects.

Deciding "should" essentially go by expected results. Ends are the only thing in mind, and everything else is instrumental. There is no heart to the decider. What is best achieving my goal.

Experience is life. "Life is what happens when we plan other things".

Problem in my view is when the decision making side gets hold on the whole person.
When the mind is full of what is "right" to do. and cares all day long about what and how to do, and so on. Then, the person has no life other than his plans and future prospects. There is no present. There is no experience (aside from the experience of stress.... - ok maybe some minor emotions too)

But not living emotionally one's plans etc. can lead to forgetting them.
I hate thinking about all these needed actions and tradeoffs. But the terrible trade-off is between caring and paying the price of caring, and not caring thereby no doing. There is no decisive claim for either (except in the extremes). But whatever you do you win and lose.

Theoretically, one can have his psych caring with less cost, in various ways. For example: Having a "to care" list but forgetting it and experiencing life without lingering worry. But until one manages to move into this psych state, he has the above trade off.

Realistic understanding of the world is considered by some as "cynical". They are right. Real life is heartless. The processes that make things happen do not have a heart. We have feelings for them. But the underlying process is inhuman. It is there.
Humanism is about feelings we have towards people and things. Realism is about how they operate.

There can be a contradiction of sorts. When you attend to the underlying process, you feel differently towards it.
I had a good friend who was using me emotionally (i.e. without giving back fairly). I am not sure I can easily analyze her actions logically and feel emotionally the same.
Realistically, avoiding analysis leads to being taken advantage of.

A pragmatic thinker (who thinks he can decide whetehr to attend to reality or not...) would say that there is an optimal trade-off point. i.e. attend to reality to some extent but no more (i.e. optimal for happiness or for some other measure)

Another approach is to change glasses. sometimes you entertain reality, for practical purposes. Sometimes you just experience it.

Reconciliation is the most interesting in my view. Not sure how realistic it is. You can see clearly the self interest of your counter-party and still feel he is human and have empathy to him. I think some of it is being approached in meditation traditions. You are supposed to be fully awake to what happens, and still have compassion to others. Even compassion to difficult persons is praised there.

These methods relate to a wiseful kind of thinking that we can plan our lives. We cannot so easily. We may have to accept the idea that we are what we are. And that we generally ought to treat the trade off s they are. i.e. there is a cost. You cannot easily eat the cake and have it.

Example. Music, novels, and movies are fun. The experience is enjoyable for many.
There is a mental cost. These medium promote bad perceptions about love and life. The rehearsal of these stupid things is bound to change your mind in a way that may have a negative effect both on your decisions in life and on your experience.
You get experience and you lose some of the quality of future decisions and experience.

If you are obsessive aobut not having mistakes in your mind, you will avoid all of these. Is the cost worth it? Probably not. Hours and hours of good experience are worth to get somehwat less smart.

There is much to think about this example. But the idea is the point. It is worth to lose some of our "wisdom" to enjoy life. I wise I had the guts to fulheartedly follow this route.

1) There are aspects of our goals where delusional progress is relevant. Whenever the goals are psychological in nature and the warm glow comes from our thinking we make progress, one may side with delusional progress and goals. But if and when the truth comes out, it can fire back (but not always)

2) Experience is composed of many parts (goal acheivement, involvement, meaning and stories, body, emotions, more).
Some are related to decision making, others to result, and otehrs are stand alone (bodily sensations, moods, ........ )

Some kinds of experience are related to thinking and perceiving. Many of these are ultimately about experience that is independent of the thoughts. When meaningful thoughts lead into a bad mood, we care usually about the bad mood rather than about the meanings themselves. One can theorize and argue more about that. At any rate, much of experience is about experience - the feeling.

PS. Interestiglly people do actually act similarly in self-enhancement. unrealistic self-enhancement is good for well-being and mood, but may harm decisions. It turns out that people actually self-enhance most of the time, but become more realistic when they near a decisions!


Anonymous said...

Zilber, i am amazed that you never talk about religion, what i meant is if you take the basic introduction of philosophy, every human and societies thing regarding -beliefs-you can not thing everyone is thinking like you or should think like you, and some of your writtings remember me Daniel gilbert on -stumbling on happiness-unfortunaly human beings me too are comfortable doing predictions every day because the need of certainties, and i remember Julian Jaynes - how we have been evolving since we heard voices and the need or beliefs trying to find flow state to reduce anxiety and boredom. As Nassim Taleb used to say we live in a world so complicated but because of individual beliefs and because after all we have free will, someone choosing a belief from a comunity or some comunities choosing beliefs of a individual, after all we humans are far complicated than the world empty.And if you want to have a whole idea of human condition you have to start to consider -beliefs-A catholic person has his goals clear and his target solid, the same the scientist, and so on muslims, budist, every one living with -Hope- of life after death.
Happines is different for everyone, what is happines for someone it is not for the other, but for solids beliefs and true religions seekers happines here is utopia, or as Julian jaynes probably we dont have to be concious to be happy likewise wi dont need concioness for thinking......From Mexico.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

A complex topic. Just a comment...

Individual beliefs are for me yet another phenomenon of the human mind.

Beliefs are overrated. Many needs, wants and dynamics are similar across cultures and eras. I love the idea of cultural materialism where beliefs rituals etc. were said to emanate from how people mange their lives. I have not studied the topic, though.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

Marvin Harris wrote a lot about cultural materialism.
He is a terrific read!

Our Kind. Cannibals and kings. and many other bestselling books.