This Book Sounds Good

Are we really rational in our decision making? Harvard professor Francesca Gino talks about her new book, Sidetracked:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to This Book Sounds Good

  1. Gah! Three paragraphs lost when my pc rebooted!!
    Rationality is an odd thing. With recent dicussion on my part about the theory of mind based on the conscious mind experiencing the world via a simulation run in the brain, this topic is of interest. The simulation in our heads, if my theory is to be correct, should account for what we know. Given the treatments for depression and how they work it is fair to say that the chemical effect on neurons is dramatic. Our brains are not simply floating in soup, that soup affects the brain in many ways. I posit that the chemical soup puts filters or weighting on how the simulation is percieved. We can see this with depression, euphoria, dysphoria, seeing through rose colored glasses, nervousness causing laughter and so on. The perception of the simulation causes physiological reaction which in turn can act as a feedback, causing the ‘mode’ to be self regenerating.

    These would not be the only ‘modes’ – think also of alert/not-alert, frightened, and so on. None of the ‘modes’ is black and white, rather they are linear in being chemically based and would not wear off quickly without further chemical inducement. You can have a buzz disappear to complete sober attentiveness if something scares you etc. I posit that they are neither black and white, nor linear, nor expressed one at a time. Rather several modes can be expressed at the same time: see rage. That would mean that love is also a chemical ‘mode’ for the simulation, or some forms of it. A constant flood of testosterone and the brain can start making bad decisions.

    Follow from that a mode where we are easily distracted, unable to focus. A mode where it is difficult to engage the simulation to concentrate on one problem. It’s not so difficult to fathom. We say we multitask, but we don’t… there is a lot of context switching going on and not everyone is good at that. If we are unable to load a fully complete simulation for the task at hand, we can’t focus on it. If any external input gets higher priority than internal inputs, we spend too much time looking at things which are not our intended focus.

    No, no evidence as yet. The mental part of asking where this theory of mind does not work well is still my focus at the moment. It might seem to perfectly explain things and still be wrong. Any criticism is welcome.

    • ‘nor linear’ == ‘but linear’

    • Alan says:

      I would say that the simulation in our heads accounts for how we make decisions more than ‘what we know’, but I think I get your point – we tend to believe our own assessment, our own imagined scenarios over what others claim for themselves. I suggest that we make decisions based on positive outcomes of our scenarios.

      • Agreed, but positive in respect of our own understanding of our own position in the world… selfishly as it were

      • Alan says:

        I would give ‘selfish’ a conditional no – not at least necessarily. I think (based on reflection and experience) that the decision is based primarily on our habits up to that point, the accumulation of past simulations. For example, a bleeding heart liberal is confronted with a situation and makes a selfish decision on the spot. They get very embarrassed and apologetic. They also replay the situation in their heads over and over imagining themselves making a more altruistic decision. The next time a similar situation occurs, the first thing to pop into their heads is the altruistic response because they have conditioned themselves to make altruistic decisions. That is precisely what parenting and ‘socializing’ is all about – recognizing ‘inappropriate’ behavior or decisions, challenging them and repeating reinforcement for appropriate decisions. It’s all about conditioning people to imagine themselves making the right decisions. Conditioning them and us to behave appropriately.
        In the long run, that’s how our free will plays out – not by always making the decision we consciously want to make, but by chastising ourselves when we are unhappy with our decisions and conditioning ourselves to ‘do better next time’. By imagining ourselves doing what we want ourselves to do over and over until it becomes habit.

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