Why You Sometimes Act Wrong


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Everybody did it. Acted impulsively and then regretted it later. While we can be grateful that such events were not all that frequent, life was all about making such choices. From the time we woke up, till we dropped off to sleep, we repeatedly chose to act on a single option out of thousands. Each choice led to an action. Even for the simplest action, when you reached out to shut off the morning alarm, there was massive complexity underneath. That action involved muscle movements, which were sequences of contractions. Muscles responded to nerve signals instant by instant. Each signal invoked only a tiny contraction. Yet, your hand moved with clear purpose. It did not wander off on its own. That purpose was continually sustained. Those muscles had to contract precisely over thousands of contraction cycles till you fingers achieved the purpose of touching the button.

Even a computer carried out sequences of actions to meet a purpose, expressed by a Command. For the “Copy" command, the computer read bytes of data, retained them in memory and wrote them to a new location. Its purpose remained constant, while numerous actions were performed. Life followed the same theme. The activities in our lives also had hierarchies of purpose, with numerous individual actions performed to meet each objective. Switching off the alarm was a small bit of the purpose of going to office. Running to catch the train, or waiting at the lift served the same purpose. Which was but a small part of the purpose of keeping a job, which again remained a subset of the objective of survival itself.

Science discovered that a region of the brain, the basal ganglia, played a role that turned purposeful action into quick, reliable and unthinking habit. Your actions were largely automated. All you had to do was to express a purpose and the basal ganglia would move your muscles to achieve it. But how did you express a purpose? It began in the cradle. As a baby, you made erratic hand and leg movements. Then you saw a toy. Your waving hand touched it. That movement was recorded. A subsequent view of the toy recalled this feeling, which triggered the remembered muscle movements. Over the years, through repeated play and experimentation, your basal ganglia learned to move your hand towards seen objects. Across the years, it learned to weave you through traffic, meeting the purpose of getting you home. That left you free to worry about mortgage payments. Until you had a new feeling. Gas in the tank was low. You needed to fill gas. That purpose turned you off the highway.

Most of the time, your mind acted to convert feelings into reality. Feelings were our interpretation of events in the world. Fear and anxiety, or joy and satisfaction interpreted the world around us. Since most emotions were triggered in just a few milliseconds, trains of feelings passed through our minds. Fortunately for us, a region called the limbic system, a primeval brain, generated and managed this flowing stream of emotions. It chose the most powerful emotion and set that as your purpose, inhibiting lesser emotions. So, if you acted suddenly in ways which you regretted later, it was because you were suddenly the victim of an overpowering emotion. It was not your choice. But the choice of the limbic system.

Thus, mature actions depended on stilling your emotions to prevent over riding control by the primitive limbic system. Across the ages, sages suggested many ways to still the mind and bring peace. When we did that, a superior intelligence, which we term consciousness, took over and guided us with all its vast inherited and acquired wisdom. That was the secret of being “cool. "

Abraham Thomas is the author of The Intuitive Algorithm, a book, which suggests that intuition is a pattern recognition algorithm. This leads to an understanding of the powerful forces that control your mind. The ebook version is available at http://www.intuition.co.in The book may be purchased only in India. The website, provides a free movie and a walk through to explain the ideas.


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