Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


This conversation is closed.

What leads us to decide?

We need to take decisions in life almost every day. In work or outside of it, life takes us on crossroads where decisions are necessary, without which we cannot move on. It is in these situations we take decisions and we believe that the decisions are independently taken, weighing pros and cons and utilizing our best judgments.

That may not be the case. Our decisions may not be as individualistic as we normally think. Our judgments may not be the best under the circumstances. We are often influenced by authority that comes from an expert or an institution or even a belief system but all of which, either solely or in combination are relied on as of authority. Yale University Psychologist Stanley Milgram, in 1963 published his research paper which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. They went on to impart lethal doses of electricity (as they believed to do) to some other participants just because they were deciding under authority. There are interesting videos available in Youtube which you can check.

We can project this authority beyond science. Religion is one. Market in another. Media is yet another. From small to profound we rely on authority almost obsessively for making decisions and yet think that our decisions are free and independent. If we need a reference for making decision, we should be seeking help from authenticity and not authority and they are different. Authority is beyond question, it regulates where as authenticity is free to be tested and it creates trust.

What leads us to decide – authority or authenticity?

Closing Statement from Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

It seems that we take help of both authority and authenticity to decide things. It may not even be an either/or choice as the question seeks to see decision making as. At times we can find authority and authenticity merging and at other times, at the very fringes of human choice the decision making may be so spontaneous that our sub-conscious plays a vital role. Moreover, our decision making process works over a range of our faculty, our brain conserves resources/neuronic energy while decision making.

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    Apr 13 2013: Yes... New to TED and really enjoying the caliber of creative and critical, appreciative inquiry here. Looking forward to engaging with this diverse community. Thanks for your thoughtful conversation! May Peace Prevail On Earth.
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    Apr 7 2013: I think, decisions are based on beliefs. You wouldn't be sitting if you didn't believe that the chair would support your weight.

    Why we believe is a good question. Sometimes, we believe because we hear something from an authority, sometimes we believe because of our own experience or evidence (authenticity), sometimes we believe something to achieve a goal (e.g. if we want to sell a product, we must believe that it is useful to someone even if we personally don't use it).

    There is a variety of reasons to believe with a good overview given here
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      Apr 7 2013: Thanks for the link Arkady. If one sees it along the belief - thought - feeling - action chain, decisions are based on beliefs. I think my questions starts a little bit down the line, that is, from where that belief is supplied, authority or authenticity. Some commenters maintain, and my dear friend Colleen seems to be one of them, that it can be both or a mixture of both. Well of course it can be so. But even then is that mixture of equal portions of authority and authenticity?
      I have argued that authority does not allow any question or examination of it's righteousness. Authenticity comes from a personal feeling of righteousness which is open to examination and question. Our social systems appear to me to be leaning towards authority and authenticity is not held as of equal importance.
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        Apr 7 2013: Pabitra,
        You write..."Some commenters maintain, and my dear friend Colleen seems to be one of them, that it can be both or a mixture of both. Well of course it can be so. But even then is that mixture of equal portions of authority and authenticity?"

        It depends on the situation, and the decision in question...don't you think?
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          Apr 7 2013: Yes. As in many questions here, the context needs to be defined.
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          Apr 7 2013: I think I have tried to provide the context of the situations. In life, we are presented with choices and we decide one choice discarding others. So it is obvious that our decisions are dependent on the situation.
          I am concerned about the huge preponderance of decisions made under the influence of authority rather than relying on authenticity by which I mean a judgement based on our personal examination of the choices critically.
          I find it hard to accept that the large number of decisions that we make on a daily basis starting from trivial to profound are taken by us after evaluating all available options. I also find it difficult to trust authorities, as experiments show they can make us act like fools at times.
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        Apr 7 2013: Pabitra,
        I agree that we have choices, and decisions are dependent on situations.

        I don't have difficultly trusting most authority/authorities, nor do I think/feel/believe they can "make us act like fools".

        I have choices regarding how I act and react in every situation. Sorry, I cannot understand your concerns as you present them. You seem to want to seperate authority and authenticity, and I perceive them to often be intertwined. It feels like you want to go in circles with this.
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        Apr 8 2013: Pabitra,

        You may be interested to read the famous essay by Willam Clifford followed by William James and others here:

        Clifford takes your thesis to extreme - he makes an absolute moral rule:
        " it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

        Ironically, he immediately makes 2 exceptions to his "absolute" rule:
        1. "We may believe what goes beyond our experience, only when it is inferred from that experience by the assumption that what we do not know is like what we know."
        2. "We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is speaking the truth so far as he knows it."

        As you see, we HAVE to rely on other people's experience simply because our own experience is always limited. Clifford is the strictest evidentialist I know and even he acknowledges it. If you have trouble relying on other people's opinions, you will have trouble with education.

        There are obvious problems with Clifford's position. 1. How do we justify the assumption that what we don't know is like what we know? 2. How do we make the choice to trust that the other person is knowledgeable and honest? The chain of justifications, authentications, and verifications, has to end somewhere. It's a known problem in computer security.

        Why do you make such a dilemma? I always consider opinions of experts simply as another factor to weigh into my own judgment. When several authorities have the same opinion, it is often considered as an evidence of authenticity. Often, it makes sense to doubt our own perceptions - there is always a possibility that we missed an important detail or misunderstood things. So, checking with other people's opinions is often a wise thing to do.
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          Apr 9 2013: Thank you Arkady for the information about the book, I shall try to get it and read.
          Whenever you consider opinions of experts simply as another factor to weigh into your own judgment, you are actually seeking authenticity. I agree that the chain of justifications, authentications, and verifications, has to end somewhere, but under the influence of authority the chain does not even start.
          When I was in university, I started the idea of student's feedback on teachers' performance. I tried to say that students must compare and test teachers' performances and rate them. The Vice Chancellor called me up in his chamber and told me that we just cannot rate some of the fabled professors as boring, not effective and incomprehensible. He said their reputation and the university's position are beyond refute. I think that's an example of authority. When a country enlists youths for military services in connection with wars with faraway countries and hunts them down in case of their dropping out, I think that is an example of authority.
          I head a team of very talented engineers and scientists to work in a very complex field of science/technology. It is my experience that I can only have the best of their output when they are free to challenge my experience, decisions and ideas.
          I hope you will agree that I am sounding my ideas with you all here, am I not? I am essentially looking for authenticity.
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        Apr 9 2013: You have a valid point. I also favor using my own judgment rather than relying on opinion of an authority to make decisions for me. I have noticed that as I got into habit of doing that, more and more people have started to seek my opinion for making their decisions (my wife is an exception).

        But your question is "what leads us to decide - authority or authenticity?", and the answer is, clearly, "both". Is it wrong or right to use one or the other to make decisions? I don't know. I just know that both ways are used by a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations. In some cases, it's beneficial to obey authority without question, in some - not. For example, in a combat situation, there is no time to discuss decisions. Troops have to move and act as one. Perhaps, there is a reason for this. I don't like it. You don't like it. This is why we are not in the military. But a lot of people, actually, like when decisions are made for them. Making our own decisions is one of the most stressful activities I know. Not to mention the moral weight of responsibility which makes many people uncomfortable.

        In academic situation, an authority that feels uncomfortable to be questioned is a phony.
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          Apr 9 2013: The answer for me too Arkady, is clearly both authority and authenticity. With my belief and practice of gathering AS MUCH information as possible for decision making, I would not disregard any source in favor of a different source. Considering ALL information provides a better foundation for decision making, which leads to more confidence and contentment with our decision, and less regret.

          I also notice that people seek my opinion, and I suspect the reason for that is because I encourage THEM to seek as much relevant, appropriate, available information as possible before making a decision. I will walk through the process with others, and I very rarely, if ever give advice. I share my stories, experiences, outcomes based on certain choices and decisions, and I firmly believe that the BEST decisions are made by considering all information, so that is what I encourage in myself and others.

          I agree Arkady that some folks prefer letting others make decisions for them, and that relieves them of responsibility, which may, at times, be uncomfortable. The thing is....with the possible discomfort of responsibility, comes the comfort, pleasure and contentment of knowing we, as individuals, can orchestrate our lives. Once we realize this, there may not be discomfort in decision-making.....that is what I experience:>)

          I also feel that questioning is a great resource, and I am aware that some folks are uncomfortable with questions. I think some folks perceive questions as a challenge to their belief system, so it may be uncomfortable to them. In my perception, it is another way to get information:>)
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          Apr 19 2013: If I may jump in; There is another defintion of authority and that is; an authority, one who is an expert. I must admit that I accept the words of people who know what they teach, as authenticity. I realise I might make a mistake in doing this, but it's necessary if I'm to learn anything. So the bridge between authority and authenticity may be the authority, the person who knows.
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    Apr 26 2013: Is any decision we ever take in life ever really our own? of course not.
    During our infancy our parents and relatives take our decisions for us, later on friends, teachers, media, religion, society etc. influence our decisions.
    Our decisions are also based on what we observe and what we experience and these decisions formulate our personality which influences our future decisions.
    What I am trying to say is, most of our decisions are regulated by different sources of authority, so our future decisions are a result of a unique combination of all the above mentioned influences and therefore all our decisions are authentic.
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    Apr 26 2013: I believe that it has a lot to do with where we feel we fit in the chain of command. Those who feel low in the chain of command are going to rely on authority because they want to fit in. Those who feel high in the chain of command are going to rely on authenticity because they want to make decisions that are based on fact. It reverts back to followers and leaders. Leaders take command. Followers follow command. And everywhere in between, it will be a mix according to one's self image of where they fit into the community.
    Education and intellect are also important factors, for without them, one is gullible to false information. So the degree of one's education and intellect will play a factor into whether you are capable of evaluating authenticity. Those who are not are guided by peer pressure rather than one's own will.
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      Apr 26 2013: Thank you Roy. I can sense that you are an insightful person. I think you grasped the contexts of authority and authenticity the way i tried to. I cannot cease to be amazed by the TED audience. :)
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    Apr 13 2013: It is not a matter of right or wrong. The brain makes these calculations and based on the cumulative experiences you make the decision. This is the logic. Does this logic always make the right decision? No! Logic is neither right or wrong, however, one cannot decide without it. At this point of the chain reaction, logic, then, decision.
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      Apr 15 2013: logic gets you from A to B. Imagination gets you everywhere... Albert Einstein
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        Apr 15 2013: I would agree to that, also, I would love to expand. Imagination can lead you to imagine yourself out of reality.
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    Apr 12 2013: There are several cognitive aspects that affect our decision making, some of them are:
    - The amount of options that we have to choose from: Although common knowledge tells us that an increased amount of options increases our utility, I agree with Barry Schwartz's argument that instead of increasing our utility it lowers it. A large amount of options increases the chances of us regretting the decision we made and we are more likely to engage in social comparison.
    - Our past experiences: When me make a decision we consider past decisions. However, our remembered utility is biased in comparison to our actual experienced utility which then makes our decision become biased. When we think about a past experience we only consider the "peak" moments, the happiest and the saddest, and leads us to create a biased memory of the past.
    - The present situation we find ourselves in: The "hungry shopper" example, which tells us that a hungry person will buy more in the super market than a non-hungry person would, shows how we can't predict our decision making since we don't know what our context will be in the future. Even if the shopper plans ahead what he is buying, he will buy more if he goes hungry to the super market.
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    Apr 10 2013: Todays talk is especially relevant. I saw it live at TEDxRiodelaPlata and loved it! Worth watching!
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      Apr 10 2013: I agree with you Jose today's talk was great!!
      I would like to contribute the following :
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        Apr 11 2013: Suppose there are 10 different routes from your home to office. Say, your boss, a very wise, intelligent and clever person tells you to take only one particular route everyday. What will you do Juliette?
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          Apr 11 2013: When I feel my boss is "a very wise, intelligent and clever person"....then I'd feel fortunate to have the benefit of their guidance.
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        Apr 12 2013: Dear Juliette, I see that you have used the word 'feel' twice :) So you will not accept your boss as a very wise, intelligent and clever person just because Pabitra says so.
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          Apr 13 2013: wise friend PM's advice would weigh into my decision....and probably heavily.. since (I feel ;-) PM is a kind hearted, deep thinker with a genuine sense of concern for the betterment of life for all humanity....
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        Apr 14 2013: Hmm. I really appreciated the big hug :) before it vanished! Can there be a scholarly discussion on how fondness grows, my friend? :D
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          Apr 15 2013: :)Thank you!!
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        Apr 15 2013: Juliette Zhan
        Certainly can
        Make the heart glow

        Feeling or reason
        Seems in the season
        What matters is flow

        In appreciation. This off topic post will be removed in 24 hours.
        Edited. Decision changed. Comment stays. Reader's discretion requested.
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          Apr 15 2013: :)Thank you!!

          p.s. It's all on topic..its authenticity in action...and it is phenomenal to register it through mere electrons and transcend see...authenticity is boundless (unlike authority)...I'd say this is an infinitely better use of electronics, time, etc.iMO
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    Apr 7 2013: If a person's locus of control (a theory in personality psychology referring to the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them) is "inside", there is more authenticity in how we approach deciding about things. Trust is teh other key ingredient. If you "trust" an authority over your own level of knowledge about a topic, then going with that trusted authority can be an authentic experience
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    Apr 7 2013: preservation of the "self" and protection of the "ego" are powerful humin priorities for survival AND everyday decision making. The next "A" to consider might be "altruism" (unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness). A balanced respect for: just Authority, thriving Authenticity and healthy Altruism could be the bridges we need to help decide a thing or two :o) I prioritize my decisions by these 4 criteria: impact, purpose, time, economics.
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    Apr 6 2013: Hope.
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      Apr 6 2013: Who provides this hope Juliette? Authority or authenticity?
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        Apr 6 2013: Authenticity.
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        Apr 7 2013: Even when we base decision on authority, it is still based on hope that the authority knows best. I like this answer very much.
  • mary T

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    Apr 6 2013: I'd like to imagine that my decisions are all carefully thought out, based on all the evidence, weighing the various factors, etc., but in many cases, I shortcut that process by looking to the character of the person who presents me with the choice. If my dear brother, for example, asked me to jump in the lake, there's a pretty good chance that I'd jump in the lake. (Substitute "invest" or "support" or "give" for "jump.") Even for him, I ask questions, but not to the same degree. On the other hand, even when the cause is espoused by someone I know and admire, there are certain underlying values on which I am, I hope, immovable. And I try to act, not simply react. To make decisions from the inside out, not reacting only to outside factors but consulting my inner self, the light within.
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      Apr 6 2013: Let me get this right. You mean the situation presents the choice and the character of the person provides the authority? Your brother cannot ask you to jump in a lake unless situation arises that you are near one.
      The person with a character may be a doctor who asks you to take a drug that does more damage than good to you. Can be a company that sells you a shirt that was manufactured in a sweat shop in China. Can be your country that asks you to pull the trigger to kill a person in a war.
      It may be so that you are taking far too many decisions to be consulting with your inner self, the light within, each time.
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    Apr 6 2013: Hi Pabitra:>)
    I believe the best decisions are made when we honestly weigh ALL information with an open heart and mind. Our decisions can be "individualistic" when we "know" ourself, and are willing to consider ALL relevant information.

    If, as you say...."Our judgments may not be the best under the circumstances", we may not be adequately considering ALL relevant information.

    You say..."We are often influenced by authority...". That, in my perception, is part of the information we can evaluate. Consider the source and whether or not we trust the source.

    You write... "...research... measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. They went on to impart lethal doses of electricity (as they believed to do) to some other participants".

    If I was getting zapped with lethal doses of electricity, I may change what I'm saying or doing too. That does not seem like very good "research" to me.

    I do NOT rely on anyone else to make decisions for me, NO MATTER what they say. I take full responsibility for the decisions I make. Again...lethal doses of electricity may change my mind about that!

    When I have gathered and evaluated ALL relevant information, and am clear with my "self", I feel good about the decisions I make:>)
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      Apr 6 2013: Hi Colleen :)
      Wish I could have been as confident and capable as you. Up till now, I cannot remember to have taken a decision where I considered ALL relevant information. I Do rely on some people on what they say, I could not, yet, successfully be independent for EVERY decision I take. I guess my question is for people like me and what they will rely on, authority or authenticity.
      In your country the legal system is based on jurors. If I am not wrong a jury is carefully selected from among the society of common people, not experts. I think that implies reliance on authenticity rather than authority.
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        Apr 6 2013: OH sorry Pabitra, I could have said ALL relevant AVAILABLE information. We may never have ALL information, and we can certainly explore to any level we choose to have as much information as possible.....yes?

        I consider information provided by other people.....that is where I get some information, so I am not totally independent in that respect. As I said....I do not rely on others to make decisions for me, and I DO rely on information provided by others.

        To me, authority is part of the information to be considered. Yes, in the U.S., a jury is selected from among the society of common people. I have served as a juror, and in that position, I considered the authority (law), as well as ALL information presented by all parties. I would say that the decision, is both authority AND authenticity ("worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to fact or reality" (dictionary)). I think many decisions may be based on authenticity AND authority. Why do you need to seperate those concepts?
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        Apr 7 2013: Preservation of the "self" and protection of the "ego" are powerful humin priorities for survival AND decision making. The next "A" to consider is "altruism" (Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness). A balance between a respect for just authority, thriving authenticity and healthy altruism could be the bridges we need to help decide a thing or two :o) I prioritize my decisions by these 4 criteria: impact, purpose, time, economics.
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          Apr 12 2013: More good information Renee!

          Preservation, protection, survival, altruism, respect for authority, thriving authenticity, prioritize by criteria, impact, purpose, time, about preference?

          AND BALANCE with the whole process...... YES!

          BTW...looks like you're new to TED.........WELCOME!
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    Apr 5 2013: Our decisions are influenced by something or someone, if not, we are probably not human.
    The saying "We are one but not the same" comes to mind. We share so much in common with other members of our society, if not, there would have been so much conflict that we'd be in a permanent state of hostility. And we are also experiencing the world from a unique perspective hence the (hopefully) occassional conflict we experience.

    Even deciding not to decide is not the same as indecision. Sometimes we want to be sure because we are afraid to take the so-called 'leap of faith'; sometimes we decide because we have to (the pressing circumstances); sometimes we are sure and our certainty is based on certainty; sometimes we are sure and our certainty is based on convincing illussions and believable lies.

    Our lives oscillates between the two: we decide on authority and on authenticity.
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      Apr 5 2013: Feyisayo, are we free to give up freedom?
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        Apr 5 2013: We should strive to know the meaning of freedom. We will not be content if our perception and understanding of freedom is based on fantasy.
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      Apr 5 2013: We both strive to understand the meaning of freedom and none of us has the answer to the question I asked, I suppose.
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        Apr 5 2013: It is simple; we decide based on direct and indirect influences.
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          Apr 5 2013: Meaning our decisions are not fundamentally free or independent?
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    May 1 2013: I attempt to go with authenticity first and then see if authority confirms it.

    I personally make decisions this way because nothing is ever certain, and all authority needs to be challenged. The so-called 'realities' that authority attempts to establish, are all too likely to become ingrained too deeply into our consciousness, creating belief systems that become less and less willing to move with the times.

    Dismantling and reassembling beliefs in stimulating discussion facilitates authenticity in originality, creativity and speed in intuitiveness - while authority remains static, or clings primarily to the coat tails of a slower logical progression.

    In my humble opinion, as a 'creative type', the decisions I personally make are based on a hierarchy of the broadly intuitive, hopefully through to narrower logic, which may or may not confirm the original intuition. For me at any rate, it has to be that way, and in that order.
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    May 1 2013: I'd just like to add that I believe we make decisions based on the assumption that authority is hand in hand with authenticity. Sometimes though, it seems easier to ignore contradictions to the authenticity of authority as to not take the blame for decisions we make and to protect ourselves from "Thinking too hard," as I believe is evidenced in the Yale experiment.
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    W. Ying

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    Apr 28 2013: .
    My answer:

    Authenticity first!
    Authority second.
  • Apr 26 2013: I believe that some times decisions are also driven by instinct as well. A strong belief in some individual fundamental lead to decision making.
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    Apr 15 2013: We learn to ask questions from science we learn love from God .
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    Apr 15 2013: "logic gets you from A to B. Imagination gets you everywhere..." Albert Einstein
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    Apr 13 2013: stability I guess, if we are about making a decisions we need to take a rest.. it might give us a good structure to take a positive decision.
  • Apr 12 2013: Circumstances.
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    Apr 11 2013: Another way I approach this question is from the perspective of cognition and information theory. We are constantly creating and changing decision making circuits in our brain, pre-programmed to react in a certain way when presented with a certain stimulus. Such stimulus could be extrinsic (outside of yourself) or intrinsic (the stimulus is from one of your own thoughts - or other decision making circuits).

    Early on in life, we may create one of these decision making circuits that say "Trust authority". As we mature and grow, this circuit may just sit there trusting authority or anything else for that matter, causing you to decide to trust authority. Experience may cause you at some point to invert that circuit - don't trust authority. It is the combined parallel processing of all these circuits that allows us to form coherent thoughts, which vibrate like strings of an orchestra improvising a song in real time.

    Each of us creates our own assumptions like this in order to form a model or view of the world that allows us to interact in it. Through experience, we are constantly rewiring our brain, changing the way we think (or not), and as a result, the way we make decisions and the decisions we would actually make changes over time.
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      Apr 11 2013: Mind-brain programming is a fascinatingly powerful tool. I use a picture of a horse tied to the hand-rest of an empty chair to demonstrate the power of such programming. The horse believes that it cannot/should not challenge the authority of the empty chair and keeps still.
      I am happy that you acknowledge the rewiring of our brain with experience to develop a sense of seeking authenticity and dares to challenge authority. I think you will agree that it is inherently an internal process, hence gut feeling etc.
      It is wise to reach out and grab the hand of a parent when a toddler learns to walk. But soon the toddler learns to walk by himself/herself despite the risk of falling/getting hurt.
  • Apr 11 2013: I believe awareness and goals lead us to decide or not.
  • Apr 10 2013: I can't comment on conscious decision making, nor do I think anyone can understand certain people's decisions; but I do think analyzing one's own decisions on the objective basis of mobility and experience gives something - a bit more tangible compared to ambitions or life plans. This talk ( ) wonderfully highlights how motor function/control is a combination of previous experience (muscle memory per say) and environmental input (sensory stimulations of given action/situation). Authority:Experience::Authenticity:Environmental Input and therefore, I'm afraid to give the grey answer, but decision making is a fine combination of both.
  • Apr 10 2013: One would hope critical thought, but alas there is not much of that going on. So religious dogma, authority, media manipulation and social trend seems to win the day.
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    Apr 9 2013: The interesting thing about how we make decisions is that our decisions will always be based off of the people around us. We try so hard to have some sort of stature in society and we want to be seen as someone successful, but success is not always the same in every society. Like in America we assume that the best thing for us is to go to school get a good job and make money because those are tenants of American society. What we really want is to be connected to other people and by doing that we take in the opinions of others about what they think success means in order to reach that level of connection. For us to truly decide individually we need to critically think about what is best for us, and in the end the thing that is best for us is the thing that brings us closer together, and to decide based off of others is not necessarily a bad thing, it should only be taken into question when the decisions we make prove to be harmful to others or ourselves.
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    Apr 8 2013: Afraid to take risk so we are afraid to decide. But if we decide either we are pressured. But i hope we decide because we feel we needed to and makes us happy.
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    Apr 6 2013: Hi Pabitra,

    From where I see it - and that's only one angle - it's not as black and white as "is it authority or authenticity". While you rightly said there are multiple sources of authority, I wonder what we mean when we say "authentic". Who decides whether or not something is authentic? Who gives them the authority to decide that?

    Where then, do decisions come from. I'd say they come from all external stimuli that influence our conscious mind and yet most of us take our decisions relying on the signals that our sub- and super conscious give us,

    Hence, if my brother says jump in the lake and my sub- and super-conscious decree that my brother is right and to be trusted, I will. And yet, if my subconscious points out that my brother is not to be trusted, I may/will not jump!
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      Apr 7 2013: It is absolutely I who determines the authenticity, IMO. I examine, evaluate, feel, sense, realize or whatever but authentic is something that passes my tests. Authority is beyond question - it is the very nature of its tag of infallibility that gives something/someone the status of authority.
      The last time you bought a medicine, you possibly did not sound it against your conscience. You saw the label of the pharmaceutical company and vaguely remembered that it is reputed. Also you thought you are buying the right thing for yourself because you have heard about the reputation of the medical doctor and his/her authority over the subject.
      You possibly bought a home in a neighborhood that is good, meaning you trusted the social authority of the locality. The same goes with your car, your bank, your employer, your education. I don't think you have taken a call of your heart while deciding your choices.
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        Apr 7 2013: ummm...HUGE difference between conscience and conscious...i think it's important to acknowledge that first.

        Also, if it is "absolutely I who determines the authenticity" you're saying you are the authority :)

        By the way - again, what supports you to declare something authentic or inauthentic? Stimuli and inputs from your sub conscious. When you declare something authentic, you trust and rely on your judgment. Where does judgment come from? Stimuli to and responses from your sub conscious.

        You're right, the last time I bought medicines, i did not use my conscience as a sounding board, but I did use my sub consciousness to arrive at the decision to buy or not. the "vaguely remembered" part comes from the sub-conscious. The "heard" comes from the conscious.

        Similarly, insofar as "taking a call of your heart while deciding your choices" goes, you'd be surprised at how many choices are made and decisions taken merely due to the call of the heart...Ask every person who's done an impulse buy and then wished they hadn't. Ask every student who's made a career choice listening to those tugging at their emotions (from the heart) and chosen to do something that wasn't their first choice...ALL a beautiful play of the conscious and sub-conscious decisions.
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          Apr 8 2013: Hi Shalu :)
          Yes you are right. I am saying if I am taking a decision and taking the responsibility of its consequences, I better be the authority.
          Regarding taking a call of my heart I'd be honest with you. All life changing decisions I made have remained on personal call of my heart and I hardly regret. But I also make small, practical day to day decisions where authority figures subliminally or openly. I'd say it's fine if we realize that we are taken for a ride and we let the so called authorities to do that. But I shall not like to be deluded that those decisions are truly considered.
  • mary T

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    Apr 6 2013: Yes, I think that's a good way to put it. I can't spend all my time deciding everything from scratch. So, sometimes I rely on those I trust, whose character and values I know to be like mine. But some things, it doesn't matter who the person is -- at least I hope there are things that i remain true to from my own internal character -- if my brother told me, "please kill ...," I certainly would do no such thing. There is no absolute inside me about taking prescription medicine, so in that instance I would be more likely to rely on my doctor. I just cannot imagine that anyone, not even my brother, could ask me to administer a lethal dose of electricity and I would. Goodness gracious. And you, do you rely on others in making decisions? Can you imagine yourself killing someone in a study?
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    R H

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    Apr 6 2013: I would agree that our decisions are influenced from the 'store' of our experiences, and therefore "may not be as individualistic as we normally think". The many influences of decision-making you cite are significant. But for me, this is where 'individual freedom' and the 'free will' of adulthood come in. To me, we are not just 'reactive bots' that respond to the stimulus, or the 'professional messages' we are given. We are not just the sum of what we've experienced or have been told. We evaluate those experiences, we use our 'knowing' and our brains and evolve in our lives as humans so we can make better decisions as we learn. The old term 'wisdom' implies that we make individual evaluations of what constitutes 'value' in our lives. No one else can (ultimately) determine what I will do or not do - what I 'decide' - only me. Once I take responsibility for those decisions, then the influences and experiences of my life become only that, not the 'determiners' of what I decide. I would then say that it is neither 'authority or authenticity' which 'leads us to decide'. It is our free will and the totality of our innate/cognitive abilities and learning that leads us to choose the best path as an individual.
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    Apr 5 2013: The " authority " become authority must fit for the public and the authorities.

    I don't think my answer is too "chinese" because every country no matter how democratic it is, also have its spirit wich need the public to support.

    For individuals, i think the " decision " comes from 3 parts : objective knowledge , personal value and popular atitude . We cannot live without circumstance so our decision must be effected by public.

    I think the percent of the three parts are : 60% , 20% , 20% .

    The knowledge is the basic ,our value or public comments both follow their knowledge ,because of knowledge ,we can find the criterion to juge the incident.

    The reason why the individual equal to the popular value because of the extent of lazy and courage.

    Your own knowledge > average knowledge (for the incident )

    Your will be able to query the guidance of public opinion.

    Your own knowledge < average knowledge (for the incident )

    You cannot come up with a different idear ,because you are even not to think about the other angles.

    So i think decide our minds is the knowledge we accepted or accepting .

    We can raise another aspect .We can deny the conclusion . We can reverse the fact .

    We can be the authority as long as we master the knowledge we need ,and the public should need .
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    May 2 2013: Self-interest
  • May 2 2013: Thanks for responding, Pabitra. Here are some TED talks that may reinforce my energy conservation model. I would appreciate any feedback.

    Why we favor auto pilot and normal drive
    Why we often prefer not to use turbo
    And if we attempt to use turbo, our decisions are often wrong
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      May 2 2013: Wish you could respond to this thread earlier. I have watched all three talks Brian. All of the talks are interesting. All these talks are actually about cognitive biases (like availability bias for Dan Ariely talk, Choice supportive bias for Barry Schwartz's talk and value comparison bias for Dan's talk).

      What none talked about and I presume out of modesty is that after you listen to these speakers talking, the quality of your decision making is sure to improve. I think it is because you find the ideas authentic, not authority.

      While I agree with your energy conservative principle of decision making, I think we conserve the energy to get on turbo (critical thinking decisions) when required.
  • May 1 2013: Pabitra, I interpret your question in two parts. Why do we so often default to authority and, second, how can we change it?

    Maybe our primary evolutionary goal was to survive through the energy conservation of the brain rather than thinking, which can be energy consuming. If so, our decision making skills would tend to default from a low energy spectrum to a high energy spectrum. Habit would be first, obeying an authority figure second, with critical inquiry being last. Now even if we overcome the gravitational pull of the first two options, and take action based on critical inquiry, we have a problem. We risk rejection by becoming part of the out group. Not a great way to survive evolutionarily.

    As a owner of three businesses, I face a similar problem with my employees. I try to model that challenge can be fun rather than threatening by encouraging it and reframing it as a sign of both intelligence and courage.
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      May 1 2013: Hi Brian! I like the insight you bring into the question.
      It's an interesting outlook for decision making based on energy conservation and it makes perfect biological sense. However, even from evolutionary point of view 'energy intensive' critical thinking must have a necessity as nature does not permit any excess. So it looks like we have developed a range in our faculty, like auto pilot, normal drive and turbo. :)
      I think you will agree it is necessary for us to explore the full range and exploit it. One who is knowingly deciding something based on authority is very different from the one who does not even know the difference between authority and authenticity.
      It may be interesting for you to empower your employees, at least in certain areas of functioning, to challenge your authority based purely on reason. I head a team of engineers and scientists working on a very specialized field of river hydraulics. I benefited from that approach.
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    Apr 30 2013: This topic is coming to an end. Thanks for all inputs. For the last lap, you may be interested to check how biases influence our decision making.
  • Apr 30 2013: Both, depending on the situation we are in and the time we have to decide.

    In addition this will also be influenced by the opinion of others.

    What I would regard as even more important is Why is our decision what it is? Is it based on love of others, of being useful? Or is it based on 'whatever is best for me'

    Because ultimately, it is our decisions which make us the person we are, our character.
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    Apr 29 2013: Decision is an whole combination of factors such as authority / authenticity/ environment/friends /status...depends on the goal we want to achieve bussiness/family ( would we emotionally affected or not?) ( whose would they be affected ?) / the relevancy of what it costs what it gains..For me making decisions its an whole project and every time depends on my goals, i am taking into consideration either authority or authenticity or..or...or...:)
  • Apr 29 2013: This is a fantastic article..Really hard to answer What leads us to decide – authority or authenticity?
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    Apr 29 2013: some of us decide to make progress in their life ,others decide as no decision is a decision
    we decide according to our goals
    we decide for being better :)
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    Apr 29 2013: Good thoughts :)
    What I feel
    Knowledge /information and curiosity based decisions seems to be driven by authenticity ......
    What you think about "GUT Feeling" driven decisions , Pabitra da ?
  • Apr 28 2013: Our Wonderful Government at work --
    Congress will pass a bill and enjoy the good press
    and photo-op sessions gathered around the President
    as he signs the bill into law.

    The law gets an appointed regulator to morph law gibberish
    into enforcement procedures needed to strike fear into the
    hearts of offenders, and stern justices get updates to guide
    them in their sentences. All is right with the world.

    Then, year by year, in towns, cities, counties, states, Washington DC.
    Councilmen, Mayors, County Administrators, Governors, Congress,
    each get lunch with Lobbies from (always unnamed) Special Interest
    Groups. They want little changes made in the law.

    Little Changes, that's all, with every new Congress, every year.
    It happens everyday -- It is happening now.

    The best example I can think of -- George Bush (while still president)
    lobbying nationwide to us all on TV (before cable was the only way to fly).
    He wanted Congress to send our Social Security monies to Wall Street.
    Good idea said George... Great guy, that George...

    Shortly thereafter -- Wall Street and the Banks went bust.
    The Banks had been DE-regulated and the Pension monies were, ooops,
    gone, Poof!!!

    In 1974 ERISA, the Employee Income Security Act (of 1974)
    prohibited banks from investing pension funds in excess of 15%
    into high-risk investments.

    But somehow the lunch-lobbied Congress changed all that.
    Wonder why?
    It had to take years, 1994 minus 1974 equals 20.
  • Apr 27 2013: I think on a level playing field, lets say that why do we feel a compulsion to answer a question or any question for that matter. It is a decision, right? Shakespeare said it best in English: To answer or not to answer and blah blah.
    From the authority perspective it is because of a need to feel I Am RIGHT.
    From the authenticity perspective it is because of a need to feel I Was RIGHT.
    Very little deference between the two, but usually authority has experience on its side and authenticity has naivety on its side. So its a mix of both when we are willing to decide.
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    Apr 27 2013: probably both. as i understand it authority is only there when you arnt doing what your suppose to be doing. if you are doing that then you are able to be authentic. there's a big difference in authority from media vs religion. or the market place or the laws from congress. god for example, if your following the laws that you have been given then your able to be genuine and authentic in your approach to what ever decisions you are faced with. it seems to be when you dont follow what you have been given you slowly loose the trust or room to be authentic and it can be suffocating. authority is there to catch you authenticity is there to inspire you.
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    Apr 23 2013: In most situations I think it's authority that decides for us.

    What is Authenticity?
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      Apr 23 2013: Anything that passes the tests of reasoned research by yourself. It implies that something is only authentic when it is not accepted a priori. Additionally, authenticity must have an internal quality rather than external.
      It stands out as distinct from authority.
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        Apr 23 2013: Authority is objective. Authenticity, according to your description, is subjected to the facts at hand. Authority is active while Athenticity is a static condition of facts.

        Authority dependes on authenticity and is nothing but blind force without it.

        Authenticiy lacks a method of force to become reality. Authority offers a method to deliver authentic applications.
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    Apr 18 2013: Thank you for interesting and thoughtful comments. It appears that the house is divided in three parts on the question, authenticity, authority and a mixture of both - the majority being the third. I argued somewhat in favor of authenticity.

    I'd like to present a caveat now. For all the three answers the tacit assumption is that our decisions are conscious. But this may not be the case always. Our unconscious mind plays a definitive role in cognitive activities and it can affect our decision making to some extent. In fact it is now believed that there can be perception without being aware (PWA). We are capable of receiving subliminal suggestions (visual or auditory) and these can lead us to decide without being aware.
    The celebrity British illusionist Darren Brown demonstrates subliminal auditory priming to lead a person to decide a preselected birthday gift in the following video.
    I have checked Wikipedia and it describes at least two cases of unconscious data gathering (which can influence decision making without being aware) and three areas where unconscious cognition plays important role in learning, thinking and decision making.
    There is reason to believe that systems like market, language and group behavioral dynamics can lead us to decide which are arguably not considered decisions by us.
    I'd love your take on this.
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      Apr 23 2013: I would recommend you to take a look at Daniel Kahnemans 'Thinking, Fast and Slow'. He gives a very comprehensive and well illustrated overview on how we think and thus make decisions from the current view of science.

      On subliminal messages I would like to add: 'PWA' is happening for sure. However it cannot be concluded that subliminal messages works per se. Currently I am working on a paper (not to be published) which reviews the latest and past account on subliminal messages. Subliminal messages are proven to work, yet only if several factors as motivation, need satisfaction, habitation, etc. are given. Thus I think those subliminal suggestions are not as influential on decision making as some would like them to be.
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        Apr 23 2013: Depends on what you understand by 'decision making.' Thanks for the info about the book. I shall try to read it.
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        Apr 23 2013: Specifically, I have read that subliminal messages are not conserved in memory beyond the first few moments.
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        Apr 24 2013: Just poking my head in to back Boas's recommendation. It's highly relevant to what you're brainstorming here.
  • Apr 18 2013: It depends on many factors. But, usually Authority limits to see the '' world'' from OUR'S perspective. Therefore it's very important to be able to convey people your own opinion, no matter ''wrong'' it is or ''right''. People often scare to be wrong in one or another situation, and instead of being an object of laughter, choose to say 'tested' opinions. The other factor, practically everything may contribute to our decision making power. Cause we do not live in a vacuume. We live in a shared world and we continually interact with each other. From this perspective it's natural for us when deciding something we look ''in the back of the book for the answers''. Usually thruth lies somewhere in the middle.
  • Apr 13 2013: Authority!
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      Apr 15 2013: :)
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    Apr 12 2013: Right or wrong, it is the conclusive result of our logic that makes us decide.
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      Apr 12 2013: If you have to decide between two clocks, one that runs +/- 15 minutes out of time and other that is dead, which one will you decide to have, using logic?
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    Apr 11 2013: I think how we are raises as children affects a lot of adults decisions. I would call this authenticity because I believe our background has a lot to do with who we are. I define authenticity as your personality, your self.
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      Apr 11 2013: If someone is raised with an open view towards life and world, he/she stands better chance of being authentic, yes. But never is too late I guess.
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    Apr 11 2013: Great Question.

    I initially think about this from a neurological perspective. We now know exactly which parts of the frontal lobe of the brain are responsible for specific kinds of decision making. We know this based on decades of brain scans of patients with brain injuries. For example, one part of the front lobe is required for controlling your urges (I am deciding not to have that chocolate bar), and another part of the frontal lobe is required for decisions where a reward is involved. Some decisions involve several of these brain centers at once. As all humans have these decision making parts of the brain in the same place, I suspect there is partially a genetic element to the design of our brain which creates these decision making centers.

    As we constantly physically rewire our brain in response to our own thinking and experiences, these pre-wired decision making centers of the frontal lobe interact with other parts of our thinking that are of our own creation.

    The amygdala functions as an instant decision making system, making instant fight or flight decisions without taking the time to decide, "Gee, should I run from this lion?" In patients with PTSD, this can override the decisions they would like to consciously make.

    Another observation I have about decision making, is that the reasons we actually make a decision may be quite different from the reasons we think we made that decision. Sometimes I think we make up our justification for our decision after the fact, perhaps to resolve cognitive dissonance.

    I think it's fascinating to consider the decision making process of a person "trying" (unsuccessfully) to quit smoking cigarettes. I've asked a number of ex-smokers what caused them to finally quit, and there does seem to be this "aha" moment where they finally make the conscious decision to quit and stay quit.
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    Apr 8 2013: Pabitra, may i ask what do you consider Authentitic or Authenticity?
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      Apr 9 2013: Anything that passes the tests (tests either by me or someone whom I trust). It implies that something is only authentic when it is not accepted a priori. Additionally, authenticity must have an internal quality rather than external.
      It stands out as distinct from authority.
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        Apr 11 2013: What exactly does the test consist of? How would you go about testing for authenticity?
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          Apr 11 2013: Skepticism to start with. Whenever one is contemplating a decision, there will emerge experts and advisers who are authorities. Mostly these authorities are institutions, hugely popular or successful or academically distinguished people - people whose words are taken for granted. Tests comprise of challenging the conventional wisdom, thinking critically over the options with as much information one can glean and keep trusting the guts. The exact ways of conducting the tests will vary with the situations and contexts but the basic rule is relying on own judgment and have a feeling what seems to be right. Done sufficient times, this process becomes authentic itself.
          Authenticity is trust built by yourself. Authority is trust forced on you by peers. In my book, someone who made several mistakes seeking authenticity and decided meaningfully at last has a more enriched life compared to one who made ALL decisions correctly depending on authorities.
  • Apr 8 2013: i recommend a bbc horizon episode called "the secret you" for more information on the underlying process behind decisions. absolutely fascinating about how truly non-mysterious our decisions are.
  • Apr 7 2013: Dear Pabrita,

    Ist in important question you raise. Every person should reflect him or herself on this issue from time to time. I think there is a strong relation with the social,cultural or professional network you are connected and that asks you to make a decision on a specific issue. Important is your personal motivation when you have to take responsibilty for your own decision and realizing what the context is of your decision.If the outcome is negative, for lets say a client you,can try to find a way of personal comunication with the client and not only hide behind a policy or procedure. And maybe the rules you have to follow profesionally also give some space for a different decision then a+b=c. In the social network its wise to create a personal space where you can make alternative decisions then always following the decision the majority would make.
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    Apr 6 2013: yes, absolutely I do believe others will. I guess I made the error of being very selfish Pabitra. I viewed the subject with "I & me" excluding others.

    As to your last question..I don't know. how right do you want to be and how willing are you to be wrong
    thanks for the reply
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    Apr 6 2013: well, I would first have to share my definition of authority. I think it is rules and laws we must abide by to insure any type of social order.... run a red light, you get a ticket, pay your electric bill on time or live in the dark, do physical harm to another, there are consequences. this is what I would call legitimate authority because as a whole, we all agree (well almost everyone) they are justified. so many decisions I make in my daily life are based on legitimate authority and admittedly, I simply do not want to deal with the repercussions if I did not.

    an authentic decision is my freedom of choice, it speaks to my character, my spirit. I don't care who you proclaim to be or what by what authority you speak from, I am not "performing imparting lethal doses of electricity on another". do what you will to me. Religion, the market place and media, points of reference only. Given much thought, some I'll keep but, most I throw out.
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      Apr 6 2013: Mary, have you seen the Milgram experiment videos? Here are some links.

      I think it's very difficult at times to know which authority is legitimate and which not.
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        Apr 6 2013: ok Pabitra I watched them. surely this question speaks to each, individually. No way am I going to submit any human being to a shock which is punishing another for a wrong answer, for that matter anything.
        White lab coats, clipboards, a" laboratory" environment, not impressed. With the first introduction to this experiment I would have said a polite "no thank you gentleman. surely there are many ways to enhance ones memory without conflicting pain. call me when you figure it out"
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          Apr 6 2013: That's great Mary, but I am afraid that's not a convincing answer for my question. Milgrams's experiment was not devised to inflict pain on others, all the participants except the targeted were trained actors and the subjects were made to believe they are inflicting electric shock for a legitimate scientific study. They were assured by the scientists (actors actually), who are authority figures, that this experiment should continue and these target subjects went on to obey to differing levels of electric shocks, some of which went clearly in to lethal threshold.
          The legitimate authority you mentioned that make us believe that running a light is to end up getting a ticket is dubious. We have a check and balance mechanism in law. If doing harm to other is sure to have unfavorable consequences, there would not have been wars.
          Fine you will not fall into that trap but do you believe none will? Do you believe authorities like this do not push us to decide forsaking our intuitive sense of right and wrong?
  • Apr 6 2013: I'd say that decisions are made based on need. Physical needs as well as moral, emotional and intellectual can affect how we decide.
  • Apr 6 2013: Situations lead us to decide.
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      Apr 6 2013: Not all situations. Only those situations where a choice is presented. I have not decided who will be my parents. I have decided who will be my partner.
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    Apr 5 2013: All rational decisions are related to survival.
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      Apr 6 2013: Tell that to a teacher who shields kids from bullets fired by a sick person, receives many on her body and dies in the process.
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        Apr 6 2013: She made the decision to shield the children because it was better survival for the species which is probably why she was a teacher in the first place.

        The shooter was not rational. Some people do not act towards better survival, they are therefore by definition irrational. In fact they intend towards the opposite. They pretend towards the prior because the law dictates that they do as they are not as courageous as they would have you believe. The ubiquitous drugs brings out this masked character in them.
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          Apr 6 2013: That's altruism. That defies Darwinian evolution (own survival must come first). Bur Richard Dawkins argues that altruism is also an indirect survival trait, where more genes are protected against sacrifice of lesser number of genes. I take your point anyway.
          What about choosing to die for a cause? Say, to up hold the right to speak and write a language? Is survival involved here too? Or it is under the authority of culture? Or for authentic reason that I am hardly me without my language with which I was born?
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        Apr 6 2013: Sure people have done and will do just that from the beginning of time. It is an integrity thing.
  • Apr 5 2013: it varies due to context. sometimes i can be very indecisive over the simplest decisions. sometimes it's random sometimes its dumb.nice inspiration for contemplation. now i can't decide what to put next.....
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      Apr 5 2013: :) Need help? $5 for each custom tailored decisions for you. Hurry offer ends anytime soon.
      • Apr 5 2013: oh yeah? Sounds good , but im just not sure
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    Apr 5 2013: Hi, Pabitra. This is an area in which we have great TED talks- under the tags "choice," "psychology," and "economics." Most choices we make are automatic, drawing on experiences and ideas we are not even conscious are coming into play. We choose and create plausible explanations of our choices after the fact. Some of the ideas that drive our choices came originally from authority but many derive from our own experiences of cause and effect. As Dan Ariely tells us, many choices are made quickly and very much influenced by what the default options are in how choices are presented- whether you have to opt in to something or to opt out.
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      Apr 5 2013: Thanks Fritzie. I certainly remember Bary Swatch for one. I am curious to know how warped our decisions can get under "authority". A perfectly peaceful person can, under the authority of 'nation' and 'military' kill people whom she doesn't know, has no enmity with or not personally harmed by. My niece keeps on buying fairness creams under the authority of market sales campaign.
      I have started having questions regarding my smart choices and independent decisions.
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        Apr 5 2013: Some of what you describe as being under authority could also be described as being under the influence of a crowd mentality or peer pressure. Derek Sivers in his TED talk argues that the first followers can be considered more important than the leader.

        People can come to believe something must be right because all sorts of people they identify with are saying it or doing it. Under that influence, they abandon critical thinking. One sees it all the time, I think- that people come to see their peer group as uniquely enlightened and to paint those outside their group with a broad and negative brush. It is sad, really, and interferes with learning and collaboration.

        The more one associates primarily with same-thinking people, the more ingrained ones prejudices and idea set tends to become.