TED Conversations

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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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 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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