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: 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?

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