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: 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.

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