Of Biologists,Economists and Philosophers

I found a strange connection between the two articles that I read about 2 weeks back – one by an economist and the other by a biologist. It was as if the biologist was providing an explanation or an answer to the thesis put forth by the economist.
The economist I am talking about is Dan Ariely (from MIT) who is a Behavioral Economist of some fame. I was reading a review on his latest book titled “Predictably irrational”. The book is all about how we take irrational decisions on small as well as big issues and still believe that we are in control of the decision making process. Supported by well researched experiments,he argues that several things we buy are not based on any rational choice but influenced by peer pressure,emotional attachments etc which have nothing to do with the real value. Or worse still very often we end up buying things we don’t really need.
More examples of irrationality follow in the book. For instance,we promise ourselves to diet and exercise which is instantly broken the moment we see our favourite dessert.

The author supports all his conclusions based on certain well designed experiments. However,his thesis was not well accepted by his critics who who felt that the examples taken by him in his experiments were all too trivial. They argue that we are indeed capable of taking rational decisions on very serious issues of great consequence. However,the year 2008 was a great year for his book and today Dan has no problem in convincing his critics – thanks largely to the global economic crisis caused by irrational choices made by the people who matter.
Now let me come to the Biologist’s article. The article which appeared in the latest issue(May,2009) of NATURE magazine is titled “Is Free will an Illusion?”. It is written by a well known Biologist Martin Heisenberg. He quotes convincing evidence from neuroscience in support of his contention that Free Will may be an illusion after all. Neuroscience has shown experimental evidence which suggests that the brain makes decisions up to 7 Seconds
before we become aware of it. Look at the implications. As individuals,we Do Not have a role in the decisions that our brain makes. In other words,we are really not in control of the decisions that we make or take.
This kind of reasoning could perhaps explain,at least partially, Dan Areily’s work on “predictable irrationality” of human beings.

I am now tempted to bring in Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s take on the subject. Awareness and complete attention to whatever we see ,hear or do without any conditioning or prejudices whatsoever can bring about total transformation and tremendous clarity. Such a meditative mind,according to JK, is able to act freely with intelligence,exercising its Free Will. Putting it differently,our minds – cluttered as they are with prejudices,anger,jealousy,selfishness etc – are not equipped to act with intelligence and freedom.
I think neuro-scientists need to include such meditative minds in their study and see how their brains work in comparison to normal population during the process of decision making. They will perhaps find that ‘awareness’ precedes decision making by the brain in such individuals.
I am sure there is going to be a lot more scientific work by biologists in this area of research.


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