How We Decide - Notes

Plato imagined the mind as a chariot pulled by 2 horses – rational brain is the charioteer holds the reins and decides which way the horses run. 1 of the horses is well bred the other is ill bred obsitinate, deaf as a post – this represents negative or dark emotions job of the charioteer is to stop this horse running wild. Division of the mind into reason and emotion v old theme in western philosophy.

Enlightenment thinking prized reason and saw emotion as the seat of all that was negative and the root of our mistakes, truth much more interesting as the 2 are crucial to the whole.

Emotion in the brain:

Large part of the frontal cortex is in fact involved in emotion. The Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) integrates visceral emotions into decision-making. It connects feelings generated by structures in the limbic system to conscious thought. Frontal cortex does not protect us from our emotions it integrates us with them we are the most emotional of all species.

Dopamine system also crucial to decision-making. Pioneering research of Wolfram Schultz at Cambridge. Dopamine is the reward mechanism in the primate brain, dopamine neurons learn to fire in anticipation of reward. It works on expectation. When its expectation is dislocated and the expected reward does not occur the brain takes notice. Via the ACC

Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) p 38, is involved in the detection of errors. The ‘oh shit’ circuit. ACC memorizes dopamine system response and therefore learns lessons of past experience and establishes predictable expectations. ACC also densely populated with spindle neurons which transmit much faster than other neurons (only found in humans and great apes) – used to instantly saturate the rest of the cortex in the feeling generated. We are probably 99.9% unaware of dopamine release but probably 99.9% driven by the information and emotion it conveys to the rest of the brain. Emotions therefore deeply rooted in experience.

It is therefore feelings that capture the wisdom of experience.

Human brain cells generate predictions about what will happen and then measure the difference between actual and expected results.

Cervantes ‘ Proverbs are short sentences derived from long experience’

p51 eg Bill Robertie, world class at 3 different games, chess, poker and backgammon. Improves because of the quality of his practice, he focuses on mistakes. Negative feedback is most useful.

Carol Dweck Stanford Psychologist demonstrating importance of making mistakes in learning, p51. Fear of failure inhibits learning, children respond best when praised for effort not innate intelligence.

How do we regulate our emotions? Metacognition the ability to think about our own mind. Aristole’s idea from the Nicomanchean Ethics – the key to cultivating virtue is to manage one’s passions.

‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention’ Herbert Simon

Brock & Balloum cognitive psychologists experiment late 60’s with church goers and atheists. We tune out cognitive dissonance, ie we cant hear what we don’t want to hear. Certainty bias can be countered by self awareness (meta cognition) force yourself to seek out alternatives. Eg Lincoln so successful because he sought out competing view points. Israeli military reaction to the surprise of Yom Kipur to set up a 3rd agency independent of mil and Mossad.

Alfred Sloan chairman of GM once adjourned a board meeting ‘Gentlemen I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here, then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about”.

Hedgehog thinking – 1 big idea with absolute certainty

Fox thinking – lots of approaches need to cope with the ambiguous and the unique. Key to developing this capacity is study of own decision-making processes.