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Sunday Contemplation: Free will, decisions or luck?

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

We live on a fascinating planet during fascinating times. I am writing this as I sit in my yard and the fall breeze flows around my face and through my hair. Sunrays are reaching down through a thin layer of white friendly clouds, and the air seems so fresh. How fascinating it is to sit here and observe all that is around me in stillness. Branches of trees are dancing as the soft breeze goes by, and leaves make this warm and friendly swoosh sound that sounds so calming and relaxing—what a beautiful Sunday.

I am enjoying my cup of coffee with two shots of Kéan espresso blend beans, four ounces of hot water, a splash of Alexandre milk that is the perfect 50-50 mixture between a 6% whole fat milk and a half and half with a sifted pinch of raw cacao for more earthy dessert flavor. I am sitting here and pondering about things by observing my thoughts.

Some of the questions that come into my mind:

  • Do we have control over our thoughts and actions?

  • Do we control our decisions, or are they results of everything that our System 1 has learned and observed throughout our existence?

I have been pondering this for a long time, and I have not reached a conclusion yet.

How amazing it is to live on this planet, sit here, right where I am at, and feel the pleasant freshness of the breeze around my face; I ponder as my thoughts get distracted by the fall breeze again.

What are the chances that I end up sitting exactly where I am, on this day, at this exact place, surrounded by the people and animals that are now part of my life?

If someone had told me years ago that this is what my future on this day would look like, what would I think then? Would I believe it? Every day, every hour, every moment, we make micro-decisions that ultimately shape our lives. Do we control each of those moments, or are we mostly on autopilot driving through our lives based on our instincts driven by System 1 decisions? And yes, I am reading Daniel Kahneman's book - Thinking, Fast and Slow.

My mind got distracted as I heard Trevor doing sprints on the AssaultBike. I should get a workout in; my guilty consciousness starts speaking to me from the inside.

"A general "law of least effort" applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, the effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature." Daniel Kahneman

If this is true, how do we learn? How do we grow? How do we make good decisions? How do we learn to become better?

There seem to be a considerable amount of people on this planet who want and need help. I traditionally enjoy helping others, and lately, I started thinking more deeply about why so many people need help and are asking for help? By helping them, are they learning and growing, or are they becoming more dependent on others to figure stuff out for them? Why would my advice be better than the advice they can give themselves if they sit in stillness and put deep thought into the challenge they face? Will they learn more by thinking deeply, creating their unique path to success, and challenging their mental models and believes? Do we even know what we need help with? Do we understand ourselves? And even if we do, does it matter? Is our life created by conscious choices we make or primarily by luck?

As Daniel states: "Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions. The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high. It is easier to recognize other people's mistakes than our own." Thus, perhaps helping others and pointing out where System 1 and System 2 are sabotaging their growth is also a way to refine our thinking models. Does it mean that by helping others, we are also helping ourselves?

Since most of our life is driven by System 1 decisions and System 1 is very susceptible to priming, based on the research presented in this book by Daniel, is most of our life an illusion itself? In my opinion, priming is everywhere around us. What we see and how we act is mainly driven by our System 1. If that is true, can each of us set up our own experiments and prime our thoughts by, for example, visualization practices to see, act, and thus create a path towards a future we want to live in?

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