What Choice?

An article in the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research provides some of the first evidence that choice behavior in our personal relationships may influence choice behavior in the marketplace.

Let me restate that: non-cognitive forces may influence my cognitive choices.

“The Devil made me do it!” The famous Flip Wilson quote may be truer than we think. Colonies of bacteria in my gut influence what I eat. Hormones controlled by my sexual organs influence what, when, and how much I buy. These are choices I tend to believe are under my conscious control. That is, I’m choosing according to my cognitive desire, which is controlled by me.

I’m learning that the entity I refer to as “me” may be much more complex than I give credit. I may be a tiny aspect of a much larger system I know as “life” rather than an independent entity capable of independent thought. I may be more like a leaf on a tree than the captain of a ship.

This raises the question (to me anyway) – What is choice? And, how can I be held accountable for my choices when maybe “it wasn’t me” what made the “choice?”

Examining this situation, I’ve come to question if maybe cognitive choice may be an illusion – a figment of my imagination. I THINK I’m making a choice based on best information and thinking. In reality, the “choice” (if there is one) was already made before I became cognitively aware of it. My cognitive “choice” may actually be an effect of a subconscious non-human behavior. A figment of imagination created to give my mind an illusion of being safely in control. I MAY be able to choose my justification for the “choice” and the behaviors I exhibit as a result of the “choice” – while the choice itself may be partially or entirely out of my cognitive control.

I MAY be able to choose some aspects of the defense I present about “my choice.” Even then, most defenses are knee-jerk reactions rather than well-thought-out reasoning – yet the “choice” itself was not mine to make at the macro level. The real choice was most likely made long ago in some primordial ocean or pond – and encoded into my genome by some ancestral creature I wouldn’t recognize today.

Could I have choice and accountability upside down?

The concept of accountability is that you must “account for” or “be responsible for” your choices – regardless of how much control you believe you have. “I did it” therefore, “I MUST HAVE chosen to do it.” Yet, how much actual cognitive choice do you really have? Sure, it sounds absurd to say, “I choose chocolate because my gut bacteria say so.” And yet, might that be closer to the truth?

If so, what does that say about cognitive accountability? Maybe it says we might be more cognitive of the system in which we are an infinitesimally small aspect – life. “I” do not exist in isolation. No do I have dominion over my world. I don’t “rule over” nature. We work together in a partnership that is heavily weighted in the direction of nature. Perhaps, as I acknowledge my upside down thinking about accountability and my place in my world, I may come into alignment with its real nature – and maybe experience some real joy in it.


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