Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Two Winged-Horses. Both Losing a Wing Each.

"You have one head and one heart, you will put them TOGETHER to overcome this. 
This too, shall pass. I promise." 

 Plato once illustrated humans making choices with the chariot allegory. According to Plato, we are the charioteer pulled by two winged horses - "First the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome."

This "troublesome" horse depicts our passionate desires that commonly lead us into awkward circumstances. Plato advises his contemporary to follow the stream of reason, the horse of noble breed because it will lead you upwards to enlightenment. But we also realize that our instincts and "desires of the heart" cannot be easily ignored because they resonate in your mind repeatedly, urging you to follow its instructions regardless of the outcome.

In Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide, he theorize that this primal instincts is the most developed in humans. As evolution of humans follow, we develop the prefrontal cortex where the means of reason and foresight comes into play. The existence of a significantly larger prefrontal cortex is what separates us from other animals; an ability to analyze pros and cons - to foresee the positive/negative outcomes. But, since the prefrontal cortex was the last to develop, it also means that it is less developed compared to the part of our brain that controls our primal instincts - our brain stem - the medulla oblongata/limbic system. Hence, the prefrontal cortex is prone to errors, more so than the brain stem.

Was Plato wrong then? because he had no knowledge of neuroscience and MRI scanners? No. Later in his book, Lehrer similarly explains the errors our instincts make.

In the last chapter, he wrote that the crucial bit is to examine which matters is better decided by our instincts or reasoning. When should we follow our heart, and when do we follow our "common sense".

So when exactly? I don't know if I can effectively write this down now. But I picture my chariot with two winged-horses, both losing a wing each. Each disabled in its way. To know when to follow which, I really have to listen to both and determine the source of its ways. Unlike other animals, we humans have the ability to perform metacognition - to think about what you're thinking about. If you are thinking about inception, you are close.  Perhaps you can picture it to be like a movie depicting scenes of filming another movie. We have the ability to step out from our own movies/thoughts/desires and acknowledge where they are coming from. And I think this ability of metacognition (though very limited), puts us closer to god's perspective. The ability to observe our possession of free will.

I do not think that this is an easy task because often one horse could always overpower the other and you get lost trying to keep both in check to be able to stay above the waters. Sometimes, we get so tired, we give up and follow the turbulence and pick the default in our lives. But before that happens, stop for a moment, and see where your horses are coming from. Listen to their expression of disappointments, anticipations, hopes, hopelessness, vulnerabilities, stoicism. Listen to them without shutting either of them out. And then decide.