Read a fascinating post in the Wall Street Journal by By ROBERT LEE HOTZ titled ” Get out of your own way”. The author reports on studies and ongoing research into how our brain makes a “conscious” decision.
Let me take an example to explain the above. Suppose you are in a market place looking for apples. You are standing by the basket which is full of red apples. You look at the apples and are trying to pick just the “right” juicy ones. Then you make a choice and reach in and pick up the apple you wanted. Now you may think this is a conscious act, conscious decision making went into picking the apple. Research though shows that the human brain is far more superior and faster.
Even before you make the choice, the brain has already made its choice and knows which apple it wants from the lot. And that is the apple you finally pick up.
Functional MRI scans show that parts of brain are activated 10 seconds before the decision reaches the consciousness. This research sheds new light into the functioning of the human brain and the speed of its computation power. When the human brain is presented with choices, it is able to analyze countless permuations and combinations. How does our brain do this? How could the human brain defeat the worlds most advanced supercomputer in a game of chess. Surely the supercomputer would have been better with numbers and analyzing various possible chest moves. Like I said before, we still do not know how the brain actually works. But one thing which differentiates us from a machine is we think but we can think with emotions too. I can “cheat” in a game of poker or chess to throw you off. A computer once you understand how it works or “thinks” you know it shall not work or “think” in any other way. A computer shall not cheat you.
A human brain on the other hand is never stationary. It has the unique ability to form new thinking processes. So now lets get back to our apple story. If the brain in few seconds has already made the choice it thinks is the right one (in this case the right apple) and that is the apple you finally pick up, then there may be some truth to the old saying of “going with your gut feeling”.
Overthinking a decision may not always be great. You go into a car dealership and are flip flopping over which car to buy. Thinking and rethinking your decision. Hmmm now you may say, it is a big buy and one must think through it well. True but the brain it seems has already decided and from what we know it has probably made the right choice as soon as you entered the dealership. If the first thing which crossed your mind was ” I want that red ford” well then probably that is what is right for you.
Now you may rethink and change your decision but it may not be the best one. I find this concept fascinating and it just amazes me how the brain works. It is truly the world’s foremost supercomputer powered by God not intel!!!
Nitin Sethi, MD