I suspect that everyone who wants to be more effective working with other people eventually has to figure out a good enough answer to: “Why people do what they do?”.
It is easy to completely understand why stuff like everyday tools work, because of their inherent simplicity. You push a button, and you get a coffee. The coffee machine grinds the coffee beans, and pours hot water trough it. It is simple.
To go one step further: Animal trainers who spend half their lives working with dogs might reasonably well understand how and why dogs behave in most situations. This is because behavior and reasoning of dogs are still simpler than of us. A reasonably accurate model of “how dogs work” can fit inside a human brain.
But even if we eventually fully understood how humans work, it would be physically impossible to fit all that knowledge into someone’s already crowded mind. So we not only not fully understand why we do what we do, our behavior is also not consistent because free will allows us to do whatever we want in every situation…
…Or does it?
The illusion of free will
We do not have the freedom and free will that we think we do. Yes, you can make conscious choices, but everything that makes up those conscious choices (your thoughts, your wants, your desires) is determined by prior causes outside your control. Just because you can do what you want does not mean you have free will because you are not choosing what you want in the first place.
How can understanding this concept be useful in the “real world”?
For me the two most important takeaways were:
- Since I’ve understood this concept I haven’t been really angry at anyone, even though I would’ve had plenty of opportunities doing so. This makes me more calm, and joyful throughout the day. Now I’m facing more problems than ever in my life, and I can stay reasonable, and solve everything effectively. It is also much easier to smile in the face of failure when it inevitably catches me from time to time.
- The second most important thing is that now I understand that the only thing that truly matters in life is the effect I am having on other human beings. It does not matter how smart I am if I do not share and have any effect on others with my ideas and knowledge. Probably this is the reason I’ve started my blog, which has been quite fun so far.
Sam Harris warns the listeners that he got the feedback from several people that his talk psychologically destabilized them. After I watched the presentation it took me several weeks to fully recover from the shock that were caused by the realization that no-one is truly in control of their thoughts and actions.
Do you think that this concept should be taught to everyone, or should we let most people continue deceiving themselves?