Ironically, most of us ignore empirical evidence when we choose to understand how decisions are made. The evidence shows that we are biologically wired to feel our way toward good decisions, that no decisions are devoid of emotion, and that reason and emotion work together for good decision making.
But most of us think that the best thing is to “not get emotional.” Why?
Moreover, how do we decide to do the right thing? Moral decisions that show virtue are smooched with literally thousands of other decisions every day.
I would estimate that I have made about 50 decisions today. I ate a waffle for breakfast (as opposed to cereal or a bagel which are both in the pantry), I drove a certain route to a doctor’s appointment (trying to avoid traffic, ended up late anyway). These are more obvious, but there are also other decisions, like what socks I wore and what I put in my lunch, that I made without a lot of reason. I can retroactively invent reasons why I did these things, I can identify a feature about my socks that fit my needs for the day, but I have a lot of socks that could probably do the same utility, so why these socks?
Some decisions I made from habit, some to prepare for the rest of the day, some made based on tradeoffs I calculated, some were made without any “thought” whatsoever.
Why did I do all these things, as opposed to their reasonable alternatives? Because my emotions told me to, just like your decisions are made, just like every decision is made, just like you’re nervous system is wired to do.
Most of my science-based posts will revolve around the idea of reworking how we think about “reason” and “emotion” as separate entities, to see them as highly overlapping functions that inform each other. Often, when people say, “Don’t get all emotional, just use reason,” what they are really saying is, “Calm down, you’re annoying me, and use a different set of emotions.” The key is to use and regulate emotion effectively; top-down reasoning is a strategy for doing so, but don’t think for a second that it is devoid of “emotion.”
The empiricist blog is about decision-making and emotion, understanding how we use information through our available senses (empirical evidence) to guide our behavior.