Pre-determinants – your ignorance is bliss.
For some time I’ve been occupied with things that pre-determine what we think or do. I’ve often referred to patterns and cultures as pre-determinative. Then I looked into attitudes.
As I go on, I think more about this. The uneducated and dim will obviously baulk at all this. After all, all they know is that ‘We are in control of our own minds!‘
Alice in Wonderland
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”, asked Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
– Lewis Carroll
That’s just randomly quoted. What’s in there? Alice asks a question seeking advice on which way she ought to go, but she clueless as to where she wants to get to. Cat gives the correct answer, respecting Alice’s autonomy and right to self-determination. Not knowing where she want’s to get to, Alice needs to be aimlessly ‘somewhere’. Cat is wise in his response.
I think that loads of people are like that. But how could supposedly intelligent people want to get to a place that they haven’t even thought about? Alice is of course lucky she wasn’t dealing with me – else she might have gotten a rather unsavoury response. Aimlessness and mindlessness are actually patterns. You could spend your life understanding how those develop, and it would do no good. In this post I touch on how certain things predetermine what people will think or do (or not do).
What we know of our own minds, can only be that which we become consciously aware of. The mind is not a physical substance i.e. you can’t put it in a box and transport it. Jeez!
The mind, obviously, sits in and is the product of brain functions. Minds are totally unaware of the zillions of electrical impulses in the brain that lead to that functioning thing we call mind. In fact the mind is also unaware of that which resides in its deep unconscious recesses. Tough, if you who reads this is unaware that the mind has parts that it is unaware of.
Have a stick poked into your brain, and you will find that the functions of mind are severely disrupted – if you don’t end up dead that is! (This is not a suggestion for anyone to try this). A biological addiction – to say alcohol – changes the way the brain works and hence how the mind behaves. Alcoholics will say and do certain things that maintains their ‘habit’. But in amongst the ‘biological changes’ caused by alcohol, will be a set of behavioural patterns that are etched in the psychological and social domains.
People also express ‘surprise’ that psychological and social patterns can be etched on the brain – and by extension on the mind. So then I have to ask, “So, where is memory stored? Where are patterns recorded?” And that then leads to responses such as ‘I’m not a psychologist or brain scientist!‘ I’m not gonna enter a debate on this. The bottom line is that the physical substrate of ‘the brain’ records or stores a wide range of patterns.
Now the problem is – say for an alcoholic – they’re not going to be aware of exactly what social patterns are recorded in their brain. They may have a vague idea and they often acknowledge, “Yes – I know that familiar faces and places are part of it.” But that doesn’t equip them to find and root out the pattern(s). This is why I often say ‘understanding is a waste of time’.
What about habituation or dependence to non-physical things? Gambling addiction is the classic example. I’m talking about those people who lose large amounts of money repeatedly at the likes of gambling machines or online games. Gambling is not a ‘substance’, obviously. It’s seemingly not a physical thing. But the psychological effects of gambling affect the gambler’s psychology, how the brain reacts/responds, and also etches certain social or behavioural patterns (on the brain). When a gambler stops gambling suddenly (for whatever reason), the brain responds because it is missing something. The gambler may find himself back at a betting shop – even when he has no money to gamble. What’s that about? The gambler is often unaware that, it’s his own brain or psychology that has taken him there. He is dependent on the buzz of the environment. He wants to remember what it was like or relive in fantasy that which gave ‘pleasure’. Oh for sure, most like him don’t consciously think, “You know what. I’ll go to the betting shop because I want to remember what it was like.” – they’re simply drawn there by some mysterious force.
I’ve used ‘addictions’ only as a way to highlight the way mind, brain and environment may interact. And yes – those are perhaps at one end of a spectrum. In other parts of the spectrum people are similarly affected by predeterminators, quite unconsciously.
In the current pandemic period, I saw how people reacted to being locked down – anger, rage, disappointment, feeling bullied, depression. You name it; they felt it. People just did not react well to being wrenched from deeply ingrained patterns of getting out and about, socialising etc. Some of those people understood very well the need to be locked down, but that didn’t help to moderate their reactions. Other people didn’t understand anything, didn’t care to understand and just remained on the autopilot of patterns in their lives. Those were mainly the rule-breakers and cheaters.
When pre-determinators are distrupted, the person living their patterns feels stressed – that then leads to a primal response, which is to react emotionally. Nope – people do not just sit quietly and analyses stuff. The emotional (primal) animal is awakened it overpowers the analytical parts of the mind. That’s been worked out many years ago from psychological research. Tough – I’m not spoonfeeding!
So – suddenly separate an alcoholic from their booze or regular social environment (say for a week) – stop people from shopping and socialising – make a bunny appear out of a hat – or arbitrarily throw someone into prison – you’ll get more or less the same reaction. What’s that? Have you been asleep? Did I say everybody reacts the same way? I did NOT! The same reaction – is the emotional one first. The degree of emotional experience or expression may vary from person to person.
So what do pre-determinators do? In general they add structure, context and order to human lives. Did I say ‘always’? A biological addiction to alcohol may add a certain structure and order but may also add chaos to a person’s life – the patterns associated with excessive alcohol consumption serve to maintain the habit. It’s little wonder that seasoned alcoholics do not often run out of booze for more than 24 hours. And you can use the same sort of method to look into other things where ‘homeostasis’ is achieved.
Alcohol and drug dependence is even more interesting than just a mere biological phenomenon. While the biological system adapts, individual psychological and social patterns become structured and ordered to maintaining the ‘habit’. The alcoholic will adopt not just certain values but certain ways of thinking. Then their social environment and circles become ‘selected and ingrained’. So – even when after rehab programme the cycle of biological dependence is broken, elements of psychological and social patterns remain functioning in the backdrop. This often leads alcoholics back closer to drink, environments where people drink, and people who drink. This is often rationalised (a psychological thing caught in a super-pattern), to argue that ‘I’ve beaten the habit. I can test this out’. Sure – they would return to familiar faces and places and not have a drink. But given enough repetition of that ‘flirtation’, eventually they end up swallowing alcohol.
I’ve focused a fair amount on the use of things of dependence, as a model for understanding bio-psychosocial predeterminants. Some will obviously argue that that’s taking from the pathological and extrapolating a bit too far. Well, how does one know it’s too far? The argument is a common one i.e. that’s them and we are not them.
We become dependent on pre-determinants to order our world and our expectation. Yes – substance dependence is at one extreme end of the spectrum. But it represents something fundamental about human nature. Bio-psychosocial predeterminants can and do work in every sphere of human operation. Most of the time these are not even recognised. Take work-life patterns: getting up on a morning, getting ready, traveling to work, working hard, returning home, attending to home life, feeding, sleeping, then back out to work – and all that is encapsulated in an other prescribed pattern of career building, earnings, possessions, retirement and eventually death. Millions of people have done that for many years – they don’t see an issue with it because it is the norm. Oh sure – many people believe 100% that their paths in life are their own and devoid of orchestration by any external forces. I have no time for a debate on that.
Then comes COVID, which upskittles everything and people see their work-life patterns with greater clarity. Some will wonder what it all means, these patterns over the years? What is life, human existence, and work about? How does it serve people in the context of nation building? How important am I – and to whom? What is the meaning of my life?
Ignorance is bliss – and very easy.
Disclaimer & Guidance