Monday, June 14, 2010

A Thought on Thoughts

There's this angel and devil model of our mind that comic books and cartoons have popularised to such heights. I feel there's a lot of truth in it. The subconscious part of our brain which is supposed to be stronger than our conscious brain, is home to both these gentlemen (or ladies as your case may be). It's also the battleground of moral war which these two people wage against each other. The result of each battle is the verdict of our subconscious. This being the stronger part of the brain, might also be the output of our brain itself. That is, if we equate ourselves, not considering the fact that our conscious brain is equipped with some unique qualities, to beasts.

This may be source of pessimism for some of us. Particularly those, whose brain hosts a strong devil and a feeble angel. If all our actions, and hence our life, are slave to the dictates of these two people, isn't there any hope for us to grow beyond our born destinies?

But there are a few things to note. One is that our conscious brain is the gatekeeper guarding the exit of all things coming from the world of thought to that of actions. And secondly, most importantly, even though its own raw powers are dwarfed before the subconscious's, conscious brain has the capability of learning from years and centuries of conscious thought that has been done and recorded by the entire human race. Subconscious lacks the power to learn (except through the slow process of evolution). Conscious can choose to act on results which it mayn't be equipped alone to arrive at. This incremental process of knowledge acquisition has made conscious mind, potentially a much stronger part of the brain.

Of course, exercising of this power depends on education, learning, reading and listening.

All this sounds so sickenly similar to discourses on karma, praarabh and free-will! That's the downside of learning. Over so many centuries, so many people have thought up so much that it's awfully difficult to sound original every time.


fuse me said...

I think the conscious and sub-conscious are a lot more interactive than it seems from your model. A lot of things which are learnt consciously are related to the sub-conscious at a later stage of life. And often what we think are conscious decisions are in fact our subconscious as indicated by your devil angel model.

But what I don't follow is how do you say that the verdict is always given by the sub-conscious? Is it that you say, we are not aware of the choices we have although you seem to say that we are aware of the choices we make?

The two statements,
1. '. The result of each battle is the verdict of our subconscious.'
2. 'One is that our conscious brain is the gatekeeper guarding the exit of all things coming from the world of thought
to that of actions.'

They seem a little confusing to me, since they seem to attribute the decision making to both the sub-conscious and the conscious. Could you please clarify?

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Yes you are right. There is indeed a lot of interactivity. There is a posibility of practising some long enough that it becomes a habit. Then, that gets planted in the subconscious. Modelling them as mutually exclusive would be over-simplification.
Here's an explanation of the two statements with the help of an example. Suppose there is a lot of work to do today. And various conflicting pairs of forces like laziness (and alertness), dishonesty (and honesty), concentration (and Internet), are work within you. It is conscious which puts its stamp on these tendencies because working hard or not is a volitional act. Conscious (logical) thinking may favour the angel in most cases. But it may still be rendered powerless if the devil is very strong. So, you may still end up browsing the Internet (or writing long replies to blog comments) even though consciously you know you shouldn't be doing that now. On the other hand, if angel forces are strong, there will be far less conflict. You will be enjoying your work, and it'll be as if there's no conscious thinking required to do the correct thing.

So, if you are feeling fresh and motivated to work today, your angel subconscious prevails.
If you are not feeling like working but you still manage to scrap out some productivity, it's a defeat of angel in the hands of devil, but it's a victory of conscious.
If you end up wasting the whole day without putting up a decent fight, it the horny, lusty devil ruling all the way.

NOTE: In that sense, the conflict that we are really able to see is between conscious brain and devil subconscious. Angel subconscious never seems to fight. :)

fuse me said...

Interesting elucidation. From the first reading of your blog I was under the impression that both the devil and the angel are your sub-conscious.

But then again, choosing the devil may sometimes be better as you indicated saying that the conscious mind may not be equipped enough to make the decision. So in that case, the devil is the angel? :-)

I'd put forward a slightly different interpretation of your model, based on what I understood partially the first time. The devil and angel are both the sub-conscious based on what you 'want' to do and what you 'should' do. The conscious mind is aware of both these choices. If what you 'want' to do is what you 'should' be doing then the devil and angel shake hands. if you don't know what you want to do, then do what you should do, and if you don't know what you should be doing then do what you want to do (or do nothing). Finally, it is the conscious mind which takes the decision. The times when you react instinctively is the time when the conscious mind does not actively take part in decision making and then the more powerful of the angel and devil of your subconscious wins the fight and you do accordingly. Otherwise, the conscious mind performs the role of arbitrator and chooses one of them. Thus you can model 'karma' and 'free-will'?

fuse me said...

Some sort of algorithm :-)

if{exist(devil) & exist(angel)}
if{calculation_time > threshold}
% Working of free-will
if{(pros(devil)-cons(devil)) > (pros(angel)-cons(angel)}
choice = devil;
if{(pros(devil)-cons(devil)) < (pros(angel)-cons(angel)}
choice = angel;
% working of karma
choice = winner_of_war(angel,devil);
% working of karma
choice = winner_of_war(angel,devil)
if exist(devil) & !exists(angel)
%working of naseeb
choice = devil;
if !exist(devil) & exists(angel)
% working of naseeb
choice = angel;
if !exist(devil) & !exists(angel)
% extreme bad-luck :-D
choice = [void]; %no choice

Haha, I didn't follow the best programming practices, please excuse me for the same ;-)

Pritesh said...

What can I possibly say after all those comments (including a program for decision-making)? :D Just a small note: The amount of time Ananth takes to decide upon things makes me think that he has multiple angels and devils at war and the output of the war will be truly random! Explains his randomness, doesn't it? :D