Sunday, November 27, 2011

The hard facts of decision making

Life is all about decisions. From the moment we begin the day right until we retire, we are constantly faced with the dilemma of choosing. The plethora of options seem to make the task formidable. Sometimes gratification, other times responsibility and quite often a mere adherence to the routine. The vacillations of the mind  do not simplify matters in any way. Very often, it compounds the dilemma . The mind after all is the naughty child within that quite often pushes us to the cookie jar to dip in just this one more time. It conjures all sorts of brilliant rationalism and justification for that moment. And this same devil later on unforgivingly assaults the conscience with strictures that dwarf the self-esteem. Life inevitably becomes a  see saw that rocks between hedonism and virtue, pleasure and duty, between self castigation and achievement.
Most of the decisions that we make are fraught with short term implications. And the stakes are not very high as well. The indulgence may at the most add a few pounds, or harden the arteries a bit. Might just prepone the inevitable.. Albeit, the extra pounds could pass off as a testimony to being well ensconced in our career.
There are times when we are faced with crunch situations. The points that have the potential to alter the course of our lives. The stakes could be high not only personally but also for those in the immediate vicinity. As the stakes rise, so does the hesitation. The head and the heart seem to wrestle for supremacy. The left brain keeps a strict debit and credit account of every alternative. The right brain pops up with very intuitive suggestions. The ego cautions one about what “the others” will say. The maverick within recommends the absurd.  Amidst this din and noise, the voice of the soul is totally hushed. Repeated attempts to evoke audibility makes it barely discernible..
This voice needs to be  amplified. It is a high fidelity(hi-fi) source that metes out an optimised option. Fidel to our true nature and personalities. The voice within is the voice that blends the reality with the dream. It harmonises the internal and the external. It is a holistic mix of practicality and possibility. It often gets discounted by seemingly wiser considerations, but wisdom is always in retrospect. The prospective is always speculation.
The feeling of being in total control while  make a decision is honestly an apparition. This is because our decisions are largely circumstance based. The circumstances are largely out of bound even for the most powerful and mighty. A decision is essentially a way out of the maze of circumstances. This maze is a construct that is unique in every situation. We certainly cannot position the maze as per our choice. The impact of the situational maze  restricts our decision  making  to a very narrow  bandwidth  of exercising our choice. Free will is restricted to an excursion on  this  turf  restricted by the circumstances . Priding ourselves about our achievements very often is a trespass of the uncontrolled  domain by our egos. It certainly makes for a heady high, but we must realise that the high is not solely because of our head.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Faith- An internal phenomenon
The existence of a fixed destiny has always been a source of speculation and fascination . The belief in the presence of an omniscient God who controls this destiny generates an environment of hope and the possibility of rewriting this indelible script. Factors that are beyond ones control contribute substantially to destiny . Faith, religious practices and spirituality serve as shock absorbers to negotiate the uncertainty and unpredictability in the journey of life. It is vital as a source of hope and optimism in trying times. Religion becomes a conduit between man and his faith- the tangible manifestation of the intangible. Faith modulates the internal rather than the external. Faith is fulcrum on which conviction and self-confidence are hoisted. This fulcrum can take any form. The objective is to derive mechanical advantage in accomplishing a task. Faith transforms the individual and not the environment. It lights up a lamp within to dispel darkness and gloom. The faith of an individual can hardly have any effect on this vast external universe, but it certainly is potent enough to transform the universe within. The external universe is largely a function of perception. Faith, effects a change in the perception rather than a change in environment or in the circumstances. Faith that is inherited as a legacy in the form of religious beliefs is a default setting. It is more a matter of conditioning and not necessarily founded on any elective choice. Such ritualistic faith can be a source of disharmony but that would be like arguing about the routes that have a common destination.
A new branch of research called Neurotheology attempts to provide a structural and neurobiological basis to faith, religious beliefs and spirituality. The SPECT images have brought scientists closer to investigating and documenting a transcendent experience. SPECT scanning of a subject in the midst of a prayer or whilst meditating lit up the prefrontal cortex- the seat of attention, situated in the frontal lobes lit up. More surprising was the inhibition or quietening of a bundle of neurons in the parietal lobe, situated near the top and back of the brain. This region, also called "orientation association area," processes information about space and time, and the orientation of the body in space. This area helps delineate the precise physical extent of the body .
The orientation area depends on sensory data to generate this sense of a discrete body. If the pathways carrying this sensory data are blocked, the brain is forced to perceive the self without any discrete limited existence. Deep faith and conviction modify cognition and induce harmony with the environment which mitigates apprehensions and fears. An ability to remain calm and unruffled in trying circumstances is very critical to work out a solution. Success is more often a matter of perseverance rather than performance. Faith and conviction in any benevolent power helps decrease the sense of helplessness and instil a positivity and emotional reinforcement . Meditation induces a state , where the individual self merges with the universe, leading to a so- called state of dissolution of discreteness and limited existence.
This emerging modality of Neurotheology suggests that irrespective of the object of faith and belief, the neural correlates and pathways for their perception are common across cultures, and across faiths. It underlines the fact that faith is generic. It is more an end and makes all arguments on the means superfluous.
Dr. Deepak M. Ranade.( The author is a consultant