A great deal of what our brain processes and decides occurs unconsciously. Many of our decisions can only be explained by the process of rationalization in which we analyze our past behavior and “create” an explanation for why we did what we did. And it’s good that we evolve to work in this fashion: the amount of information our senses receive from the environment and the amount of decisions our brain has to make in order for we to function properly are daunting. If we acted 100% consciously we wouldn’t get out of our beds in the morning!
Dr. Steven Novella wrote a very interesting post at Neurologica about this fact. Here’s a piece of it:
But much of our brain’s decision making occurs at a subconscious level. When presented with a choice various parts of our brains make a calculation – processing the choice, weighing varying factors based upon some neuro-algorithm, and then present that choice to our conscious mind (the global workspace, if you accept this hypothesis). Research shows that if we change the subconscious algorithm, by suppressing, for example, one part of the brain, the decision-making process is altered. We are not aware of this, and we still are under the illusion that the decision was completely conscious. (…)
When I discuss this topic with people, while fascinated, many people will recoil a bit from the implications of this research. It makes us sound more like automatons than moral agents. This is not strictly true – we still have hierarchical conscious control over our behavior. In fact, awareness of how our brains work might give us more control because we won’t assume that our “default” decisions are completely our own conscious choices. Realization of how our brains work should motivate us to step back and consider our more important decisions more deeply, and not just rationalize what we feel. But still – the implications of this research seem strange.
When you think of it, even with the amount of evidence collected so far backing up the automatic/implicit workings of the brain, it’s hard for us humans to accept that we’re not totally on control of our acts and thoughts, or to put it better and more correctly, that part of what we do happens without our conscious activation and control of the chain of events/thoughts. But that its how our body works and, as Dr. Novella nicely puts it, we have only to gain by studying and understanding the automatisms of our brain.
You can read the rest of Dr. Novella’s post here.