conscious subconscious experience logic hormones

Experience over logic

I loved debating as a kid and believed that logic and argumentation can solve all the problems in the world. Religion, love, morals, science…I considered nothing sacred. My father was one of my sparring partners and I loved pissing him off with my solid GK and watertight arguments.

Sometimes when cornered by my arguments, my father would say exasperated: ” Remember that you are talking to a 50 year old man. I have seen some things you can’t even begin to imagine. Don’t act like a know-it-all. You haven’t seen shit!”.

I laughed him away. “Age and experience, who needs them?”, I’d say, “Logic reigns supreme over everything else”.

I had a lot of confidence in logic, but since, I have repeatedly run into situations where logic fell short of delivering the right solution. Came as quite a shock to me.

In time, I accepted the fact that logic doesn’t reign supreme, and maybe, just maybe, my dad has a point.

There are two kinds of problems : impersonal and personal. While logic can handle the first kind fine, it needs the help of age and experience to solve the second.

Let me give an example: When a friend comes to me with a moral dilemma, I can use consequential logic. I’d be right most of the time too. But when I am struggling with a moral dilemma myself, suddenly all logic flies out of the window. My subconscious and my hormones won’t let me think straight. This is not just true for moral dilemmas, but for any problem where we have a vested interest in the outcome.

We typically use two independent components to solve such problems. One component is the rational self which uses logic. The second component is our hormones and our subconscious. Science has, so far, been very unsuccessful at figuring out how this second component works. This is where ‘age and experience’ comes in.

When we start out as an adult, our second component is on autopilot. The rational part is under control and helpful (assuming you are smart) but the other component is acting on its own. We don’t know how it works and it does not feel obliged to tell us. Very often, it leads to unwanted if not disastrous outcomes. Our rational part observes quietly. It observes for a few times and starts detecting patterns. Once it starts detecting patterns (these patterns are what you call experience) the rational part can now start to control the second component to a degree. The more it observes, the more it learns, the clearer the patterns and the stronger the control.

This is the real power of experience.

Experience knows things about you that science or logic doesn’t. You can use this knowledge to gain control over situations. Next time the shit gets real, consider analyzing your experiences in similar situations in the past to find out what this says about yourself. When you have a firm grasp of your ‘crazy’ side and your ‘logical’ side, that is when you will emerge victorious from personal problems.

5 thoughts on “Experience over logic

  1. Riju

    While I mostly agree with this, I feel that during debates and conflicts of opinion, only logic should be allowed, because that is the only thing which can be conveyed precisely and meaningfully. Obviously, the second factor plays a huge role in our decisions too, but it should be kept personal and not imposed upon others (especially when it directly contradicts logic).

    Too many people use arguments like “It’s just wrong!” without being able to explain why it is wrong or what assumptions he/she made to conclude that it is wrong. Such arguments, I feel, should never be considered. Also, there is a recent liberal trend that all opinions deserve respect (irrespective of how well founded they are). I strongly disagree with that.

    1. dibya Post author

      The subconscious and the hormones become a key player when it comes to action. One can debate about moral dilemmas all day following specific set of rules. But when shit gets real and the participant is in the moral dilemma himself, that is the situation when the second component exerts its influence. It then has the power to take any conclusion reached in the aforementioned debate and render it completely useless.

      1. Riju

        Yes, but the subconscious should be limited to personal actions and decisions. No one needs to be logical all the time. But you can’t really expect others to go along with it or accept it, unless you can give them a logical reason for doing so. I’m talking about general human interactions and not very intimate ones (like relationships and family), where it often makes sense to compromise logic to an extent.

      2. dibya Post author

        The subconscious typically doesn’t respond to commands. It doesn’t care about what should be and what should not be. An otherwise logical person might hit you with BS when his subconscious and hormones take over. It is difficult to control it and it is the source of a lot of misgivings. I understand you when you say that the subconscious should be limited to personal actions and decisions. But unfortunately it is difficult to control it enough to fit into these norms. Experience alone teaches us to control our subconscious and hormones and handle situations better.

  2. Santosh Sundaresan

    Great article man. I too myself relate with the same experience many a time. Reminds me of why conventional economics fails – that it assumes human beings to be rational, but we don’t behave so “rationally” when we take decisions.


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