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Why we do, What we do?

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

Picking up from the series on 'Free Will', lets look into what drives our behaviour.

A couple of days ago I was listening to a song by Lady Gaga, which goes like this.

I'm beautiful in my way 'Cause God makes no mistakes I'm on the right track, baby I was born this way
Don't hide yourself in regret Just love yourself and you're set I'm on the right track, baby I was born this way (Born this way)

We are the way we are because we are 'born this way'? Does our genetics and biology drive our personality and behaviour, or is it really how we are brought up? All the things we are exposed to since the day we are born. This has been a contentious topic amongst psychologists for quite a long time now. What is nature and what is nurture, and tucked away in any complete answer is the additional question as to whether nature and nurture are by themselves fixed or variable.

Behavioral genetics has enabled psychology to quantify the relative contribution of nature and nurture with regard to specific psychological traits and have given a rather conclusive evidence that only some of our traits are inherited and the majority of our traits are mostly from nurture or in other words environmental. Nevertheless, all behaviour is the product of an inextricable interaction between what we inherited and what we are exposed to. Genes cannot influence development independently of environmental factors; genetic and epigenetic factors always cooperate to build traits. The reality is that nature and nurture interact in a host of qualitatively different ways.

Predisposition doesn't mean its predetermined! An appropriate environmental trigger is still required for the genes to express.

So, What drives our behaviour? What is Human Nature and where does it stem from? The answer to these questions requires attention to our human neurology, perhaps not as the sole determiner of behaviour, but as a modifiable partner with environment and culture. Our understanding of how the brain leads to behaviour and behaviour to the structure of the brain will help us answering these questions better. If brain is an integral element for the origins of 'a' behaviour, then are ‘we’ mere onlookers for the production and execution of this behaviour? If our brain is operating just as another organ, in which decisions' come to influence our behaviour, then to what extent our decisions can be attributed to physiological factors and how much of it is psychological?

Although the brain is involved in 'a' behaviour, events that have an influence over that behaviour are not always stored in or manipulated by the brain. Our body is making countless unconscious ‘decisions’ with organs other than just our brain. So many physiological processes like new cells getting created, fighting foreign pathogens, digestion, breathing (to most extent), heart beating etc etc are all happening without our awareness or to a good extent our control. Our irritability can be attributed to low blood sugar levels, our anxiousness can be attributed to heart beating faster, losing our cool could be because of high blood pressure. So, it is rather evident that our psychological conditions which lead to our decision making can be clearly attributed to underlying driving factors like our physiology.

The relationship between our physiology, brain and behaviour seems to be an intricate tautology with each altering the other. What makes a person behave/act in a certain way is dependent on what happens in the brain/body, seconds (Neurotransmitters), minutes (Hormones), days, years or even what influence does generations worth of culture, nature (genetics), nurture (epigenetics) and evolution have on an individual's thoughts, behaviour and finally their actions and all of this is pre and re-programmed into us in form of memories. So be it genetic, epigenetic or acquired through our senses, and our feelings, emotions, behaviour etc are mere by-products of our accumulated memory.

Each memory has an emotion associated with it and emotions are the end product of past experiences dug up from all three layers of memory (genetic, epigenetic & knowledge driven). Put all of these memories together and add a dash of intelligence and we get what we call personality. Which tells us what is right, what is wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral, how to conduct ourselves. From this personality we form likes and dislikes. We like this, we do not like that. We like him/her but we do not like him/her and hence to some extent attachments. Attachment (to both positive and negative) to something or someone. This leads to ‘wants’ and ‘intent’. What we would like to do but what we rather (want) do. We would like to wake up early and go for a run or do yoga but the bed is so cozy we rather snuggle up and sleep.

We generate thoughts based on the memories discussed thus far which developed our personality. These thoughts over the course of time give rise to a certain feeling, feelings lead to a certain emotion, emotions leads to behaviour. These factors come together to produce a brain state that sets a behaviour in motion, the result of which is observable to the individual in the form of an ACTION, which is commonly referred to as KARMA.

So, if ‘we’ really aren’t the ones who govern how the systems in our brain work, then we cannot account for the potential (action potential) that precedes the action. And if we don't govern the potential that precedes the action, then how exactly do we account for our actions? In the chain of events leading up to an action, could such a thing as Free Will be found? Can we modulate our thoughts, emotions and behaviour, which manifests into an Action? We shall look into these questions in the next blog.


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