The inconsistencies that haunt our relationships with animals also result from the quirks of human cognition. We like to think of ourselves as the rational species. But research in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics shows that our thinking and behavior are often completely illogical. In one study, for example, groups of people were independently asked how much they would give to prevent waterfowl from being killed in polluted oil ponds. On average, the subjects said they would pay 0 to save 2,000 birds, 8 to save 20,000 birds, and 8 to save 200,000 birds. Sometimes animals act more logically than people do; a recent study found that when picking a new home, the decisions of ant colonies were more rational than those of human house-hunters. What is it about human psychology that makes it so difficult for us to think consistently about animals? The paradoxes that plague our interactions with other species are due to the fact that much of our thinking is a mire of instinct, learning, language, culture, intuition, and our reliance on mental shortcuts.
When kids made a decision for themselves they have a vested interest in showing they were right. Lee wanted to prove to me that he had made the right choice so he worked hard and did well. If we'd forced him to go to college somewhere else all the incentives would've been different. Then he would have had a motive to prove that we were wrong.
What was I supposed to do then I wondered. Was there even a supposed-to for this kind of situation? A situation when when I looked at my receding past everything seemed retrospectively marked by an extreme order and predictability yet all moments since seemed to obey, and promised to continue obeying, their own set of stochastic, undisclosed, and undiscoverable laws. Where I was fully aware of the pitfalls and folly of a finely-tuned narcissism but still the known universe seemed to bend and bend inexorably inward and towards me where it awaited my next move, supremely ready to react accordingly. And how I knew that decisions I would soon make or defer would have near-Sophoclean import and yet nonetheless it all seemed oddly irrelevant.
At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit's idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him.
Majority decisions tend to be made without engaging the systematic thought and critical thinking skills of the individuals in the group. Given the force of the group's normative power to shape the opinions of the followers who conform without thinking things through, they are often taken at face value. The persistent minority forces the others to process the relevant information more mindfully. Research shows that the deciscions of a group as a whole are more thoughtful and creative when there is minority dissent than when it is absent.
If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience. If this sounds too mystical, refer again to the body. Every significant vital sign- body temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, hormone level, brain activity, and so on- alters the moment you decide to do anything decisions are signals telling your body, mind, and environment to move in a certain direction.
Who can really say how decisions are made, how emotions change, how ideas arise? We talk about inspiration; about a bolt of lightnng from a clear sky, but perhaps everything is just as simple and just as infinitely complex as the processes that make a particular leaf fall at a particularmoment. That point has been reached, that's all. It has to happen, and it does happen.