Kierkegaard Got It Right

Soren Kierkegaard, sometimes called “the Father of Existentialism,” was a philosopher who attempted to appeal to both secular and religious readers.  Kierkegaard was the only philosopher who got it right.

Born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kierkegaard was never politically correct.  He typically was not sensitive to others.  He was not liked by Scandinavians or, for that matter, by anybody else.  He believed in God, but Catholics, Protestants, and other believers turned against him.  He was an existentialist, but other existentialist philosophers spurned his writings.  Yet, Kierkegaard got it right.

It is like the story of a judge who made a ruling that neither the plaintiff nor the defendant liked.  The judge smiled and said, “Well, since nobody likes my ruling, that means I made the right decision.”

Kierkegaard champions our individual freedom in making choices over the religious or secular establishment’s restrictions on your decisions.  Your unification with God will not be assisted by a priest or minister or policeman or government employee.  It will be a one-on-one meeting of the minds.  You will become one with God only within yourself.

Your attendance at church and your giving to the church will carry no value into the afterlife.  You will carry nothing on this journey of death except what is within you.  And according to Kierkegaard, God must be your guide on this road, otherwise you will be lost.

Kierkegaard had two primary steps.  First, know yourself.  If you know yourself, you will be a strong individual who can resist the temptations of life.  Second, know God.  Only God has experienced everything and can assist you through the chaos of the afterlife.

It is important to know yourself inwardly and subjectively.  Know your weaknesses.  Pride must become humility.  Be independent, but humble in your individualism.  The highest goal in subjective ethics is to be humble.

Then let God inside your subjective self, thus allowing an objective spirit to enter your body.  This creates the synergy of subjective and objective reasoning.  The combination of a priori and a posteriori makes for perfection.

Once you let God enter your soul, your independent spirit will be lifted up to new heights.  This combination completes the person.  God’s objective, empirical knowledge is the final piece that finishes the jig-saw puzzle.  The highest goal in objective ethics is to become one with God.

Subjective consequences for your poor choices in life will be handed out by your conscience, but objective consequences will be administered by your Creator.

 

 

The Passing of the Greatest Generation and its Values

Tom Brokaw wrote a book in 1998 called, “The Greatest Generation,” about the American generation that survived the Depression and went on to fight for freedom in WWII.  Brokaw wrote in his book, “… it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.  He believed that the men and women in this generation fought not for fame or recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”

We are losing this WWII generation on a daily basis and as they pass the baton to the younger generations, I wonder if this older generation’s values are being passed along or are they being passed over.

Former president Jimmy Carter wrote about this in “Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis” in 2005, which was “dedicated to our children and grandchildren, for whom America’s basic moral values must be preserved.”  Carter wrote, “I am convinced that our great nation could realize all reasonable dreams of global influence if we properly utilized the advantageous values of our religious faith and historic ideals of peace, economic and political freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

What is causing this erosion and endangerment of our former values?  I call it a “creeping extremism.”  You see it increase every day as extremists throughout the world are committing egregious acts without significant consequences from moderates who used to be in the majority.  Extremists have begat extremists, so that they are becoming the new majority.  This is polarizing our world, removing the moderates, who in the past made our world a better and safer place to live.

What is happening to the generations that follow the Greatest Generation?  Well, they have not had the same moderating influences.  Going through a depression will significantly influence your value system.  I remember my father and mother both believed in “doing the right thing” no matter what the consequences might be.  They were selfless and made moral decisions based on how their actions would impact others.  Today’s generations, without the moderating influences of major economic and wartime pressures, are selfish and their moral values are based on how their actions will impact them.  It’s all about me and not you.

Now, these are generalizations.  Clearly, there are some members of younger generations who are wholly committed to serving society and not themselves.  But it is a matter of percentages.  A great majority of the younger generations have not gone through economic deprivation and therefore have placed themselves on a high pedestal.  They believe that “greed is good.”  If these individuals were asked to give their lives for their country, I suspect I know what most of them would say.  And their question would be, “What is in it for me?”

The problem with extremism and fundamentalism taking over the world is that it will lead to worldwide totalitarianism.  There are those in powerful positions today who believe that they should control the world for themselves, not for the benefit of others.  There is a big difference between philosophical Marxism, which is designed to benefit the working class, and the real-world communism, which controls and subjugates the working class.  The new world leaders will want the rest of us to be completely under their control.  When “freedom” is no longer important to the masses, it will be replaced by “free” government entitlements.  The masses will become addicted to the government and just like drug addicts will give up their freedom for a fix.

So as we lose the Greatest Generation, I pray that moderates within the following generations can maintain some modicum of control to protect our children and grandchildren for a few more years.  However, I think the most we can hope for is to preserve democracy for the remainder of this decade.

If Nobody LIkes It, It Is Good

I remember a story told by a controversial judge.  He said that when he rendered a decision that neither plaintiff nor defendant liked, he knew he had done the right thing and had provided a just verdict.

Life sometimes seems like a taffy pull with everybody wanting things to go their way, so that they get most of the taffy.  In my law practice, especially in divorce trials, both parties lied or embellished their stories in order to get a better judgment.  When a witness was sworn in, the bailiff asked them to tell “…the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.”  In all my years of working with clients, I never ran into an honest person who told the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  In fact, most of my clients didn’t believe in God.  Perhaps that was a big part of the problem.

When that controversial judge, mentioned above, discounted both accounts provided by the parties and rendered a judgment that neither party liked, he rendered the best possible judgment in a world full of dishonest litigants.

I suppose that since lying has few bad consequences, many people do it.  Nonbelievers have no fear of consequences during life or afterlife.  Police and detectives must be the most negative people in the world since they are lied to around the clock.  These officers, based on their experiences, would have a tendency to believe nobody.  Even when suspects or people of interest provided information about a crime, they would probably not trust it.  This is not a good comment about our society.

One of the rules of evidence that permits hearsay is a dying declaration, which gives more credibility to a comment made just before death.  However, I am not certain that this should be an exception to hearsay anymore.  I think even when they are dying they are lying most of the time.  The old rule was appropriate when the majority of people was religious and would be less likely to lie right before meeting their maker.  However, this is not the case today.  Most people will lie anytime during their life.

I go back to what that judge said, and I use that in any decision process involving analyzing statements of witnesses.  If nobody likes my decision, then it is a good one, probably very fair and impartial.

This also can be applied to speeches, articles, books, or any other form of communication.  If my comments are not well received by anybody, then I know that I am headed down the right path.  In fact when people congratulate me for my reasoned opinion, I go back and look at that decision again.  I reevaluate it because it was probably wrong.

Generation Gaps

I remember a song in the movie/play “Bye Bye Birdie” when the father sings, “What’s the matter with kids today?”

Here are the lyrics:

Kids!  I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Kids!  Who can understand anything they say?
Kids!  They a disobedient, disrespectful oafs!
Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!
While we’re on the subject:
Kids!  You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
Kids!  But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
Kids!  I’ve tried to raise him the best I could.
Kids! Kids!  Laughing, singing, dancing, grinning, morons!
And while we’re on the subject!
Kids!  They are just impossible to control!
Kids!  With their awful clothes and their rock an’ roll!
Why can’t they dance like we did, what’s wrong with Sammy Caine?
What’s the matter with kids today!

The reference to Sammy Caine was probably a reference to Sammy Kaye, who was an American bandleader and songwriter whose tag line, “Swing and sway with Sammy Kaye” was one of the most famous in the Big Band era.   The classical big band sound contrasted with the rock ‘n roll sounds of the 50’s and 60’s.  It depicted a musical generation gap between the parents and children during those decades.

The song stuck with me all these years because it says a lot about how each generation thinks their children have gone to the dogs, while the parents had a spotless record growing up.  That’s not true, of course.  However, there are differences between generations and sometimes differences noticed in children every four to five years.

I have been watching football games in December and January and find it interesting that some coaches are lamenting that the younger players do not have the same work ethic that the coaches had when they were playing ball.  One coach indicated that he even had a generation gap between his junior and senior players and the freshman and sophomore players.  He stated that the older players were more mature and played as a team, while the younger players played as individuals.

Quarterbacks are a good study because they control much of the offense.  I noticed that some quarterbacks would constantly go for the “long bomb,” always hoping to get the touchdown pass that would bring them glory.  However, the teams fared better when quarterbacks made certain that they made first downs, marching consistently down the field.  This involved play-option passes and screen passes and short slants across the middle, which aren’t as exciting as touchdown passes, but they are best for the team.  It’s really not rocket science.  If you pass within the first two to three seconds of the play, you are more likely to avoid a sack or pressured pass by a three-hundred-pound lineman who is trying to crush you into the ground.  Gambling on a long pass down field may be good for your personal career, but it is not good for the team.

However, these decisions were made by quarterbacks from the same generation.  So why did some quarterbacks choose to take the more difficult passing road in an effort to win the game, while others selected the easier path of throwing photogenic, break-away touchdown passes?  My guess is that those quarterbacks who think about the team before themselves had experiences in life that taught them to share and work with others, while the publicity hounds probably had experiences that made them greedy for individual fame and glory.

Typically, the generation gaps and generation skipping also occur because of differences in how the generations were raised and what they experienced.  The generations that went through the Great Depression and WWII were very conservative because they had gone through tough times during that period.  The Vietnam War generations were less conservative as they broke away from the power of their parents to change the world and do things differently.  The generations today are given much more without having to work as hard, so they do not seem to be as motivated.

Generations will continue to evolve in America.  I believe that immigrants will make our country stronger as long as we have a reasonable system for allowing immigrants into America.  Immigrants will be more motivated to make a better life for themselves and, in some cases, may energize others to work harder through competition for better paying jobs.

I talked to one immigrant from Pakistan and asked him why he came to America.  He didn’t hesitated telling me that he knew that he would work harder than Americans and would be successful because of his work ethic.  I smiled because I knew that he was correct.

So, parents have always been concerned about their children and asking, “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?  What’s the matter with kids today?”  But sometimes children will try to break away from the mold of their parents, many times creating generation skipping.  And occasionally the children will mature and return to the fold.  Other times, a child will follow in the footsteps of the parent and pattern themselves after that parent.  There is no magic formula that will shorten the generation gaps.  However, generations are representative of their experiences, so that if a generation experienced a common disaster, this would impact the personality of that generation, separating it from other generations that did not have that experience.

I believe that parents will always worry about their children.  But I wish parents would worry about themselves first and clean up their acts.  If parents worked on their marital relationships, that might keep their children from going through a nasty divorce.  If parents stopped smoking, that might keep their kids from smoking.  If parents spent more time with their children instead of focusing entirely on their jobs, that might bring the generations closer together.

God Is on Our Side

Bob Dylan wrote a song that included lyrics: “And the land that I live in has God on its side.”

Here are the lyrics:

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I’s made to memorize
With guns on their hands
And God on their side.

The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

In a many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war.

I believe that most Americans who believe in God consider Him to support their country.  I imagine that the Israelis consider God to be in their corner when they are fighting the Palestinians, and the Muslims think that God is on their side.

I was watching professional football playoff games today and noticed that many religious players thanked God for helping them make a touchdown or a great play.  I bet they feel that God is on their team’s side.

And even though it is wonderful to see so many people recognizing God, it bothers me that they appear to be confused about God’s role during our lives.  God gives us rules to follow and Jesus provided the Beatitudes with tremendous ethical teachings.  These are excellent guidelines… our moral compass that will help us navigate through our journey of life.  God’s words in the Bible help us make better decisions during our lives, but God gives us freedom of choice.

We make choices throughout our lifetimes, not God.  We have free will, so we should not blame or praise God for those things that happen during our lifetimes.  We should simply thank God for creating the universe and giving us an opportunity to live in it.

Yet, we do blame God.  Many Christians think of God as being most important during their lives, rather than their afterlives.  I believe this is a major mistake.  If we get lung cancer, we ask God why He did that to us, forgetting that we chose to smoke a pack a day for over thirty years.  And some deaths occur because of poor genes or bad luck or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  God does not pretend to cause or prevent these deaths.

Thus, it is not logical that God is on your team’s or country’s side either.  During war, many soldiers take solace in their religious beliefs, and this is very important in order to keep their sanity during such a hellish, surrealistic environment.  But that doesn’t mean that God sided with the Allies over the Axis powers in WWII.  Even though Hitler was more evil than good, God did not allow him to be assassinated during the attempts on his life.  History is filled with evil leaders who were not stopped by God.

Nobody knows what will happen over the course of our lives and certainly nobody knows what will happen after we die.  But I believe God’s primary purpose is for the afterlife.  If you believe in the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy then you know that all the mass and energy in our universe can neither be created nor destroyed.  Any creation had to occur outside our closed universe.  God, as the Creator, is logically outside our universe, existing in His universe.

As I said, I have no idea what will happen after death.  If you die and you are no longer aware of your environment, then there is no afterlife and you don’t need to worry about anything.  Everything will cease when you die, and there is nothing more.

In this scenario, your body will decompose and the matter that once was your body will be recycled, but your thinking existence will come to an end.  Actually, this would be the best situation for us.  But I believe that nothing is destroyed within our closed universe, so our thinking probably will continue after our temporary shells of a body give out.

If you die and are still conscious, then more than likely you will be either in God’s world or in a transition zone leading to the Creator’s world.  If you are still thinking, then you need to reach out and embrace God, unifying with Him.  This is when you need to have God on your side, because we know nothing and God knows everything.

Even though I do not know for certain what will happen, I have a gut feeling that there is no “our” in the afterlife.  So God should be on “your” side, not “our” side.  In other words, it may be only you, your thoughts, and God.  God must be on your side or you will be completely alone in a chaotic underworld that will devour your thoughts, leaving you adrift in a dark world of eternal nightmares.

We can only see about 4% of the universe, and we only know a small fraction of that 4%.  We need to rely on the Creator of this universe, who knows everything about it and beyond.  I suspect that since we know so little about the universe, we will be lost without God.

Doing the Right Thing the Right Way

I watched the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl tonight, which had the four top ranked college teams in the country, and there are some very talented players at this level, many of whom will be drafted by the NFL in 2015.  Oregon and Florida State provided an excellent game, even though many of the players from Florida State didn’t shake hands with the Oregon team members.  Alabama and Ohio State provided another great game.  All four teams had very talented players, yet something was missing.  What was it?

It was heart.  Others call it intestinal fortitude.  Without this quality, players will do the wrong thing or do the right thing the wrong way.  I watched talented players make arm tackles and touch and push offensive players to the ground.  It was almost like they had a big NFL contract waiting in the wings and they couldn’t afford losing millions of dollars with an injury that might come from making a hard tackle.

They know how to make textbook tackles, but the runners broke tackle after tackle without much of a problem.  That is not to say that the runners were not huge and gifted, but it does say that nobody wants to tackle low anymore.  Most defensive players tackled high and tried to wrestle runners down with their arms.  Nobody… I mean nobody drove through the runner and wrapped them up with their arms and pounded them into the ground.

Bear Bryant was rolling over in his grave as his Crimson Tide allowed Ohio State to run through a vaunted Alabama defense.  My high school coach played football under Bear, and he had drilled the technique of making fundamental tackles into all of us.  I weighed 120 pounds, but was able to crash my body into 250 pound fullbacks and wrap my arms around their legs and pull them into me, driving them into the ground.  The rest of our team followed suit.  We all were willing to sacrifice our bodies for the sake of the team.

In the 1960’s, I remember my football coach being approached by two guys on our team before wind sprints at the end of practice.  One told my coach that he had a broken nose and couldn’t run the wind sprints.  Coach asked him why he thought he had a broken nose.  He said that his friend told him it was broken.  Coach asked him if his friend was a doctor.  He admitted that he wasn’t, but he was sure that he couldn’t run with his nose being in the condition it was in.  Coach asked him if he ran on his nose.  He gave up and ran the wind sprints.

I know this was a different time back in this decade and none of us had any hopes of receiving multi-million-dollar offers to play in the NFL, but I just don’t know how much intestinal fortitude is out there today.  I know that there is a lot of independent talent, but do players still have what it takes to win as a team fueled on something more than individual effort.  As I watched these defensive players use just their arms to attempt to bring down quarterbacks, I wondered how inspiring this had to be to the other team members.

Even though intestinal fortitude comes from individuals, it is contagious and infects the entire team, so that the team will follow the little guy who gives everything he’s got to give.  Before you know it the entire team has guts.  Everybody on the team is willing to do the right thing or at least attempt to do it the right way.

As I watched many Florida State players walk off the field without shaking hands with the winning Oregon players, I couldn’t help but think:  that team has no guts… it just wants glory.

Talent is important, but guts bring glory.

Be Professional

I was watching NFL Sunday Night Football and noticed that an offensive and a defensive lineman from opposite teams congratulated each other on a play with one assisting the other to get up off the ground.  This was an unusual example of professionalism that we do not see much in today’s highly competitive world.  Typically, you see opposing team members getting in each other’s faces and shouting and pushing.  Of course, this is an example of non-professionalism.

It is interesting to watch professionals in the workforce.  They are highly motivated to improve their lifestyles, make more money, go higher up on the corporate ladder, purchase a bigger house… the list goes on, but everything is related to selfish desires.  Yet, in that wish list, you do not see a desire to become more professional.  That does not compute in the modern world, so it is refreshing to see it every now and then like I did that night during the football game.  It was so unique that I had to write a note about it.

In the movie, “Wallstreet,” we were told that greed is good.  There wasn’t a message to be more professional in that movie.  So, does today’s society believe that you should knock down your opposition and walk over them to reach your goals to satisfy your selfish greed, no matter what the costs?  This seems to be the case.  What has happened to our society?

Well, back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, people weren’t perfect by any means, but they worked together more because they saw what happened in the Great Depression and they were going through WWII and the Korean wars.  Small businessmen and farmers needed help since they didn’t have large operating funds.  Neighbors would pitch in to help whenever somebody needed a hand.  They didn’t consider themselves competing against each other like they do today.

Today, we don’t need any help from our neighbors or friends.  We are better than that.  We are the elite.  We will make it on our own because we are more aggressive.  And sometimes that works out for young professionals… at least until bad times hit.  And they will hit again.  It’s not will they come again, but when will they come again?

Thus, it might be important to be professional and congratulate your competitor for their accomplishments and deemphasize your wonderful feats.  Focusing on others may have a more beneficial impact on your persona than if you dedicated everything in your life to yourself.  And it would give you a boost toward preparing you for the bad times which will come again.  You might even have some friends who will help you when you are down.

Be professional, whether in your job, sporting event, community activity, social event, or interacting with family or friends.  Professionalism is an ethical attitude of doing the right thing even if it involves some sacrifice.  The choices you make always will have consequences.  Serve others before yourself and the world will be a better place for everybody.

Politicians Are Like Disposable Diapers

Politicians are like disposable diapers:  they frequently need to be removed and thrown out… and for the same reason.

Now, most people will think that is because they are both full of shit, but that’s not the entire story.  They both need to be removed because they are dirty without any possibility of being cleaned up.

When I was a fraud attorney in the Pentagon and the Navy Yard in Washington, I was amazed at how quickly the new congressmen turned to the dark side.  Even the Tea Party candidates were consumed by the corruption blender in DC.  The insiders inside the beltway told me that about 98% of senators and representatives were accepting money from third parties.

As a fraud attorney, I approached federal investigators and DOJ to see if we could prosecute these individuals, but I was told that these amounts are considered to be campaign contributions.  I explained that I had information that indicated otherwise, but I was told that this was part of the DC culture that I couldn’t change.  In fact, I was told that we would lose our jobs if we took any action against these congressmen.

Quite frankly, if politicians didn’t join the ranks of those who were paid off by special interest groups, then they were blackballed by the majority and were relegated to being in the dungeon of Congress, where they could never get anything done.

Even if you voted all the Congressmen out of office, the system is set up for failure so that the newly elected Congressmen eventually would be exactly the same.  Even though the majority of politicians is corrupt and needs to be removed, the system is flawed beyond repair and a changing of the guard will not solve the problem.  Most citizens know that our political system is failing, but they don’t know how deep the cancer has spread.  In effect, the cancer is inoperable.

So, we can make jokes about how bad politicians are and can laugh about it.  But there are some very difficult times ahead for our country because we no longer have congressmen who are willing to do the right things for their country.  They don’t ask what they can do for their country; they ask what their country can do for them.  And they don’t represent you; they represent themselves.  I guess just like disposable diapers, we are stuck with them until we can get rid of them.

Peer Pressure in the Wrong Direction

Our friends don’t always give us good advice and many times push us in the wrong direction.  We may receive better advice from our parents, but may not realize it until we are parents ourselves.  The problem with friends is that they are primarily motivated to make their lives better than your life.  If you do well, they may be a bit jealous, so don’t count on too much support.  In fact, you may find that you have been sabotaged by friends who couldn’t stand your success.

Yet, peers are very important to us as we reach the adolescent stage.  We want to be members of a gang or clique.  We want to be accepted in a group, but at what cost?  We may have to give up our independent identity and conform to the group norm.  And that applies to most any association, whether church group or criminal gang.

And once you pass the test to be admitted to that gang, your life will belong to that group.  You will be owned by that association.  Your thoughts and actions will be controlled by the pack.  There have been many examples over the years where individuals could not believe what they did in out-of-control mobs.  The Germans did not understand why they supported Hitler.  Peer pressure exerts tremendous mind control over individuals.

So how do we interact with others without succumbing to peer pressure?  Perhaps the best way is to always think independently of others.  I remember in law school, we set up study groups to prepare for exams.  The study groups got out of control when they started cutting cases out of the library law books so that other students would not have those cases to study.  Always keep your moral compass handy when you are around these groups.  It will point you in the right direction when they are attempting to lead you down the wrong path.

Why is peer pressure so important to you?  Just remember that you will have a better life without following the group.  Groups head in the wrong direction about 90% of the time.  That’s because their decisions are rarely based on study and thought.  Typically, emotions and intuition lead the pack.  Always keep your head when others are losing theirs and blaming it on you.

And always ask why before doing anything.  If the justification for the action is “just because we can” or “why not?” then you better rethink the action.  I remember when I was in a fraternity, the active members asked me to join them in an act which would physically harm the pledges.  I asked them “why?” and they told me because we had always done it.  I told them “no” and was almost blackballed out of the fraternity.  But it taught me a lesson about people.  Many times you will have to go against the grain in order to do the right thing.  But it is always worth it.

Instinct vs. Choices

Homo sapiens have been provided some instincts such as self preservation and species preservation, but we seem to be different than all the other animals on this planet in that we also make choices, unrelated to obtaining food, shelter, or sex.  As an example, we may make decisions based on whether we consider the act as being right or wrong.  This seems to separate us from the others in our animal kingdom.

This gift of a decision-making process does not come without consequences, though.  Even if you do not believe in consequences in an afterlife, there are consequences within our lives.  If you choose the door with the tiger behind it, you will, more than likely, be eaten.

Biological psychologists wrestle with some very difficult questions.  (1) Can our minds work independently of our brains?  (2) Why do humans have an ethical basis for their decisions?  (3) How does heredity influence behavior?  We will discuss these questions later to see how they impact our choices.

But let’s start with instinct.  Instinct is a label for a category of behaviors that are found in different species.  When we say that female elephants take care of their babies based on a maternal instinct, this is only a label that does not explain how the behavior developed in elephants.  But these labels are important and seem fairly consistent throughout the animal kingdom.  Many species have a maternal instinct, which helps preserve the species.  Some biological psychologists avoid the term instinct as being offensive to their studies, but it is very beneficial when talking in general terms.

There is a strong maternal instinct in our species.  Our brains are hard-wired to protect our young since this allowed humans to survive predators in the wild.  Many mammals have young that are not strong enough to run away from a hungry predator, so an instinct to preserve our species is deep within us.  Humans don’t wonder whether there will be consequences to us.  We react instinctively when we protect our young.

Now, let’s examine choices.  When our species makes a decision, is it because biological factors forced a behavior or did they enable the behavior to occur?  For example, there are areas of your brain that increase the likelihood of you being pushed into aggressive behavior.  But you will make choices on your response to that force.  Your past experiences, the current social setting, the legal consequences, and current motivations will all come into play when you make a decision.  When murderers were asked if they chose to commit the murders, they answered in the affirmative.  You make choices every day and there are always consequences, which temper your decisions.

So, let’s examine the first question above:  can our minds work independently of our brains?  There are two theories:  (1) the dualists believe that our brains interact with our minds, while (2) the monists believe that the brain is a machine and consciousness is irrelevant to its functioning.  Most religions follow dualism since when our brains die, we arguably continue thinking with our minds.  And our ethical and moral values play a significant role in making choices.  Descartes, a French philosopher, was a dualist who believed that there was something other than the brain that recognized that “I think, therefore I am.”

If you believe that we respond like machines, then we really don’t have any choices.  We are predestined to do everything that we do.  We would be hard wired to make decisions.  If this were true, wouldn’t we all be making the same basic decisions?  For example if we found a lost wallet with $100,000 inside it, would everybody make the same decision on what to do with the money?  You would have some people who would return the wallet and money and others who would return only the wallet and pretend that they found it without the cash inside.  The final choice will be based on many complex factors and should not be a typical mechanical decision.

This is a transition to the second question: why do humans have an ethical basis for their decisions?  Is there a part of our brain that has a conscience?  There may be parts of the brain that may be stimulated to provide relief from pain or depression.  But it is not known if the brain can be manipulated to provide a conscious in the decision-making process.  In other words, can a portion of the brain be stimulated to make a person make better choices based on something other than personal gains?

The answer why our species seems to be unique when it struggles with ethical decisions is based on many factors.  Certainly, how we are perceived by others, our religious beliefs, and how penal systems will respond to our actions may forge a conscious.  Man struggles mightily with ethics, so there must be some reason that is lodged somewhere in our thoughts, different than in our brains.

Then the final question is: how does heredity influence behavior?  An ontogenetic explanation of our behavior starts with our genes and traces how the genes combine with the influence of the environment and our experiences to produce the final outcome.  The genes that were more successful were passed on to future generations as the genetic makeup that had weaknesses were phased out over the years.  For example Homo sapiens probably had a conservative gene that made our species more cautious and patient in our responses.  Those of our early species who were too impatient were eaten by predators, so natural selection preserved those genetic propensities to take our time and think things through before jumping into harm’s way.

As we discussed, birds do not need to be taught how to build nests since that behavior is largely instinctual.  However, humans need to be taught nearly everything we do.  We have a survival instinct for ourselves and our species, but we make most of our decisions with our minds in gear, not our brains.  We make many conscious choices every day based on our individual moral fiber.  So it may come as a shock to many people that genetic differences are also an important determinant of variation in a wide range of human behaviors.  A growing list of behaviors— including major measurable aspects of personality, political conservatism, religiosity, occupational attitudes, social attitudes, marital status, and even television watching—have all been shown to be inherited traits.

In conclusion, our decisions frame who we are and who we want to be during our lives.  But our decisions also play a significant role in the afterlife.  In other words if you are still thinking when you die, then your brain will decompose leaving your mind to continue into the afterlife.  The choices that you made during your lifetime will follow your thoughts after death.