Another feature of our evolutionary legacy is that we are unaware of how we make decisions. We're under the illusion that some "I," some core of personhood, somehow knows and decides. In actuality, decision-making is a largely unconscious process in which a constantly shifting hierarchy of internalized values interacts with a constantly shifting set of perceived circumstances and retrieved memories. Some values, such as survival and reproduction, are hardwired. Other values, and their position in the value hierarchy, are the products of life experience and the influences we have been exposed to. At any given moment, our decisions are made by the combined action of:
Regarding item one, above, there are three distinct brain-mind processes, each having its own hierarchy of values:
processes and their values work together to make our decisions and to
control our behavior in the same way a computer's hardware and software
work together to make the computer's decisions and to control its outputs.
We can look at the three brain-mind processes as the hardware of our
behavioral control system. And the internalized values that each process
utilizes constitute a key part of the software.
each of us has many values, individual values differ in their power
to influence our decisions. Depending on circumstances, one value will
take priority over another. Eating supper at 6:00 P.M. may be one of
your values, but it is not apt to be the controlling value if your house
happens to be on fire at that hour. Values are arranged in a constantly
shifting hierarchy of priority. People always do what they think is
best, and that "best" is determined by how their hierarchy
of internalized values interacts with the brain/mind's assessment of
past, present, and anticipated future circumstances.
Some values, such as bodily survival, territoriality, and sexual reproduction, appear to be hardwired into the instinctive/reactive process. And the intuitive process may come preprogrammed with certain ethical values-the Golden Rule, the incest taboo, and other values of conscience, for example. But the neocortex-based intellectual and intuitive processes use a hierarchy of learned, internalized, inherently changeable values to evaluate situations, make decisions, and initiate behaviors. One or more of these brain processes, together with its hierarchy of values, is always in charge of our lives.
Roger Sperry commented on this situation and some of its broader implications:
If we don't like the values we have internalized to date or the particular mental process that is calling the shots, then we must change things. By being selective about the influences we expose ourselves to and about the mental habits we develop, we can influence the mix and relative priority of our internalized values-as well as which of the three brain-mind processes is in control.