Knowledge & Making Decisions
“Every action and decision we take, or don’t, ripples into the future. We have the capability and the knowledge to direct these ripples.” – Jacques Fresco
If making decisions is a selection in a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities, and
if recognizing the potential consequences of making decisions is predicting the possible outcomes/ most likely events that would result from decisions,
then knowledge is the ability to make decisions and distinguish the outcomes of our actions.
I think making decisions sometimes implies extending concern beyond ourselves to consider the individuals that surround us and the consequences our environment might face. To me, knowledge is the ability to make decisions based on our personal interaction with our environment, what we learn from previous experiences, and innate knowledge. Sometimes, we are aware of negative consequences when we make decisions based on previous experience, but this knowledge doesn’t necessarily stop us from the experiences we choose to inflict on ourselves and prevent the consequences from affecting the people around us. I think knowledge can be potentially irrelevant in these circumstances, because we choose to suppress what we believe might happen, and be deceived by temptation of temporary satisfaction. For example, procrastination often leads to negative consequences when the temporary pleasure of wasting time fades away. Deprived of sleep, consumed by stress and feeling uninspired, it becomes challenging to complete a task under these conditions, the price for avoiding responsibilities. I think our knowledge embodies our actions, present in previous knowledge (a-priori) as well as the repercussions we face (posteriori) through our decisions, regardless of their consequential nature.
I was inspired by Kant’s ideas on knowledge, that the act of cognition is not passive but active, as we do not simply make a list of the things we see, but consciously select, order and interpret them. For this, Kant believed the mind has its own method and rules, eliciting actions through both innate and experiential knowledge, and this applies to making decisions as well. When we attempt to understand the information provided by our senses, there are forms of thought which we apply, consciously and unconsciously. The mind is not merely an empty vessel which can be filled with any content (Locke described it as tabula rasa, or blank slate), according to Kant, we derive knowledge from observing the real world, through sense-perception, as well as through innate knowledge, not derived from experiences, such as the knowledge of space and time. In decision making, we use the knowledge we attain from our experiences as well as innate knowledge to determine the outcome of our actions and invite the consequences. As Kant believed that knowledge can be derived both consciously and unconsciously, I think this relates to the idea we are not necessarily always conscious in decision making, that our innate knowledge may serve as a reflection of our natural approach to events that require making a decision. Reflexes, for example, spring from our innate knowledge and bodily response to react to events that draw our attention. In addition to extending awareness beyond ourselves in conscious decision making, Kant suggests that the act of learning and understanding is active – this affects our ability to determine the consequences of our decisions through experience, regardless of the nature of our decisions.
Personally, I am both surprised and disturbed by my ability to repeat negative decisions as I procrastinate and continue to inflict unnecessary stress and pressure in controlling my responsibilities. It is both frustrating and a seemingly inescapable quality in my nature which I strive to eliminate but struggle to accomplish, because I have grown familiar with the countless nights of desperate need for word on paper and completed assignments to satisfy my shrivelling brain cells, whining for sleep – but miraculously, every time this happens, I somehow complete the task. What bothers me most is the knowledge I choose to avoid when I evade my priorities. This knowledge could represent the warnings I choose to dismiss when I waste time and fuel temporary distractions, but I feel unable to change my behaviour, and I do it again. To change my habits I would have to make a conscious effort to organize my priorities, control my actions, and make decisions that will reflect my ability to efficiently fulfill my responsibilities by paying attention to the effects I experience when I make these negative decisions – to feel healthier, less stressed, and in control of my commitments.