In my previous blog, I had discussed the duality of good and bad. I had pointed out the irony of our compulsion to decide what is good and what is bad, even when we don’t know how to define good and bad. In this blog, I would take up another duality that is at the heart of the earlier duality of good and bad. In this blog, I would discuss the duality of reason and instinct. This duality refers to the method by which we decide things, including the decision of good and bad.

To be honest, there is no clear cut distinction between reason and instinct except for the fact that our instinctive responses are unanalysable. When we think about the situation that we are facing, the factual details are available for both these modes of thinking. However, we can analyse the method that reason uses to arrive at a conclusion. However, in the case of instinct, we can never find out, either before or after we arrive at a conclusion, what was the method used by our instinct to arrive at that conclusion. We simply know the answer but never the method. Perhaps, our minds are capable of deciding without the help of any known logic.

Those who are familiar with the topics of artificial intelligence and machine learning would realise that our minds seem to use methods not available to computers. The question that I would discuss here is not about the exact nature of our instinct, but what happens when we know that we have two opposite modes of thinking available to us. More importantly, when do we allow our instinct to dictate our behaviour and when do we allow reason to tell us what to do. I am sure most of you would agree that there is no fixed pattern of when we act instinctively and when we act rationally. I think there is some rationale behind our apparent random choice of instinctive versus rational behaviour. This rationale perhaps points towards the deeper levels of reality and how our minds perceive it. The tragedy is that we don’t have any idea about this rationale.

Psychology tells us that we resort to instinctive responses when we are faced with extreme situations or when we are required to respond instantly. Our rational behaviour happens only when we act proactively or deliberately. Therefore, it appears that Nature does not trust our ability think in the times of crises and it takes over our behaviour by activating our instinct. At the same time, Nature wants us to use our thinking abilities to make progress. Thus, what decides our mode of behaviour is not ourselves but the circumstances of our lives. This is the root cause of our dilemma. Though, we have two modes of thinking, but we don’t have a say which mode of thinking would take control of our minds. Depending on the circumstances of our lives, we keep on switching from a reasoned behaviour to an instinctive behaviour.

As if this wasn’t enough, we have an ability to reflect on our own behaviour. Therefore, we often find shortcomings in our past behaviours. In fact, I think regretting our past behaviour is an almost universal experience. All of us, sometime or the other, have regretted the way we have behaved in the past. This is because, in hindsight, we are able to evaluate our behaviour which we couldn’t evaluate while it was happening. Therefore, it is possible that in a given situation, we end up choosing wrong mode of behaviour. The real problem is that we have no control over our choice of mode of behaviour. As a result, we end up with an unjust situations in life without being really responsible for them.

However, there is one redeeming feature of this duality of instinct and reason. Our instinctive reasoning (whatever it is ) is uncannily correct. While our logical and rational behaviour works well because the world that we live in is regular and broadly predictable, our instinct reflects the the way the world behaves in a manner that is beyond logic. Therefore, it is possible that Nature, in its wisdom, has incorporated both modes of thinking in our minds. Maybe, Nature is trying to figure out which mode of thinking is more suitable for life. Maybe, we are ‘ work in progress ‘ models of evolution. What matters is that, whatever may be Nature’s reason for providing us with these two modes of thinking, we end up with the unfair situation of being saddled with this duality and yet without being in control of it.

This is perhaps the crux of human existence. We are imperfect and yet we manage to survive, thrive and even excel. We may be riddled with this conundrum of the duality of instinct and reason. Yet, we are able to make reasonably good moral choices in our lives. We may be imperfect, but we have a potential to overcome our imperfections. More importantly, it is this duality of instinct and reason that enables us to transcend our shortcomings. It is possible that maybe either the instinct or the reason, singly by themselves, are not adequate for facing the vicissitudes of life. Therefore, Nature must have its own reason to impose this duality upon us. However, being unaware of Nature’s reasons, we are destined to face the consequences.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of past and future. This is important because our past and future dominate our minds in our present moments.




In my previous blog in this series, I had promised to discuss various types of dualities that govern our lives. In this blog, I would discuss the duality of good and bad. To begin with, we all know that what is good and what is bad, is a debatable topic. The notions of good and bad are not only subjective but they’re also dependent on the one’s social and religious background. There is no absolute definition of what is good and what is bad. Moreover, the distinction between good and bad is not clear cut. Very often, we decide whether any particular thing is good or bad depending on the context in which we encounter it. As a result our notions of good and bad are nebulous.Therefore, it may appear that any attempt to deconstruct their meanings would be futile.

However, I want to discuss an altogether different angle of the notions of good and bad. The key point is that in spite of this lack of clarity, we are required to judge every day, in fact at every moment, what is good and what is bad. It is this irony of our lives, of not being able to define good and bad and yet being compelled to decide about it, that I would discuss in this blog. It is as if the destiny is testing our limited skills by making us decide what is good and bad. If one were to think in the inspirational fashion , one can rationalise this predicament by believing that such a scenario enables one to discover one’s inner wisdom and therefore one should accept such a challenge thrown by destiny as an opportunity for introspection , self improvement and even possibly release from the karmic cycle.

While such an optimistic reasoning could be therapeutic for people who find the vicissitudes of life daunting , from the psychological perspective, this approach works as a placebo. The problem, according to psychology, with this approach is that it ignores the contribution of our subconscious mind. The real problem is that,more often than not, our subconscious mind works at a cross purpose with our conscious mind. In fact, our subconscious mind subverts our conscious thinking. Therefore, our notions of what is good and what is bad, is compromised by our subconscious desires. Moreover, since we are unaware of our subconscious desires, we are misled into making wrong decisions.

Therefore, from the psychological perspective, if destiny were to exist, then it must be using our subconscious mind to mislead us and thereby forcing us to commit wrong acts by creating wrong perception of what is good and what is bad. If this psychological interpretation is true, then it leaves us with an uneasy situation. This is because we all are familiar with the situations in our own lives, wherein we acted based upon what we thought at that time to be good. It was only on the hindsight that we came to know that what we did was wrong. In fact, we are also familiar with the situations in life when people have created flimsy justifications for their crimes. We have, rather condescendingly, called them psychopaths and taken pity upon them. We rarely, if ever, realise that we too could be acting under similar, but evidently less harmful, cognitive distortions all our lives.

The tragedy of such criminals is not that their subconscious mind leads them to believe in such flimsy excuses, but rather their tragedy is that they can not perceive how flimsy their justifications really are. Similarly, there is no way for us to find out whether our own subconscious mind is also not misleading us. Perhaps, this is the most fundamental tragedy of human existence. We condemned to live with imperfect faculty of deciding what is good and what is bad. Our tragedy is not that our ability to decide what is good and what is bad, is imperfect. Our tragedy is that in spite of being aware of its imperfections, we are condemned to use it.

It is natural to question our compulsion to decide what is good and what is bad, particularly when we know that our ability to decide this issue is imperfect. Science has no definitive explanation for our compulsion. Science suggests that this is far more general problem. Our minds are genetically programmed to analyse everything by breaking things down into smaller fragments and then to assess the overall issue. Therefore, when we think in terms of good and bad, we simply divide the topic under consideration into several possible consequences. Having done that, we evaluate these consequences to decide whether the original topic is good or bad. However, our ability to imagine possible consequences is limited. Therefore, we always end up with a partial (and therefore imperfect ) judgement. We normally do not realise that any given thing need not be either good or bad. Very often, a thing could be good as well as bad, at the same time. However , our thinking is not programmed to handle such a simultaneity. In fact, the notion of good and bad forms a continuum. However, our analytical skills, in its over enthusiasm, overlooks this simultaneity and instead tries to separate good from bad.

While this rationale seems valid, it offers no relief to us. We still have to decide on what is good and bad even when we know that our ability to decide that is imperfect. In that context, it is remarkable that most of us manage to live a fairly ethical lives. Perhaps, our minds operate in far more complex and perhaps far more fundamental ways that are beyond the scope of science. Maybe, the notion of destiny sums up our limits of science. Maybe the notion of destiny is a placeholder for the mechanisms by which our minds decide and pick up the good from bad. Therefore, whenever we do something wrong, our subconscious mind creates a compensation by creating a sense of guilt which prompts us to atone for our wrong acts. In such a scenario, consciousness is the repository of the good and the bad both. It distinguishes between the two by the methods which remain inscrutable to logic. This is because only one part of our consciousness is available to our analytical skills. Therefore, we are not able to understand the nature of our consciousness in its totality. We know only one part of it viz. our conscious half, while the other half viz. our subconscious mind remains beyond our analysis. In other words, we would never know whether destiny exists or not by our introspection. Therefore, our predicament of being condemned to live with our imperfect understanding of good and bad, is without any redemption.

In my next blog , I would discuss the duality of reason and instinct.