By: Christopher Brennan
Our observations, both conscious and unconscious, are routed to our minds to be processed. This processing is the Analysis and Synthesis aspect of our orientation. The process of analysis and synthesis was very important to Col. Boyd, to the extent that the only paper he ever wrote on the subject of decision-making and thought was “Destruction and Creation”.
In “Destruction and Creation” Boyd tells us, “Studies of human behavior reveal that the actions we undertake as individuals are closely related to survival, more importantly survival on our own terms.” He goes on to relate this to our ability to make decisions by saying, “In viewing the instinct for survival in this manner we imply that a basic aim or goal, as individuals, is to improve our capacity for independent action.” This is analogous to what I have described as Thriving. So, it can be said that our ability to analyze and synthesize is directly related to our survival.
The significant experience of this in my own life has been while operating as a firefighter inside a burning building. The interior of a burning building is a unique microcosm, a relatively small mirror image of a larger whole, in this case it is a world of its own. The fundamental natural laws of physics and chemistry govern this world, but the dynamics of it are unique. No two building fires will develop in the exact same manner, and as a result of this dynamism the firefighter operating inside this environment must be able to make sense of what is occurring without having the ability to study the specific scenario in advance.
This is life.
At any moment we are immersed in a world that is constantly changing and that will require us to make decisions that may directly effect our survival.
From choosing how we will fuel our bodies, to the kinds of information we will put into our minds, to if we will consume alcohol or other drugs for the purposes of altering our perceptions of reality, and down the line the decisions we make will have a direct (though not necessarily immediate) effect on our ability to thrive.
Our ability to make these decisions is directly governed by how well the inputs we are receiving through our observations (and stimuli that affect us even down to the cellular level) pass through our filters and are analyzed and synthesized. The world of cognitive neuroscience is a massive topic and beyond the scope of a mere article. I encourage you to become a student of how you and others think (analyze and synthesize) so that you can better understand why you make the decisions that you do.
THE THROTTLE – HOMEOSTASIS
Col. Boyd’s diagram captures much of what is involved in how we think. One thing I have come to believe is missing from the diagram though is a way of indicating the very real effect that the biology and chemistry occurring inside us have on our ability to analyze and synthesize. There is still a lot of work to be done to understand how we analyze and synthesize, how memory works, and how we actually take three pounds of grey and white matter and use electrical charges to make decisions. We will eventually understand these processes, of that I have no doubt. For the time being however I would rather focus our time on a more practical aim.
Our thoughts and decisions happen within the environment that we maintain in our brains. The internal environment of all living things seeks to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is “The tendency of an organism or a cell to regulate its internal conditions, usually by a system of feedback controls, so as to stabilize health and functioning, regardless of the outside changing conditions.” This means that our bodies, down to the cellular level, are expending energy to maintain a functional environment. How does this relate to our ability to make decisions?
The general environment that is found throughout the body affects the environment of our brains. In this way our general level of neurochemistry acts as a throttle on the effectiveness of our ability to analyze and synthesize.
Keep this thought in mind, as I’m going to take up the subject of our internal operating environment in articles to come.