Resolve and Weakness.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
The human mind has the capacity to imagine and desire future outcomes, whether they are hours, days, or years away. Neurologists refer to the part of the brain that is responsible for this function as the Executive Control.
In contrast, there are other modules of the mind that are only wired to consider immediate futures, such as reproductively-related desires, food appetite, ending physical discomfort, or fear of physical harm. These modules are known as the Stimulus Control centers. Depending on the activation levels of these modules and their mutual influence on each other, any one of them can take control of the entire human organism at any given moment.
The executive module may serve the interests of the stimuli modules by seeking to fulfill their basic instincts, but it does so in a different way. It plans, aggregates, and averages expected outcomes, and can delay gratification.
The human mind can be seen as an ongoing struggle between the executive and stimuli modules, even when we make decisions alone. Additionally, conflicts can arise between individuals when they strive for different futures. Ideally, people should coordinate and cooperate with each other to achieve a better outcome, but often one vision is promoted at the expense of another.
When two people are in conflict and have conflicting goals, the battle may be at the level of one executive control against another. However, the most successful tactic, if available, is to bypass the opponent’s executive control and activate their stimuli modules, which undermines their intentions.
Even when an individual stands alone, the struggle to control the stimuli modules is challenging. However, when other intelligent interests ally with your own stimuli modules, success becomes even less likely.
The executive control needs to be aware of several weaknesses if it wants to defend its resolve and strengthen its defenses.
One such weakness is the immediate presentation of a stimulus, which can undermine resolve. For example, fear can activate components of the mind that override the executive control’s plans and decisions. Dangers can be presented through warnings and vivid descriptions of terrible outcomes, even if the actual probability of these outcomes is low.
Another potential weakness is fatigue. Many people have abandoned their diets late at night when the power of executive control weakens. Weary soldiers are more likely to panic and abandon their mission compared to well-rested ones. A continuous assault on the senses can succeed by wearing down the executive’s resolve.
A third weakness is past failure. The executive control requires confidence in its ability to succeed. A history of past failures can undermine that confidence.
Our goals often pertain to future events, but the struggle is not limited to external objectives. As time progresses, we may become different people with changing desires and goals. Will you ultimately become the person you planned to be, with the same aspirations and intentions? Or will you be a different person, with different goals and priorities? Who will determine your future identity and ambitions?