“I think, therefore I am.” Is this statement false or true?

Last year I wrote about an author who claimed to know the happiest region or city in which to live. I wondered out loud if the Okanagan might be it, or if it could ever be that place? I concluded it could—but only if we corrected a few things.

Think back to when you were in Grade 3. Did your teacher ever ask, “Did you think about that—before you did it.” Has your boss ever enquired, “Did you think this through first.” Hockey coaches can be heard yelling, “Think before you make that pass up the middle.” For centuries, our highly biased societies have been force-fed a steady diet that thinking is our only salvation.

I’m one of the many who believe that the French philosopher René Descartes got it wrong when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” Many of today’s neuroscientists, including Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux, suggest that thinking is less important than paying attention to our emotions. While all regions of the brain are important, neuroscience is proving that the limbic or emotional regions play the most critical roles when defining influence, motivation and behavior.

“I feel, therefore I am,” more accurately describes who we are, what we do and what we are trying to accomplish on the ice, at work or in school.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about thinking lately, and I think that thinking is highly overrated. Did you think before you started reading this column? Or did it just happen? Did you think about moving to the Okanagan or did randomness guide you here? Did you think about paying your taxes or did fear play a role? Contrary to nearly everything we have been taught, decisions are never made because of one reason, yet time and again our brains allow us to think that way. If you were to emote about taxes or the logic behind choosing to live in one of the best places on earth (which you did) you’d realize that dozens or even hundreds of reasons came together to inform that decision. Emotion focuses our attention, determines what we remember, develops attitudes, provides motivation and moves individuals to act.

Understanding the counter-intuitive way our brains evolved is the first step to realizing that centuries of thinking have brought us experts. And while we all consider ourselves expert at something, Philip Tetlock showed us that expert predictions are (mostly) wrong—66 per cent of the time. I believe that even using the word “think” conjures up the laziest neural connections of the brain to do its bidding—which is finding the simplest, easiest and singular reason to come up with a decision. A plethora of simple human biases (that are invisible to the thinking brain) only add to the paradox of a poor choice. Even when we know we are wrong, we convince ourselves that we didn’t make a bad decision after all.

So next time you think about making a decision, ask yourself how you feel about it first.

“I feel, therefore I am,” is a new and better way. ~ John Paul Byrne