David Amerland
David Amerland
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Image from David Amerland
Mar 25, 2019 • Edited
How should we live our life? For a Chemical Engineer who writes books on search and recently spent three years diving deep into the world of neuroscience and decision-making the question appears both out of place and overtly philosophical. It is both, I admit, but philosophical is not how I am approaching it. Everything we do and think arises out of the brain and its biological operations The brain, in turn, is made up of fat and protein supplied with nutrients via veins and arteries. It relies on oxygen and glucose and an adequate blood supply and neurotransmitters, to stay alive and function. Its physical state gives rise to its mental one which is why task performance and critical decision-making are compromised by even a little bit of dehydration. Which leads us to my now, question. For a deeper, well-argued and decidedly more philosophical point of view on this you really need to check out Maria Baghramian’s arguments and video. She’s the Professor of American Philosophy at the UCD School of Philosophy but (and in perhaps living proof of her take on relativism) she’s also a woman from Iran who holds the only Chair of American Philosophy in Ireland, which means her personal perspective is both more nuanced and broader than that of most philosophers. My take is a little simpler, utilitarian even (reflective of my engineering background) and links the immaterial world of thoughts, values and ideas to the material one of cardiovascular health, brain structure integrity, environment and fitness via a little deductive reasoning. We know that the brain which, on average, represents about two per cent of human weight, consumes 20% of a person’s daily energy intake (measured in calories). To understand why the brain requires so much energy it is important to understand what the energy intake in the human body is designed to do and what kind of work the brain cells perform. So, when it comes to the question of how we should lead our lives, my less than philosophical take is: according to what we value. What we value guides our emotions which then affects our motivation. Decision-making then requires a viable strategy. That viable strategy is dependent upon the available energy to us, as a system. That energy is subject to physical laws but its management requires better emotional control. What we value determines what we pay attention to and put effort in, so our actions, guided by our motivation, signal our true beliefs. We live our lives being guided by our environment (and that includes the expectations of others and the responsibilities they place upon us) or by aligning everything with what we truly want to do and be which is what makes our choices important. It’s bad etiquette to answer a question with a question but I have no choice here: What choices have you made?
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