How Does Intellectual Labour Proceed? (Part 4)

Human Decision-making

So far in our journey we have explored, in elementary fashion, the dynamics of our desire to know, the mode of thinking by which we seek to solve problems.1At this stage, our illustrations and exercises in this series have been drawn from elementary, descriptive examples accessible to common sense. As far as it goes, these instances, while precise and empirically verifiable, are incomplete. To appreciate the full control of data required for sensible and human meanings we will need to draw on elementary examples from the world of theory. See Journeyism 25. Examples in our economics series will be a further help to illustrate explanatory (theoretical) reflection on data. Our next series of installments explores the dynamics of our desire to do, the practical mode of thinking by which we seek to make decisions.

Again, with further illustrations and empirical evidence we wish to establish another fact: our desire to know coalesces with our desire to do, to form the core of “the hidden decency in all”.2The expression “The hidden decency in all”, introduced in Journeyism 1, is the running theme throughout our series that brings to light our core desire to understand our experience through the activity of knowing and deciding. Historically, the “hiddenness” of each is due partly to neglect to pay proper attention to our experience, and partly to its elusiveness and complexity. Of course, like our desire to know, our performance of daily doings occurs so rapidly we pay little or no attention to the actual process itself,3We anticipate this segment will inevitably raise questions about morals and ethics. Please note, morality, the zone of human decision-making and practicality, is not our direct focus. Our direct concern is ethics, the study that focuses on the actual process of human decision-making that is empirically verifiable. the spontaneous occurrence of which makes the following widely-quoted statistic all the more startling:

According to multiple sources on the Internet, the average amount of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000.4 It is important to point out the original source for this statistic at this and other websites is unreferenced. On the other hand, Popular Psychology quotes “According to a survey by Columbia University decision researcher, Sheena Iyengar (link is external), the average American makes approximately 70 conscious decisions every day.” For all the attention it receives (see next footnote), it is clear that this process dominates our lives.

And despite the vast range of variables and differences in human individuals that would have to factor into any estimation, can we agree that making decisions takes up a great deal of your day? At any rate, our point here has more to do with inviting you to notice how your personal experience of decision-making works, as opposed to the daily rate of its occurrence, the consensus of which is currently unsubstantiated.5Our search to locate credible scholarly sources to support this or any other estimation from the established fields of psychology and neuroscience has come up empty. There is, however, a vast literature from contemporary psychology on “decision theory”, and evidence of some progress in neuroscience. At all events, we anticipate that the vast amount of data yielded from these zones will, in the future, be grist for the mill to be “sifted and lifted” by a restructured academy. That topic will be our main focus to conclude this series.

It is apparent, then, that practical human wonder, the desire to get things done, our decision-making, for better or worse, dominates our everyday lives: individually, collectively and cumulatively. Some may even have a significant impact on your life. Might we also, light-heartedly, include as an example the potential impact on your life of your decision to visit us here and to continue reading this little essay?

Before tackling the exercise in planning and decision-making below, we encourage you to revisit the strategy for reading empirically we introduced in Journeyism 4. It bears repeating what we have reinforced throughout: our shift to an empirical approach applies not only to how we gather discernible clues drawn from our personal experience of planning and decision-making, but also to how we gather discernible clues drawn from specific expressions employed by any writer. In these cases, as in all cases, we are presented with data to be understood in sensible and human meaning. And when wonder takes over, our effort to understand data always begins with description.6See footnote 1.

Exercise: Back to the Syllabus

In this exercise, we return to Year Four  in our sample university syllabus. We note in the writer’s spontaneous expression a series of linguistic signs we would be accustomed to seeing in any discussion, in any discipline, in any university syllabus. Again, we have abridged and edited this passage and italicized key expressions for the purpose of emphasis.

In their fourth year, honours students explore the breadth and depth of anthropological…practice. As a discipline focused on society and culture, anthropology aims to…evaluate shifting relations between individuals and society….The course focuses on critical anthropological practice….In the fall semester we examine…how modern anthropologies of the twentieth century were created, and out of what historical, social, political and cultural conditions, tensions, and ambiguities they were fashioned. In the winter semester we examine…the kinds of anthropologies…that can deal with the global conditions for public life in the world today. How can thinking anthropologically reconnect social and cultural theory with acts of changeHow is this possible today within the contexts of globalization, new forms of public culture and new ways of conceptualizing life itself?

For ease of reference, we reproduce the italicized expressions in order of appearance below:

practice, evaluate, critical…practice, (how) created, (how) fashioned, deal with, how…reconnect?, acts of change, how…possible?, new ways

In the columns below, we recast the expressions in order to draw out their dynamic potential:

how to do? to practice
to evaluate to critically practice
to deal with to reconnect
to act to change
what possibilities? to find new ways
how created how fashioned


Below we note a relationship between of the dynamic activities (highlighted in italics) and key terms (highlighted in bold) some of which may already have a familiar ring.

Where do our key terms come from? Let’s recall the terms that define the dynamics of knowing. Three diagrams help us to draw some approximate parallels in the occurrence of each process:

The impetus to create a plan is drawn, partly from known facts and partly from sense and images of how the subject-matter has been created and fashioned.

Notice the writer shifts focus from the “breadth and depth” acquisition of knowledge to practical wonder about what is to be done with that knowledge in Year Four with an ambitious what-to-do list from which to formulate possible plans: possible, practice, deal with, reconnectacts of change, new ways. A practical insight yields the what-to-do list.

Practical wonder does not stop there. Further deliberation asks: are these plans worthwhile? The writer judges possible courses of action for their value: evaluate, critical…practice. A further practical insight yields an is-to-do list from which to guide the student into Year Four.

These approximate parallels, although preliminary, reveal common key elements between our desire to know, the mode of thinking by which we seek to solve problems, and our desire to do, the practical mode of thinking by which we seek to make decisions. In the next installment, we will draw out the significance of these parallels further as well as expand on the meaning of key terms with which to support our return to a famous and now familiar story in Journeyism 14.

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