Neuroscientist and former addict Marc Lewis is off tomorrow for a 5-day meeting with the Dalai Lama and others on the subject of addiction … how cool is that! But just before heading out, he wrote a very interesting post on how choice really works. It’s his take on a paper by Marc Slors titled Conscious Intending as Self-Programming.
Slors’ contention is that our immediate intentions (or “proximal” intentions) don’t have as much effect on our actions as we like to think, and that what does is our longer-term intentions (or “distal”). He calls the act of setting distal intentions “self-programming.”
Here’s how Lewis sees this playing out in addiction:
The fact that you just love cocaine, and you’ve devoted about a billion synapses to fondling it mentally, is going to determine whether you get high tonight — not the choice you make in the next two hours. …
If we recognize that short-term, proximal choices are weak, meaningless or illusory — if we recognize that only long-term, distal choices actually determine our actions — then the only way to quit being an addict planning is to plan ahead. The only way to stop is in advance of the moment. …
Rules and plans are not only important for choosing to quit. They are almost the only things that work. … Proximal intentions don’t matter. By the time you are getting close to the point of action, the dye is already cast.
On the one hand, Lewis says that this isn’t “big news” for some, but on the other, there’s almost a bit of a Zen koan aspect to this. Anyways, I find it intriguing.