The science behind everyday decisions

All living beings, facing an election, always choose the most favorable options in their desire to survive and evolve. Instinctively, they calculate the risks and advantages of each decision. Humans are not alien to this process, despite being little aware of the vital connections that are inseparable from our way of deciding. Under the title “Decisions: la vida és risc“, the Biomimetic Sciences Institute (BSI) entered into on June 12th in the authentic nature of human decisions.

The event took place at the CCCB and consisted of a series of staged and speeches that explored what is hidden behind the decisions we make daily. “Decisions: la vida és risc” is part of the ESPORA cycle, a series of cultural and artistic events with which the Institute of Biomimetic Sciences disseminates a vision that places nature as the main reference framework for human progress . This time he was strongly committed to the participation of the public in the whole act: it was they who decided, through a voting system, the outcome.

After introducing the concept of risk to the public, five scenes were represented. These exposed different dilemmas that made us think about how we build our motivations and answers. It was here when the public’s participation was required: in the face of a dilemma, they had to decide how to act. For example, a father with a sick child must decide whether to take the medication and see how his mood switches off, or trust in his paternal instinct and stop giving it. The result was conditioned by the public, who decided not to medicate it.

Once the audience expressed their opinion, realizing that they themselves were part of the machinery of decisions, the president of the Institute, Pere Monràs, was interviewed by the presenter of the event, Marc Villanueva. Dr. Monràs reached several conclusions, all related to the natural processes, the relationships of interculturality and the various intelligences that make up the world. Everything, of course, related to decision making and the calculation of risk when choosing one or the other option.

To deepen in the decision-making process, the neurologist Pablo Villoslada taught the brain processes that make it possible. Through a video, Villoslada explained that the decisions we make are based on a balance between the emotional and rational part of the brain. While the reason is mainly built by the social environment, emotions respond to the most natural instincts. So when we make decisions, there is a double natural and social component, one that responds to our nature and another that responds to what we have learned through social norms built by humans.

Villoslada explained that moral decisions, which many may think are determined by what we think is good and that is bad (a social construction) actually have a lot of biological: many of these decisions are taken by an emotional impulse. In other words, if an action is repulsed, the brain will use physiological mechanisms such as nausea to communicate that we do not want to do it (or that we should not).

After the presentation on the physiological mechanisms in decision making, Jordi Pigem, a science philosopher and specialist in observing nature, talked about the strategies that different living things have been developing to face the challenges and, thus, Survive, adapt and evolve. Based on specific examples about animal life, Pigem seeks learning that can be useful for human behavior.



Espora 2018, "Decisions: la vida és risc" @ CCCB

During his lecture, he used the examples of the arctic tern or salmons to expose his arguments. In this sense, Pigem presented the case of the popular climber Sílvia Vidal, who spent 36 days isolated in nature, exploring the wild environment of Alaska, without technological devices or "modern" comforts. Her decisions and behaviors these days were influenced by her nature: far from all kinds of urban and technological inputs, she embraced her biology and instinct in the wildest and most natural way. She made many decisions with a risk that was calculated without any modern interference, simply based on the nature that surrounded it and the reactions and relationships of animals with which she had to live together.

Finally, we asked the public what they thought was the predominant form of relationship to nature, cooperation or competition? With all the information provided, they decided that cooperation. And we showed the result of the decisions taken throughout the act: irregular constants, with life and energy, but difficult to interpret. For this reason, we asked Pigem to reflect on this result, which explained to us that everything has balance: there is no predominant form, everything is present in nature. "In nature there is competition and cooperation, but only one species, the winner. In human society, we are competing: but we must collaborate," he explained.

The ESPORA concluded with the presentation of the director of the BSI, Jordi Carrasco, on the areas of future in which the Institute wants to work, from science to economics, through education, health and culture. Many branches, through the transversality of biomimetics, can experience a real revolution that will lead to a more natural and sustainable tomorrow for all species.


Abel Cobos
Biomimetics Sciences Institute