Let's consider the following experiment: We tell a human to choose between two things, one is a "tasty" dish, and the other is a dish that doesn't is flavorless. Those two dishes have the same nutritional value. We also tell him that the first dish is unhealthy.

A priori these two things aren't very different, both are different forms of food that the human needs. However why will an average mind prefer taking the "tasty" dish, even do he was told that it is unhealthy? If he used his brain and thought about it for a moment he would have chosen the second dish, but he didn't, and privileged to fulfill his desire.

In the neurological sense, we can interpret this result as that the average mind prefers making acts that will let him produce some molecules such as the Oxytocin.

But why does the average mind fixes his life goal to act such that the "welfare" molecules such as Oxytocin be produced?

  • Well, you're contradicting yourself there in the first paragraph. If they are equally nutritional, they are equally healthy... But more pertinently what is the question and or problem posed here? Why do people elect something that tastes better?
    – virmaior
    Jul 22, 2014 at 11:06
  • @virmaior That they have the same nutritional value doesn't mean that they're both healthy in the sense that one can have some ingredients that aren't good for our health. No, the question is why in general people tend to prefer doing something that engenders more desire? Which is equivalent to the last 'quoted' question.
    – Hakim
    Jul 22, 2014 at 11:24
  • Quibbling about the nutrition question is kind of pointless. What matters more though is to clarify your question. If I understand correctly, you are asking why people desire desirable things over undesirable things?
    – virmaior
    Jul 22, 2014 at 12:19
  • 1
    I don't really get the confusion. You have a choice featuring something that you like eating more and something that you like eating less, so you choose what you like more. In general, we like things that have high energy and protein content, and our tastes serve to motivate us to pick those things, but we choose the one we like because we like it more; the disposition to choose being part of the notion of what it means to like something. I think that's all there is to it.
    – Paul Ross
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:55
  • 1
    What does "average" mean here? Jul 22, 2014 at 19:19

5 Answers 5


Human beings operate on a foundation of instinct with an overlay of rationality. We can, to a certain extent, override our instinctual preferences with rational decisions, but doing so in any particular situation isn't a given. In general, our instincts act towards our benefit, but in a much less fine-grained manner than rationality, so there's always going to be gray areas where instinct pushes in one direction and rationality in the other.

  • According to F.B Mandal, instinct is automatic and irresistable. For example the behavior of building a specific type of nest or hive. Humans do not have any instincts in that sense. They have drives and reflexes only. Jan 21, 2019 at 15:46
  • I should mention maybe humans do not have any instincts. However, Stephen Pinker says that language is a human instinct. And Chomsky says that language and thinking are the really same thing. So that's delightfully unifying idea. Bees make hives, birds make nests, and humans make ideas. Jan 21, 2019 at 16:12

Problems with methodology for its basis aside, there is the premise, 'these two things aren't very different.' This seems to contradict the foundations upon which the question rests: that a tasty dish is very different from a flavorless dish and that a dish about which one has been told "this dish is unhealthy" is distinctly different from one about which one has been told...well it's not really clear what our subject has been told or if they have been told anything at all.

If when presented with two dishes our server points to one and says, "that dish is unhealthy" but says nothing at all about the other, are we inclined to consider the server's opinion expert? If we already know that the two dishes are equally nutritious [can we assume we know this in the same way as we know that one is tasty and the other flavorless before eating? It really seems we must as we are supposed to avoid the unhealthy dish.], doesn't that adequately explain choosing the tasty dish?

It doesn't seem that neuroscience sheds any light on the mystery because there is no mystery, just a hypothetical ball of mud.


The point of welfare molecules is to have an easy readout of how an organism is doing. The point of maximizing them is to do better. This has enormous survival value.

Our surroundings are so complex that the simple heuristics that set levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc. are relatively easily fooled, but unless we can exert considerable presence of mind to do otherwise, we go along anyway because that's how the system works.

  • I don't see how maximizing them will increase survival value, especially if you consider the example I've given.
    – Hakim
    Jul 23, 2014 at 1:18
  • @Hakim - Food tastes better because it was, historically speaking, likely to be the better choice of what to eat. Eating the better food has massive survival value. But, as I mentioned, those tastiness-heuristics are relatively easily fooled.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jul 23, 2014 at 6:17

I'm not sure what you're asking. Perhaps you asking whether our ability to make choices is primarily a function of the mind or of biology. I enjoyed this quote on wikipedia

... mind and neurological functions are tightly coupled in a situation where feedback between collective actions (mind) and individual subsystems (for example, neurons and their synapses) jointly decide upon the behavior of both.

in which you can replace "neurons" with "oxytocin" or any other biological mechanism that seems to cause us to make choices. In other words, yes, our minds are manipulated by hormones, and we crave sex and chocolate. But because our minds are clever enough to understand cause-and-effect (much better than any other animal), our minds can also manipulate and "reprogram" our hormone responses, so that we get truly excited about stuff like honesty, diligence, scientific progress, etc.

In my opinion, the belief that the mind is supernatural is completely unwarranted. Science has not yet discovered the mechanism of consciousness enough to reproduce it. However, science has discovered that physics and biology are extremely complex. In my opinion, it is not overly optimistic to expect physics and biology to eventually account for everything that people can do, including emotions and creativity.

I think you may also enjoy reading Does Consciousness Cause Behavior by Freeman.


It is insane to describe someone's mind as "average." That implies 3 things: (1) what is the description of the mind qualifying the other as "average"? (in this case yours), (2) given a scale: (bad-average-good), what are it's patameters regarding intelligence?, and (3) can you really use an argument in the basis of qualifiers (describing yourself first) in order to describe the mind of others?

Your question has a negative correlation, you position yourself with a qualifier (let's say you are an "above average" mind) and that somehow gives you an abstract entitlement to impose a different qualifier to another mind? ("average" in this case). Establishing a system and giving both persons (you and the one you are judging) a value set regarding intelligence (accounting for a theory i.e.: Howard Garner Multiple Intelligences), we can say that you start with 12 pts and the other person with 17 pts. You place your qualifiers (let's say 'above average' = +1 and 'average' = -1): You "above average" (12 pts +1), Other Person "average" (17 pts -1). All providing a total of You = 13 pts against the Other Person = 16. Although you placed (or society as well) the qualifier of "average" unto the Other Person, he/she is still more intelligent than you (assuming the given values are real).

Since you are primed to do this (to assume that you are above average and the other average) a +1 and -1 resolution holds. Thus, you have a negative correlation: whereas you are upgrading yourself the other is degrading himself/herself, but not necessarily in proportion. You can exagerate your qualifiers ("above average" = +7, "average" = -3), and then, the co-variation of cause and effect (if X then Y, or, if more/less X then more/less Y) gets out of proportion, but according to the signs in your qualifiers (X is positive, Y is negative) then the casual relationship between your qualifiers has a negative character.

It is an insult to assume that your question has an already established resolution, and on top of that, to go ahead and ask why that happens. WHY does the 'average' mind act to fulfill his desires?

WHAT is fulfillment? WHAT is desire? (you should start with those)

  • First off, welcome to philosophy.SE. This isn't really the sort of "answer" that we are looking for. Ideally, you should connect your answer to philosophy -- as written, these are just your thoughts.
    – virmaior
    Apr 28, 2016 at 0:21

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