Sunday, April 13, 2008

The basis of human behavior.



What I teach is easy to learn, easy to practice.

However, nobody understands it and nobody practices it.”

Lao Tse

Understanding human behavior has always been a source of frustration and bitterness for humanity and of inspiration for poets and writers all over the world. Two basic postulates allow us to tie the whole range of motivations of human behavior into a coherent scheme. I intend to show that the motive force of human relationships is the same as in the material market-place.

Principal postulates.

First postulate: All human beings have two areas, that can be named the area “I want” and the area “I can”. The area “I want” cover all the desires of a person and the area “I can” includes everything one person is capable of doing.

The area “I want” extends from the wish for an ice cream on a hot day to the drive to survive in a hostile environment. The area “I can” extends from the capacity of the human species to reproduce itself to its ability to create music, paint squares or play chess. These two areas are not firm throughout the life of the individual. The areas grow, shrink and change their configuration; for over a life, the new desires appear, some old ones disappear, pleasures change with age, the person learns a profession etc.

Second postulate: The principal objective, the motive force of all actions in life, is the attempt to cover the area “I want” with some part of the area “I can”. In other words all humans simply attempt to satisfy their desires (they try to “be happy”). If the area “I want” is not covered, the individual “suffers”: he/she feels “unfortunate”. And thus in some moments when the area “I want” is almost completely covered, a person feels total happiness. I want to underline that the principal motivation of the individual is to cover his/her “I want” area, i.e. to satisfy his/her desires or, if that is impossible, to attempt to suppress them (that is, at bottom, to cover them with a part of their own “I can” area).

Self-sufficient strategy.

In order to fulfill this objective human beings use several strategies. One is to attempt to satisfy their desires by themselves (displace or deform their own areas so that the area “I can” covers their area “I want”). Of course there are some desires that human can satisfy themselves more or less successfully, but in the majority of cases the desires of individuals do not coincide totally with their abilities.

· The case of a hermit illustrates a situation in which a person deforms his/her area “I want” and displaces his/her area “I can” to a point of almost total self-satisfaction.

· Another case is the case of a drug addict who under the influence of some chemical substances can reduce his/her area “I want” to one particular desire. It is interesting that both these situations cause complete disconnection from the external world.

· The case of two lovers can show that the mutual areas of two people can overlap almost totally (at least for a certain time), causing both the mutual satisfaction (“happiness”) and also almost total disconnection from the world.

Mutual sufficient strategy.

Another path is for the person not to modify his/her “I want” area and search for another person’s help. But it is not very probable (in a normal situation) that he/she will meet a person who has the area “I can” exactly of the same appearance and form as his/her own “I want” (and that the other person reciprocates his/her desires). This pushes individuals to begin to search for the solution by being in touch with other humans. Curiously, at this moment appears the market, where individuals compete for attention of another, in order to “exchange” their zones of the area “I can” for the favors which could cover their necessity that are within the areas “I can” of others.

I am speaking of the exchange of favors beginning from a simple communication between two people (the ability to listen to a friend in a bar over a beer) to the situation where he/she lands money to a relative for the purchase of a house. This exchange of favors is very similar to a real well-known market-place. Observing human relationships from this point of view can help understand purely human concepts like “good” and “bad” people. The “good” person simply “concedes credit” longer, that is does a favor covering a part of the area “I want” without waiting for immediate reward (the person who “concedes credit” longer will be the more “good” in human terms). Similarly, it is a “bad” person who attempts to use another’s “I can” without the least intention of paying for what he/she has consumed or even paying a minimal amount.

· An example of a “good” person is a parent of children (usually). Parents have “an open credit” to their children all their life without knowing a priori if their “investment” will be “profitable” (and sometimes it is not). Of course, sometimes patience (valuation of the risk) runs out: there are when the parents eject the son from the house (cancellation of the “credit”).

· A selfish and egocentric person is usually referred to as a “bad” person. For example, a selfish friend uses you in order to unload their problems onto you (your capacity to listen is part of your area “I can”) or takes advantage of your personal qualities or relationships with other people (he/she is spending a credit granted to you by another) in order to resolve his/her problems; but he/she doesn’t spend a second listening to you, nor is disposed to be used as a middleman in your affairs. Really what is happening here is that he/she doesn’t return a “favor”.

· Another example of a “bad” person is the case of a rapist. What happens is that a person obliges you, by using violence, to pay something very valuable (for both). It is equivalent to a holdup with violence.

Ancient recipes.

The intensity of suffering caused by the “nakedness” of some zones of the area “I want” is remarkable. This topic worried a lot the old philosophers of India (philosophy and the practice of yoga) and China (Lao Tse, Confucius, etc.) and was one of their main concerns. The basic idea of these philosophers for resolving the problem of suffering consisted in self-control of the area “I want”, in its reduction or deformation so that it corresponded as much as possible to the area “I can” ( “He who is satisfied with what he has, is rich.”). This is perhaps the basic solution offered by Hindu philosophy. Another variation is to opt for a market of rigid and regulated relationships ( “complete the ritual”), which is a solution defended by the Confucius and other Chinese philosophers.

Friendship = mutual credit.

The attempt at free exchange of areas automatically provokes dynamic valuation and competition between the people. As in any “material” market, the buyers attempt to lower the price of the competitor’s “I can” in order to value to the maximum their own “I can”. So the pressure of the group over an individual operates until a dynamic equilibrium is reached.

It is interesting that in the world of human relationships, the majority of us live in a “world of credit.” In their daily environment people don’t usually exchange one favor for another, but rather “open mutual credit”. In other words they try to establish a certain friendship. And the “sum of the credit” depends on the level of friendship that they have; their behavior depends on the progress of mutual “payments.” And this is so important in life that the most unpleasant moments are when somebody begins to diffuse rumors in order to disparage you or sows doubt as to whether you are a “good” person (i.e., casts doubt on your “credibility”).

· Everybody knows that it is comfortable to be among the old friends. The mutual prices are known and stable, and the level of trust for “giving credit” is high, since this has been checked over the years. But it is very uncomfortable to be in a group of unknown people because the prices are not known (one must “haggle” ferociously) and the level of trust for “giving credit” approaches zero ( “there is no trust”).

· In schools or among the army recruits, the concept of a beginner and veteran has always existed. This is simply a way to force the price of the area “I can” of the new person down, so that he/she has to operate in a reduced, rigid and allotted market.

Consequences of the pressure.

Now then, over the years the biology of the body changes, people learn, their pleasures change, their training changes: i.e. the areas “I want” and “I can” constantly vary in location and size. In the modern world, and especially in the big cities, a person is obliged to be in permanent contact with different groups of people, in the office, in the subway, in the gym of the district, at home, etc. Any type of communication between people involves an exchange of the want-can areas. In the same way there is constant pressure on a person, which also stimulates and modifies the areas “I want” and “I can”. At work (office, factory etc.) a person is among colleagues in a market of more or less established relationships where the “mutual prices” are set for this local group. Returning home, however, the person could meet with a different system of values.

· The wide market of possibilities spreads out to influence a lot in the “I want” area of one or both spouses and can cause the mutual overlap of the areas “I want” and “I can” to decrease considerably (the banal expression “we no longer have anything in common” really hits the nail on the head). The obvious solution is not to lower your guard and mutually seek to cherish constantly the overlap areas (the best option is to keep love alive (mutual addiction)).

· An executive who is very efficient in the office and highly valued by his/her colleagues (negotiating ability, persistence, professionalism) could find that for his/her children and husband/wife these qualities have little value because the domestic market values highly human contact, compassion, participation, in other words, constant signs of trust (hope and security of having “credit” with members of the family). If a person is not capable of passing quickly from one system of values to another, this could lead to a break-down in the relationship.

· It is different case when at work a person is constantly under the pressures of different “markets” of values and on returning home can “verify” in a firm domestic market his/her system of values and self-price. This probably plays a very important role in human habits and will be one of the reasons why marriage won’t disappear for a long time yet.

Price of desire.

We have seen how the prices of several zones of the area “I can” usually settle down according to the laws of the market. This is not so for the zones of the area “I want” that are subjective. The mere need of “paying” with any part of the area “I can” for a certain desire could show us the price of the desire.

· For example, if we wanted an ice cream and we found this in the freezer of the house it means a certain effort, a certain cost. But if we didn’t find it and it had to go down to the car-park, take the car and search for it in the supermarket on a very hot day, this means another “cost” to pay for the desire, which could lead us to suppress the desire as being the more “profitable” way to behave.

There are some desires whose “cost” is not at all clear (maybe because the merchandise is extremely rare). In this case the person could suffer the failure to cover their desire without having slightest understanding of the price to be paid. This is an important factor in the decision whether to continue with the search for the reward or to attempt to suppress the desire (this is the same as using a part of their own area “I can” in the effort to suppress the desire). The problem of the correct valuation is very important in our life.

· A typical example is the yearning for a “Mr. Right”, which is the dream of almost all women. In the end, however, the majority accept that the “price” of this desire is overwhelming (or the “merchandise” simply doesn’t exist), especially, when they consider the value of their area “I can”. Not all single people fail to get married because they lack a “Mr. Right”, but probably because most of them fail to value themselves properly in the market of human relationships (they overvalue themselves).

From this point of view now it is possible to understand the common human tendency to gossip. This is a way to discuss and preinstall the price, the value, to some human behave that in other way (alone decision) is simple impossible or very subjective. In our common life frequently we also want to know the price of thing that we don't think to buy apriori.

All this leads us to the curious conclusion that the “market” is something more profound, something pre-programmed by nature, maybe a logical and natural consequence of any organism.

In this paper I have referred to human behavior, but maybe the same could be applied to the animal and even the vegetable world. I suspect also that the principal problem of the Artificial Intelligence is lack of understanding of this fundamental principle.

Barcelona, January 1996.

Post a Comment