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Contradictory behaviour

There have been a bunch of philosophical topics simmering in my mind, but they are not yet fully ripe to be written down. Expect this tiny little piece, which is remotely related to topics discussed in the Philosophy seminar which I've been participating in. There has been this question of logic and consistency - and the possibility, or maybe even necessity, of having a some form of paraconsistent logic. Or, put in other words: what should we think about contradictions? Formally expressed a contradiction is any sentence of form "both A and not-A". Especially in Western thought there has been a rather strong tradition of wanting to avoid contradictions. Not just because contradictions are "bad", but because there has been this sense (which can be formally proved) that accepting any contradiction will lead to accepting any and all propositions, which quickly leads to total absurdity. Well, then, different forms of paraconsistent logic seek to find ways to deal with contradictions without collapsing into an endless abyss of absurdity. Yet, the question remains: are there some good examples of contradictions which we should just face and to deal with - or are all contradictions always errors, which just need to be corrected, thus resuming the sane safety of the familiar consistency of the classical logic?

One way to approach this would be to ask that what is the logic we are speaking about; are we developing a formal conceptual system which aims to be some sort of ideal, abstract perfection of rational reasoning? Or, are we mostly interested in real life situations, are we trying to understand or to describe the logic ordinary people use (or, describing alternative forms one could employ) when making real-life decisions on whether to do this or that? Oh well - as said, I have a feeling that some time later on I might write more about these questions. But for today, let's just focus on the real-life side of things, examining the way human mind and reasoning works.


Usually I don't eat that much sweets or sugary desserts. It has not been a matter of a conscious decision, but more just following my bodily feelings, allowing my eating habits to fluctuate simply based on what kinds of foodstuff happen to feel attractive at the moment of doing the shopping. But, most of the time, I do eat and enjoy candy, chocolate, cookies and other such sweet stuff if they are easily available. (Like, when visiting my father. For some reason he always has a bowl of candy, and I find myself consuming quite a lot of candy just because in that moment they taste good.)

Well, today I had a feeling that lately I've been eating more sugary stuff than is normal for me. And I felt like having a bit more ascetic period, going back to simple, healthy food. Porridge and lingonberries. Simple meals cooked of locally produced grain and vegetables. Local, freshly caught wild fish. A little of red meat (for, in winter-time I often feel that some meat is good for the body). Hehe, mostly this is my ordinary basic diet, so I haven't been planning any radical changes, but just leaning a bit more to the simple side. I don't know but I have a feeling that sometimes a minimalistic simple diet helps to maintain clarity of mind - going back to the essentials, staying focused.

With these thoughts I visited the local super-market, with the intention to pick simple healthy ingredients for food. At some point I stopped at a shelf which has a collection of discounted products. This time there were a lot of Christmas-themed food stuff, with a few Halloween-themed products. Prices discounted 50% or more. To me it felt perfectly consistent to pick some of those products - cheap and simple, yeah? Only later on I realized that because of discounted prices I had bought chocolate, chocolate-covered cookies, and sugarcoated dried fruits. And tonight, having a sauna bath I realized that during the day I had already ate 75% of the sugary stuff I had bought. Moral or rational considerations aside, I could clearly recognize a first-hand bodily experience of feeling somehow "overdosed", non-balanced. And there were some traces of what I remember from my years of heavy depression - then there were moments when it felt like my body tried to compensate the low mood by sugar intake, and maybe the sugary stuff momentarily increases mood, but the after-effect is even worse, making me feel emotionally empty, like some sort of evil teddy bear stuffed with thick hollowness. Or, continuing with the vague metaphors; if a depressive mood is because of the inner stream of life energy running almost dry, then eating sugary stuff is like pouring buckets of water into the stream, briefly making it feel like more full and powerful, but every bucket of carried water comes with a load of mud, and soon the additional water is gone, leaving a fat smelly layer of mud in the inner stream of soul energy.

OK, so I felt something like that, tonight when having a sauna bath. And my rational mind wanted to review my behavior - what exactly happened, did I contradict myself? I clearly remember when standing at the discount shelf there was not this sense of "failing to resist a temptation". There was no sense of "breaking my own rules", or "straying from the decision I had made". At that moment my own behavior felt consistent and logical to me. So, apparently, my mind was operating on parallel sets of logical premises, or something. Let's try to formulate this:

Set 1 (my conscious thoughts when starting the shopping):
1.1. pick only simple ingredients, no highly processed foods.
1.2. pick only cheap ingredients, no luxury products.
1.3. pick only healthy ingredients.

Set 2 (the parallel, or auxiliary set, which another area of my mind was using when picking chocolate from the discount shelf):
2.1. these products are kind of a left-overs, soon they'll dumped to waste, so picking them I'm saving them, this is almost like picking berries or other such form of gathering; pick what you find. This is picking simple ingredients.
2.2. these are cheap, these are no luxury products - this is almost like dumpster-diving, and who would call that "shopping for luxury stuff?"
2.3. some parts of my body and mind respond positively to the idea of these products. So we can consider them healthy, especially if I believe more in bodily intuitions, instead of following any strict set of dietary rules.

Let me clarify; at no point were the propositions of that auxiliary set running in my mind. These formulations are made afterwards, when trying to understand what was the non-propositional process guiding my behaviour at that moment. But, if expressed that way, we have an explanation to why I didn't have a sense of contradicting myself when happily deciding to include chocolate in my list of "simple, cheap, healthy ingredients". Of course, we could come up with a number of real-life examples of having to struggle with conflicting motivations, contradicting principles, inconsistent desires, or more generally "emotional desires conflicting with rational or moral principles". But that is an another avenue of thought; reflecting on my today's shopping behaviour leaves me with two notions:

1. My mind seldom acts as a single, clearly defined unitary "self" or "ego" - instead it seems that at any given time there are a number of parallel processes running inside my mind, and my conscious mind is aware only some of them. (And, my assumption is that those parallel processes are not like "a bunch of little homunculus inhabiting human psyche", but they are more likely partially autonomous - mostly co-ordinated, each with their distinctive characteristics. For example, one process is responsible of evaluating feedback from my gut and other internal organs, one process is more focused on my verbal and cognitive decisions, one process maintains a high priority of trying to balance my mood, and all of these processes are prone to repeating their old habits, and then there is yet another process which is always prepared to come up with good ways of explaining why exactly this or that decision doesn't contradict what the cognitive process said.)

2. What to an external observer could look like contradictory behaviour, can feel and appear like perfectly consistent behavior for the very agent of that behavior. And I'd guess for us it is easier to spot logical contradictions in the behaviour of others, while we aren't always even aware of how quickly, easily and automatically we just explain away the contradictions in our own behaviour.

(Note that I'm stating 1. only in reference to myself. I don't know if, based simply on my own introspection, I can make a valid assumption concerning other human beings - maybe the minds of other people just function in an entirely different way? Although, there seems to be a growing body of empirical scientific evidence suggesting that something like 1. is going on in the minds of most of the people. But that, again, is another topic and another story, which I might or might not write some time later on.)

Oh well. So, here I am, writing this blog post after a sauna bath, still feeling a slightly unhealthy after-effects of consuming too much sugar today. How to react? I think I've already learnt that self-shaming myself would be of no use. "Show some will power!" will equally miss the point - for at the moment of collecting chocolate I simply was not aware of any kind of temptation to resists. So, then, it seems that I'd better just remind myself to stay centered, focused and aware of myself. Gently reminding myself that "discounted prices is not equal to cheap, simple basic ingredients". So that the next time I visit the supermarket and when I see the discount shelf it would be easier to remember to pay attention what kind of products I do pick, and what not to pick. Instead of trying to "control" myself with punishments or internal discipline, it feels more appropriate to expand and to deepen the internal awareness of all the processes contributing to my behaviour. Also, the next time if I find myself considering buying a bar of chocolate, maybe I can spend a moment remembering this muddy unhealthy feeling it gave me today, asking myself if I really need that feeling again.

Or, to re-phrase myself: If the set 2. was something which took place without that much conscious, cognitive, conceptual thought, then there hardly are any conscious, cognitive nor conceptual tricks I could do to alter my behaviour in similar future situations. Although, there might be a way of "remembering to be more aware", so that not that much of those processes happen without me noticing, but that there could be more of aware space, thus more room for conscious interventions. Also, while not in such a situation, I can just spend a few moments every now and then thinking about a bar of chocolate, and then remembering the not-so-nice bodily-emotional state after consuming too much sugar, so that even without a conscious intervention my bodily evaluations could associate chocolate as something only for special occasions (like, when hiking or skiing in cold weather for a longer distance, then a bar of chocolate is not that likely to give a feeling of an overdose, for there is a real bodily need for a high dose of instant extra energy). And then just remembering that in the absence of conscious thought those semi-automatic processes take over and guide my behaviour, so when in super-market it might be a good idea to every now and then just remind myself: "stay aware, remember who you are and what you think!"

That orange substance is halloween-themed chocolate. "Mystery flavour!" says the packaging and it makes me wonder why it didn't sell that good, if they still have left-over stock to be sold for discounted prices...
That orange substance is halloween-themed chocolate. "Mystery flavour!" says the packaging and it makes me wonder why it didn't sell that good, if they still have left-over stock to be sold for discounted prices...
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And then a makes me wonder-themed music link.

I loved this introspection Erkka. Great!



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