Many chemical reactions occur in our bodies. This we know, but how they affect our decisions and actions is another matter. The most commonly known (and often joked about) chemical reactions affecting our moods, decisions and actions are puberty, menstruation and menopause. Yes, I know some only affect women directly, but a women experiencing one of these chemical reactions also affects the moods, decisions and actions of the men in their lives.
In the article, “Rising to the Occasion” (The Economist, October 30, 2010 edition), the research of Patrick Markey of Villanova University and Charlotte Markey of Rutgers focuses on the another chemical reaction: the production of testosterone. Their research:
. . . suggests that males involved in a competition will experience a rise in testosterone levels if they win, and a fall if they lose.
High testosterone levels encourage aggressiveness and risk taking. Testosterone encourages men to rise to a competitive challenge even if it’s nothing but flipping a coin toss to see who wins. Yes, it’s interesting, but it goes deeper than that. It challenges the classic model of free will (more).
In other words, old school says we are what we think and we control what we think. However, what we think could be the result of chemical processes beyond our control. For example, are we becoming more aggressive and riskier because of a conscious decision to do so or because of a chemical process that kicks under the right conditions?
That means goading is actively triggering the rise of testosterone to the point where people can’t resist. Conversely, men’s testosterone lowers when they lose so they won’t pursue losing positions. All of this chemical self-regulation occurs outside our conscious control.
How much of our actions and thoughts are nothing more than the result of chemical processes?