Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

My interest in this blog is personal judgment as practiced by individuals in deciding what to do on their own, not the collective judgment exercised by decision-making groups of one sort or another following a set procedure for charting corporate behavior by considering and weighing individual recommendations.

Collective judgment is derived from treatment of personal judgments in a prescribed manner (parliamentary debate, legal proceedings, meetings run according to by-laws, polling, etc.). For me, here, the issue is how we can tell if our personal judgment is sound and reliable so it can be trusted in everyday practice to include all the evidence pro and con for believing our situation is what we think it is.

That is, is human judgment an actual capability rather than just another ruse for waylaying the gullible, whether on their their dream journey down the primrose path or in their daily struggle for survival?

What we make of our situation depends on the breadth and depth of our personal experience, on what we have been told and taught by others having sway over us, on our attitude and persistence, on what’s at stake, among a host of factors that might influence our judgment at the time. In other words, judgment is as much an art as a disciplined method for deciding what to do on any given occasion.

People decide what to do for all sorts of reasons, some wise, some risky, some foolish. Before we do anything, we can consult our bookie or astrologer, for instance, or find where we are in the sunspot cycle, or even follow the herd in doing what everyone else is doing.

Perhaps the best system is to read up on the issue; make a list of pros and cons; talk things over with friends, family, or a trusted advisor; sleep on it; and then see where we come out when we wake up after a good night’s sleep. It would be tedious of me to pretend that we can do better than that.

As unique individuals, it’s OK to act as we are led without trying to please everyone who has an opinion on the matter. Why else do we have minds of our own if not to apply them in advancing from one situation to another? That way we are bound to make mistakes, but they will be our personal mistakes, so we can learn from them how to do better next time if we get the chance.

The prevailing alternative is a top-down, authoritarian system where judgments are made by those we submit to because they have power over us according to the dictates of the culture we are born to, or the culture that happens to claim jurisdiction over our personal behavior.

My stance here is always to please myself (yourself) first because in the end, each of us is responsible for making ourselves happen as we do. That is precisely why we have a mind of our own, not to submit, but to be ourselves (which may very well include submitting to those whose judgment we respect more than our own).

One last word. It’s OK to be inconsistent by acting in some cases on the spur of the moment, while in others only after due deliberation and seeking advice from others. Nowhere is it written that there is a right way to decide how to be you.

My suggestion is to check your bearings often enough so that misjudgment won’t send you so far off course that you can’t find your way back again. At a minimum, I check myself every morning when my mind is fresh before being distracted by daily events. Consulting myself by that schedule keeps me on course so that I know who I am as I make myself happen as I do.

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(Copyright © 2009)

OK, so we wake up in the crazy house of our minds. Trusted institutions are falling apart, making us feel like we are falling apart. The world we thought was so real and reliable turns out to be only the shaky fantasy we chose to believe in. Now we get it: the real world is the natural world, the one we have turned our backs on to make it easier to dream the American dream. We’ve never been good at checking our facts—must have been sick the day they taught that in school.

The hardest of all lessons is that minding your own store—your personal consciousness—is a job that cannot be outsourced. Personal judgment is just that, a responsibility each of us must meet for herself. The buck for directing our own outlook and behavior stops with us. Which is the reason for seeking the deepest, broadest life experience we can get, whether through hard knocks or a good education.

It is not enough to stand before the mirror peering at our exteriors. The problem lies within. Self-knowledge is the key to each of us improving our share of the world situation. But how do we get it? Amazon doesn’t stock either Self-Knowledge for Dummies or the CliffNotes study guide. Yet if we want to avoid an even worse institutional collapse in the future, we’ve all got to rip off the blinders and take a good look at ourselves—from the inside where our attitudes and actions originate, not the outside we’ve grown so accustomed to.

The good news is that gaining self-knowledge is really less daunting than it might seem. And doesn’t require going to school; it’s something you can do for yourself. My suggestion is to take the idea of a personal interpreter seriously (see Reflection 86: Interpretation, about Michael Gazzaniga’s proposed left-brain interpreter module) and go looking for it in your everyday experience.

What it takes is curiosity and persistence in pursuing details of your personal makeup no one ever told you about. First, consider how much of what you do and say is based on your own integrity as a person, and how much is based on the authority of someone else. What others advise you to do reflects their interpreter—their spin—not yours. Take a look at the advice you give yourself. That is a direct route to your personal authority—your very own left-brain interpreter. 

Yes, it may sound crazy, but no crazier than the situation we’ve gotten ourselves into by not attending to how we make meaning of our lives—as if it was just common sense.

Our respective left-brain interpreters can be in only one mind, so each functions independently. Its job description was crafted through eons of evolution to make sense of the many situations it finds itself in—suiting its actions to them as appropriately as it can.

The second stage of discovering the interpreter is to keep asking yourself, “Now, why did I do (say, or think) that?” Whatever answer you find in yourself will probably be told in the interpreter’s voice. Keep asking; keep listening for a response. If you question yourself because you truly want to know, you will eventually hit upon answers to your inquiries.

Which is not to say that there’s a resident homunculus in your head, a little imp who does your mental work for you—or an infinite regression of such imps monitoring one another. No, this is your one and only mind in action, its various facets working in concert to present the outward and visible impression that you are utterly sure of yourself in any situation (even when you’re not).

Your interpreter is the heart of the consciousness your genetic heritage has bequeathed to you. There is no airspace between you and your interpreter. It is with you always. Monitoring your interpreter is the key to self-knowledge because it is what makes you who you are. When you ask a question, your interpreter wants to know. When you answer one, it is your interpreter that comes online to promote your personal wellbeing in any given situation.

Having become acquainted with your interpreter, you can begin to watch your own consciousness in action making sense of its inner world in different situations involving different actors, issues, locations, goals, and rules of behavior. One of the clearest views of the interpreter is provided during game-playing behavior. Games are always situational, and we always (sometimes) play by the rules, rooting for our personal or home team—the one we identify with. In doing so, we adopt a certain perspective which the interpreter in us staunchly defends. If we switch teams, it makes an adjustment and just as surely defends our new perspective. You can catch yourself in the act of making sense under novel circumstances which emerge during games.

One thing you can learn by keeping tabs on your interpreter is that it doesn’t always play fair. It makes sense the best it can, which sometimes doesn’t meet a very high standard because it is subject to inhibition from other quarters of consciousness, such as the boss standing behind you, or your mother showing up. The interpreter is only human just like you. Its foibles are your foibles. It sometimes tries to make a good impression without putting its heart into it. It flatters, it tries to impress, it pretends to know more than it does.

Getting to know your interpreter is getting to know yourself. All it takes is watching yourself being yourself. That way lies hope for a better world in that you can see yourself playing games, and so watch for self-deception. Then you can be on the level with the world when you act without having to cover up your hidden motives. All this will be revealed when you get on familiar terms with the interpreter module in your brain.

You will get to know yourself in a new light, which can be endlessly entertaining (if sometimes shocking or embarrassing). Take a look at your resume, for instance, to see if your interpreter might have had a hand in it. Or watch yourself come on to a person you find attractive. Listen to yourself tell your children where babies come from, why the dog ate the cookies left for Santa, why you didn’t get the report in on time as you promised your supervisor, why Harvard has no record of your attending classes, the Army no paperwork on your service in Vietnam.

In the interests of full disclosure, I declare that almost the entirety of this blog has been whispered in my ear by my personal interpreter trying to make sense of what it can know within its own theater of activity. Mohamed gave similar credit to the Angel Gabriel, his pet name for his interpreter. Almost the whole of philosophy, psychology, and theology have been scripted by interpreters inclined to justify themselves to the world. Some clever people make a living by turning their interpreters to the writing of fiction informed by doings in the only mind they have privileged access to. There is more than ample precedence for conducting a study of your own conscious mind.

Give it a try. It’s the only route I know that might help us all contribute to making a better world. Humility comes first, then vigilance, then action within our true sphere of competence!

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