By Roland Watson

In this article I am going to change the subject a little. I want to examine the relationship between our behavior and our mind, or, viewed the normal way, between our thoughts and actions.

Everything starts in the brain. Our actions, even our reflexes, begin with thoughts. We think what we do, even if it seems like sometimes it is not always before the act.

The question is: How does this fit with our picture of human nature?

Brain development

Our brain creates our thought, both conscious and unconscious, and our brain chemistry and structure, its nature and capability, at birth is the product of our genes.

This assumes, of course, that your mother gives you good prenatal care. Otherwise, negative environmental conditions that she creates in the womb, such as through smoking and drinking, can degrade and even change the influences of your genes.

Then, after we are born, the size and structure of our brain continues to change as we age, again due to genetic influences, but also as a result of our life experience.

However, and as I described in an earlier article, our experience is also shaped by chance. As a child, it is actually completely dominated by what is to us chance. Some parents are rich, others - most - are not. Some parents are secular. Others are true believers.

From another perspective, some parents talk lovingly to their children for hours, and also work hard to expose them to new experiences every day. These acts help the baby's brain grow fast, and build new neural networks and associations.

Others parents, though, millions of them, do not raise their children this way. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this, the sheer magnitude of its consequence, both on the children, and through them as they grow up, on the world.

For instance, research has shown that the number of words spoken to an infant by an engaged adult, just the total number of words spoken, is the best predictor for the child's future happiness. If adults talk to babies regularly if not continually, this makes them feel loved and that life is a good experience.

This positive first impression is then encoded into their brains. It stays with them for their entire lives.

Brain development and life experience are of course affected by a multitude of factors. For example, considering chance again, and as happened to me - and this involved my will as well - some babies climb out of their cribs, fall and break their teeth, grow up talking funny, and are teased for it. Others don't.

Our pattern and speed of brain development ultimately is shaped by all of the factors that affect human nature, and which also interact in innumerable ways. For instance, your genes are the product of your parents' genes, which shaped their thought and, in combination with their social conditioning and will, their life circumstances. These in turn became your life circumstances, and the sources of your social conditioning.

Categories of thought

In talking about the links between thought and behavior, we also have to recognize that there are different types or categories of thoughts. Of these, the two most important are reason and emotion. The question is: Where do they come from?

The first, reason, is a product of will. You use your will to discipline yourself to think about something carefully - to try to figure it out. And, if your will - and brain - are strong, mainly for the latter as a consequence of having had a good education, you will figure it out.

Emotion, on the other hand, as a pattern - your overall personality - has been shown to have genetic links. You're not stuck with your personality, though, at least not completely. Using your will, and with years of effort, you can change, such as from being shy and introverted to open and even outgoing.

Instances of emotion, though, are usually the consequence of form, of social influences in different situations that are designed to trigger the emotions. For example, if you listen to some talk radio stations, you should understand that they are openly trying to manipulate you to become angry.

Finally, and surprisingly, will can also drive emotion. This occurs when you express yourself with anger, or affection, and either controllably or even uncontrollably, to satisfy a deeper will-driven purpose: to achieve an end.

The source of will and life

To conclude this article, I want to review one issue that I haven't yet considered. Where do our free will and life force come from? They are real factors shaping our behavior, so they must have a source.

One option is that they inhabit us in an insubstantial or immaterial way. This is the idea, at least one interpretation of it, that we have a soul.

I'm going to consider this question extensively - whether we have a soul or not - in other articles.

On the face of it, though, the idea that a soul directly influences our day-to-day behavior seems unlikely. This would mean that something is hovering over us or inside us right now, and influencing the choices that we make.

On the other hand, if free will and the life force are not derived from - or equivalent to - a soul - and this assumes that we have one - then they must reside, once again, in the genes. And, if this is the case, it means that our genes have an incredibly complicated role.

They shape us physically. They determine our behavioral predispositions. And, they somehow encode our free will and whatever it is at the deepest level that makes us alive.

In this view, genes drive our instincts, our will to live.

Is will life?

There's a hidden question here, which I haven't talked about yet. You may have even thought of it already on your own.

Is free will the same thing as life, as the life force itself?

I believe it is.

The most convincing proof of the existence of free will is the sheer determination and tenacity with which life works to live. Will is life, and people who argue that there is no such thing as free will are effectively saying that there is no such thing as life.

In closing, a fascinating research project would be to learn which genes are responsible for our will power, and how they are able to create it. How can something that is determined, in the sense that it results from a chemical code, create something that is itself free to choose?

In the next article, I will consider the role of behavior in evolution.

© Roland Watson 2013