Is Your Conscience Just Coincidence?

Posted on August 27, 2011 in Health and Life

By Siddhartha Roy:

Human beings are certainly the most complicated and yet the most intriguing species on Earth. They are queer, irritating, enticing, exciting and sometimes downright blasphemous. And it is a thrilling pleasure to explore them. What do they think? What do they do? Why do they do what they do? Sometimes we are horrified by what we might find within ourselves or others. On the other hand, it might also be heart-warming. The bottom-line is: ‘Being human’ is not another support for humanity tagline.

I find humans far more interesting than gadgets or science and technology. I enjoy trying to make sense of them and, though a tad scared sometimes, don’t stop in trying to uncover the workings of the conscience underneath. Maybe that’s why I revel in watching ‘Lie To Me’. For those who don’t know, ‘Lie To Me’ is a television series (that has completed three very successful seasons) based on Dr. Paul Ekman (who appears in TIME’s 100 Most Eminent Psychologists in the 20th Century) and his research on study of emotions related to facial expressions. The background of Dr. Ekman’s research analyzes the development of human traits and states over time.

People grapple with issues, betray other people, commit crimes, hurt others and themselves — it is all in there. But it is not that they do what they do. It is the motive that still eludes many. Because you may be able to catch lies, you’d still have to use your brains to try and make sense of the ‘Why?’

Moving away from the show, I’d like to deal with the concept of our conscience. Volumes have been written — from evolutionary psychology to hardwired biology — telling us how over millions of years, our brains have been shaped and trained to comprehend and respond. Chromosomes from parents contain almost all genetic material required to shape the progeny. But, even more crucial, is the story of our life. Our growing up years. Our trudging through adulthood and its trials and tribulations.

Frankly, there is NO one particular moral code. Our morals vary. They might have been initially influenced by our parents and siblings/friends in childhood. What is right. What is not. But all parents are different along with their morals. And so also what they give to their child. But as we start to understand and also come under the influence of the ‘big bad world’ (as it is called), we alter our opinions, our views, our unwritten covenant of RIGHT and WRONG.

And so, when we do set out to judge something, it is based on our unique set of principles. I may think your principles are nonsense. And you may surely hold such an opinion to my opinions.

My point is: Based on this unique moral code, our conscience gets coded. Granted, some of our perceptions are biologically coded, but how do we define the conflicting views of, say an Indian and an Indian who’s in America for 30 years? Surely, there views on sexual promiscuity, to take an example, differ. Or, how children should be brought up. Or, the punishment for breaking laws.

Humanity is at an interesting crossroad. With cultures clashing and intermingling on such a large scale and conflicting influences fuelling both growth and confusion, our conscience is surely NOT a part of some Universal equivalent Conscience. But, rather, a strange fusion. Our experiences. Our relationships. Our traumas. Our compromises. Our moments of valour. All play a role in this concoction.

So, is your conscience just a coincidence of influences? How much of it have you personally chalked out (through your own thought processes — whether correct or flawed)?

Is your conscience (your guide) just happenstance?