“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”     --Rainer Maria Rilke

Fine for the world of contemplation – but what about the world of consequences? Both action and inaction have consequences. To the extent that these consequences matter to us, we have to decide what to do and what not to do – often under conditions of uncertainty and risk.

None of this has to do with “free will”. Even if we wanted to, we can’t refrain from making decisions. The brain is a decision-making machine. Different brain regions are involved in different types of decisions. Whatever brain region is involved, the neuronal processes are pretty much the same: neurons compile and weigh incoming evidence; neurons make rapid and complex probability calculations based on the accumulating evidence. Voila: a decision! We make thousands of them every day.

Insofar as we cannot read the future, we cannot know with certainty the chain of effects put into play by our decisions. Decisions are partly acts of faith, including the decision to do nothing. Even if we are standing still, we are taking a leap into the unknown.

For more on the neuroscience of decision-making, see: http://www.brainfacts.org/sensing-thinking-behaving/awareness-and-attention/articles/2009/decision-making/)