Zaltman’s consumer-proof by contradiction:


I will adopt a commonly known mathematical approach of “proof by contradiction”, where the original proposition is assumed to be false and the derivation is then shown to end up in a logical impasse, eventually proving that the assumption was indeed wrong.

 Assumptions:

  • a) Consumers are conscious
  • b) Conscious consumers make rational decisions
  • c)  The rational decision making can be handed over to computers with rational decision making abilities.

Customers’ decisions are not always comprehensible. If over ninety percent of the decision making happens in the sub-conscious mind, and the conscious mind is rarely even aware of it, it is all the more reason to substitute customers’ decisions with primitive instincts.

The decisions that appear irrational at the first sight have their rational roots elsewhere. If one consciously runs the thread of allegiance down to the core, one is bound to find the rational explanation. But, the exercise itself might be fallacious, for the sub-conscious mind never reveals itself to the conscious mind.

It doesn’t mean that the sub-conscious mind is dormant; it only means that the conscious mind is infinitely inferior to the sub-conscious mind both in its quantitative and qualitative abilities. The conscious mind is the array of neural networks that connects the outer world to the sub-conscious mind. The sub-conscious mind is primed and honed to perfection by eons of timeless evolution, while the conscious mind is primed by the cultural paradigms.

“A word or phrase that remains elusive, that sort of evades the radar of the conscious mind pops up suddenly when the conscious mind is not even making an attempt to recollect it. The sight of a snake distinctly alters your senses and in a violent jerk you jump away from it, it’s only after the event happens does your conscious mind fully recover senses and you become aware of it for the first time”

Citing these examples, in “How customers think”, Zaltman argues that customers’ decisions are made by the sub-conscious mind, but under the false pretense of conscious decision made by the conscious mind, the author goes on to assert that customers don’t think in words or expressions, but in metaphorical abstracts. His contention is supported by the inexplicable and bizarre outcome of experiments where the subjects misjudged soft drink brands with one another under circumstances conducive to conscious mind: The subjects were blindfolded.

Steven pinker, evolutionary psychologist, in his books explores the fundamentals of language. His contention is – language is an instinct, unique to human beings. Language cannot be explained by the conscious mind; it cannot be reduced into words and phrases, because language is an instinct and can only be explained through evolution. And, to understand evolutionary road of language, is also to understand the evolution of sub-conscious mind.

British mathematical physicist Roger Penrose in his mathematical treatises asserts that computer algorithms cannot match the incredibly complex human mind. He endeavored to substantiate his claims by a series of experiments with computers. With the proceeds of the experimental outcomes, he compared human mind with the machine and established firm foundations to his charming contention.

Apparently, the computer is designed by the conscious mind. Perhaps, the machine can never break-even with the human mind, because the human conscious mind is not capable enough to scoop out the sub-conscious mind.

It’s a fact that a computer always makes rational choices, because it is designed to do so. The logical extension to this fact is that the designer (conscious mind) always makes rational choices. But, Zaltman disagrees on this very point. The conclusion hence follows lucidly- the conscious mind is judgmental, it broadly classifies our actions into rational and irrational choices. But, the truth is that the sub-conscious mind (designed by the gradual, selective and incremental evolution) is graciously superior and complex insofar that it manipulates the conscious mind into believing that the decisions made are conscious.

Assumption (a) is hence disproved.

Studies revealed that chimps are not good learners as humans are. Given a situation, chimps measure the problem at hand, try and “create” a solution, whereas humans are more inclined to “adopt” a solution that was taught to them. This inherent characteristic difference between humans and chimps provides us with a rare insight into the triumphs of civilization. It is this adoption, or this ‘discipline’ that holds our civilization firmly together. This ‘discipline’ is ubiquitous, it runs through the fabric of our civilization, it inoculates the progeny through our ingenious designs- schools and colleges. Nations are built on this very philosophy, progress as we see it today is the natural outcome of this clever little ‘solution by adoption’ technique vis-à-vis ‘solution by creation’ technique.

But, this is ‘irrationality’, what humans are doing is plainly irrational. Where Zaltman argues that consumers’ decisions are not rational, he accidentally struck upon the fundamentals of human existence. It is our sub-conscious irrationality (or the discipline) that separates us from chimps and yes, it is the same irrationality that is incomprehensible.

Assumption (b) is hence disproved.

To re-emphasize Roger Penrose, the choices that the sub-conscious mind makes are unnerving, for they cannot be explained by the conscious mind, and sadly the conscious mind (designer) can never fully recreate the sub-conscious mind and hence computers can never replace human mind.

Assumption (c) is hence disproved.

As for Steven Pinker, the sub-conscious mind for all we (conscious minds) know should be thinking in metaphors (of the hunter gatherer era) and not in words (of today’s time). We will never know, for the conscious mind is incapable of knowing anything further than itself. Hence, the adamant hypocrisy that the conscious mind is rational.

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