Chapter 2The Ways We Decide: Reconciling Hearts and Minds

Edward C. Rosenthal

Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, Fox School of Business, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

The story of Odysseus and his encounter with the Sirens is one of the oldest and most psychologically captivating tales in the Western literary tradition. The sea god Poseidon, you may remember, cursed Odysseus to wander the sea for 10 years, and he and his crew faced countless and remarkable ordeals—among them, getting past the Sirens. The Sirens were known for their beautiful singing; in fact, all sailors who came within earshot of them would compulsively steer their boat closer, only to perish on the rocky shore.

Knowing of the Sirens’ reputation, Odysseus was determined to avoid disaster, but he desperately wanted to hear the songs for himself. His solution was to have his men plug up their ears with wax and tie him to the mast, under strict orders not to release him until they were well out of danger. Spellbound by the beautiful voices, Odysseus vehemently insisted that the crew untie him, but his men obeyed the plan and freed him only after they had sailed away.

What does this mean for us? Homer’s tale is the first known account of someone who, in a cold and unemotional state, was able to anticipate his urges when in an aroused state and take action to prevent those urges from being acted upon, thus avoiding a disastrous outcome. Even thousands of years ago, we realize, people recognized ...

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