There are plenty of reasons why we each, individually and collectively, do the things we do.
Aside the obvious and as-yet unhelpful "we're just moist robots, all we need is to revengineer our source to grok how we roll", we're left with models and theories of the mind that range from cargo-cult to bewilderingly naive deconstructions, with some interesting-if-broken leads that seem to work alright, some of the time.
One of my personal faves, because it is both flexible and reasonably self-consistent while turning out right more often than not (where applicable) I like to call the Historical Fiction Writer model — shortened as HFW, and rehydrated into "How ? Fuck, why ?" shape for handy use.
It goes roughly like this:*
as individuals, we are the product of our history, both from the history of life perspective (which shaped our genome and innate abilities, passed along to their offspring — without much intent — by those who lived long enough to breed), to the societies and families that carried themes, beliefs, values, customs, knowledge and prejudices downstream to where we individually happen.
From there, we sail along when we can, we drown or take over if we can't.
…and we become, knowingly or not, HFWs, in the sense that we constantly copyedit, add, revise and rewrite our individual and collective history to build as close to comfortable a fiction about ourselves and others as we can manage.
What defines us, and 'why we do the things we do' then becomes a matter of reconciling the story we tell ourselves into a fleetingly coherent whole, despite possibly conflicting sources, such as Reality™ slapping us in the face, or others' delusions crossing paths with ours in disturbing fashion.
Like everything else, we drift towards a place of rest, and in the process contribute to the general agitation.
At no point in this process is it really necessary for our consciousness to inform our actions: for all we know, we might just be watching our lives unroll like some foreign language film which we try to make sense of as we comment the show, until we start to believe we're actually running the story.
Whether we decide anything consciously or simply pretend (to ourselves) after the fact that we did is up for discussion, but certainly we do act, and my hunch is the real influence of our conscious mind and higher cognitive functions is less in the decision-making process proper, and more in the way they tweak the filters of what we'll prioritize and pay attention to at a non-conscious level in the future.
Lest this starts sounding like a lot of baloney, let's get practical and consider why people embrace specific carreers, or why they get excited about any given activity, and we'll find it barely ever has much to do with the 'objective' qualities of the purported goal or object, and more about how it makes us 'feel'.
…and then we try to figure a good enough story to explain why we should do what we're/we've already doing/done.
At least that's how I roll:
1/ I get excited (doesn't have to be a good feeling: solid frustration and burning anger work just fine, too).
2/ I get depressed (almost never feels good, although it usually doesn't last long, and I sometimes welcome it with a relative sense of relief because it's part of my cycle, and getting excited gets taxing after a while).
3/ I even out by thinking stuff through, but that's emphatically *after* I bounced from the down-bottom.
4/ Rinse and repeat, with a slightly different set of parameters I'll respond to in step 1 and 2, according to what I came up with in 3.
I trust not everybody goes to through that kind of roller coaster on a daily basis, yet I reckon the core dynamic is a fairly common one: we learn from experience inasmuch as we process and internalize whatever story we tell ourselves about what did happen, but we really have little say about the what & why — while we're doing.
This is a slight departure from the otherwise interesting theory that consciousness is essentially an artifact of malfunctioning brains, a useless parasitic commenter deluded about its contributing anything to a process that's entirely out of its control.
My quick-bake HFW model instead posits our conscious self gets to debrief after the match, or at least stand in line and ask questions during the exit press conference, and may even sometimes influence upcoming games and inform the playbook — as any other outside voice can/would.
I'll get into the things that prong me/us in the next installment, but for now I have to saw some wood beams and lay some concrete.
*[Usual disclaimers apply, this is a work in progress — a polite way to say I'm making this up as I go, and I'm no more privy than you to we're I'm headed: journey > destination and all that.]