Yesterday, while seated, I began to reach down for my backpack when a fly landed on my knee.  My reach was instantly interrupted as my hand froze beside me just slightly higher than my thigh. All my intention became focussed on swatting that fly, and my hand began to move ever so slowly and evenly towards the fly on my knee, maintaining a perfectly consistent distance above my thigh of about three inches.

As my hand slowly glided forward I realized that my breathing had slowed to a near stop and I had the vivid impression of a sensation in my thigh that mirrored the position of my hand above it.  As my hand neared, the fly showed no awareness of its impending doom and had not yet bent its knees to get into a jump-ready position - and then SLAP!  My hand suddenly made the final lurch so quickly that it almost shocked me, and I realized that I hadn't actually given the order to attack.  Yes, this was the plan on my mind as my hand was creeping forward towards the fly, but I hadn't made the final movement consciously; it just sort of happened.

This reminded me of some articles I've read about some neurology experiments in which it was shown that our consciousness is not a direct agency of movement.  Obviously our consciousness can direct us - for it's not as though one decides to scratch one's wrist but instead punches oneself in the face.  On the other hand, our consciousness isn't typically aware that one hand has begun moving towards the other until after it has happened.

This brought me to think of a cat poised to pounce on a human hand scratching the carpet before the cat's nose.  The cat observes the action and an emotion is triggered - suddenly the cat finds itself scrunched up, poised to pounce, but seemingly paralyzed to do so.  How long will it wait?  Maybe the cat doesn't even know - maybe it just happens, triggered by highly evolved wiring in the subconscious of cats.

How often do we only become aware of our actions after they have been initiated without a conscious thought?  I've often joked, when asking a server to take away my plate, that I am not hungry but my hand just keep crawling over to the plate and trying to sneak a few more fries into my face.  What then of thoughts?  Is it possible that some thoughts just keep passing through my mind even though I do not care to consider them at this time?

It has long been my contention that I am not 'the decision-maker' in my life but, rather, I am my decisions themselves.  Those who subscribe to the religion of Alcoholics Anonymous would likely agree strongly with this idea.  On the other hand, I often do consciously weigh my options and select a course that can be a struggle to maintain - such as trying to eat a healthier diet.

We obviously have some conscious control over some aspects of our lives - but I sometimes think that we have delusions of much greater control than really exists.

P.S. - I completely missed the fly.

 

 

Views: 534

Comment by Unseen on July 15, 2014 at 4:02pm

I know I don't have free will. Once you take a cold look at the physical processes underlying behavior, free will simply evaporates. On the other hand, I feel like I have free will and I'm unlikely to start behaving as though I know I don't. I still condemn behavior I dislike and praise behavior I admire.

Consistency. The bugaboo of small minds.

LOL

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 15, 2014 at 5:09pm

There we go unseen. I like it when it's put this way. I just don't think anything more needs to be said.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 15, 2014 at 6:11pm

Aw-ww, Heather, your saying you missed the fly all but killed my desire to read further.

I would have asked if the fly escaped.

I will nonetheless say I envy your:

As my hand slowly glided forward I realized that my breathing had slowed to a near stop ....

Opening words like those might inspire me to read all of a novel's first page or so.

 

 

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 15, 2014 at 6:15pm

U, re your use of the cliché Consistency. The bugaboo of small minds. 

It's an academic's version of a politician's Consistency. The bugaboo of small ambitions.

 

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 15, 2014 at 6:23pm

I feel like I have free will and I'm unlikely to start behaving as though I know I don't.

U, I find that an interesting thought.

If I were to start behaving as though I don't have free will, how would my behavior differ from my present behavior?

I might start an alternative memoir and see where it goes.

 

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 15, 2014 at 6:50pm

Thanks, Tom - now if I could just get more than a page written on another novel I might have more confidence that it would get published, :D

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 15, 2014 at 9:34pm

Hi Heather. In your post you say "we obviously have some conscious control over some aspects of our lives" but then later say we have absolutely no free will. I'm curious what you consider "conscious control" to be.

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 15, 2014 at 9:55pm

As a general question to all of you...have any of you read anything by evolutionary-psychologists and neuro-philosophers who critique strong confidence in denial of free will in the infancy of neuroscience? Like Raymond Tallis? Mark Blaguer? Dennett? Harry Frankfurt? Hofstadter? Pink? Nichols? Knobe? Manuel Vargas? R. Kane?

I'm curious what you think of any of their stances are on free will (or any non-crackpot academic/researcher with a similar stance) and how you'd respond to any of them.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 15, 2014 at 10:27pm

@Davis Goodman

I don't view conscious thought as freewill either - or at least not necessarily so.  Just as my action of slapping at the fly occurred and then I became aware of the occurrence, I suspect that conscious thought may flow as I listen to it and perceive it to be my own narration.  We have no evidence for, neither do we perceive, a separate narrator and listener for our conscious thought.

Comment by Glen L on July 15, 2014 at 10:31pm

Wow, lost me when you reached into your backpack.

Hi, by the way,

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