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: 569

Comment by Gregg R Thomas on July 17, 2014 at 12:40pm

@Unseen:
I read your link several times, it does not support your claim.
The testing procedure was not testing "thinking", it was testing "response times" of a test subject's awareness of an urge to push a button and where in the brain the electrical activity first occurred before the motor stimulus took place and the time difference in milliseconds.
In my view this paper doesn't support your claim of "Anything we think...", please summit your proof that actually supports your claim.
I am unconvinced by determinism's view in light of everyday evidence like self-awareness, recording new information and learning new skills.
In my view the mind is very much an occurrence of brain activity, it is the mental activity of thinking, analyzing, and decision-making that occur in our conscious state-of-mind that makes the determinist position unpalatable.
Comment by Davis Goodman on July 17, 2014 at 2:10pm

@Unseen. You can set whatever standards it takes to allow yourself to be challenged. As I've mentioned before ... many of these books don't claim free will exists (though a few do with limited success). Most neuro-philosophers are agnostic on the subject considering the pathetic lack of information we have. They critique those who claim with full certainty that there is no free will. And they do a pretty good job at it.

Raymond Tallis has written some ten page articles that summarises his work. I am not going to condense them further into one paragraph. If you're interested I can send you a PDF file.

Comment by Unseen on July 17, 2014 at 3:47pm

I read your link several times, it does not support your claim.

That's a pretty bold rejection, especially given that it's a minority view.

If you care a lot to reject the claim, you can contact the researchers, and when you feel you've succeeded in supporting your view, you should triumphantly post the complete exchange here.

In my view this paper doesn't support your claim of "Anything we think...", please summit your proof that actually supports your claim.

So, you disagree. I can't blame you. Your disagreement is the inevitable result of the brain states that preceded it which resulted in your disagreement. Or do you deny that?

Comment by Unseen on July 17, 2014 at 3:50pm

Raymond Tallis has written some ten page articles that summarises his work. I am not going to condense them further into one paragraph. If you're interested I can send you a PDF file.

If there is a solution to the problem of free will, it needs to be able to be put into a couple sentences anyone with a grade school education can read and understand. After all, relativity can be explained that way.

Whether we have free will is something most people really care about, so some sort of abstract, academic, jargony "proof" that only specialists can grasp isn't a real solution.

Comment by Gregg R Thomas on July 17, 2014 at 6:31pm

@Unseen:

"So, you disagree. I can't blame you. Your disagreement is the inevitable result of the brain states that preceded it which resulted in your disagreement. Or do you deny that?"

Yes, I deny your conclusion.  My disagreement is the result of an analysis of the paper you presented as "proof" of your claim, while in a  conscious state-of-mind and coming to the conclusion that test procedures used in the paper do not support your claim.

The determinist viewpoint has a long way to go before it will be accepted as accurate and correct, which is the reason a lot of us have not become determinists.

Comment by Unseen on July 17, 2014 at 7:17pm

Just explain how any decision can be reached without being the result of antecedent actions in accordance with physical law. Maybe your thoughts are random?

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 17, 2014 at 8:14pm

LOL Would you like me to serve your one sentence answer to an extremely complex problem with a cup of tea and a crumpet with jam and butter?

Comment by Unseen on July 17, 2014 at 8:48pm

Would you like me to serve your one sentence answer to an extremely complex problem...?

The problem isn't complex. In fact, there's no problem. There really is no coherent concept of "free will." I don't refute free will, I deny it.

My assertion is as simple as can be and is at the very foundation of anything posing as science: everything that happens is causally, necessarily, and inevitably the result of prior circumstances and events.

The only way around that is to nominate randomness. However, randomness doesn't seem to salvage free will, either.

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 17, 2014 at 8:57pm

So you don't want the tea and crumpet with jam and butter then?

Comment by Unseen on July 17, 2014 at 9:08pm

Nope.

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