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: 521

Comment by Strega on July 17, 2014 at 10:02pm
Time is represented by cause and effect. Cause and effect are inseparable from Time. Consequently there is no free will.

I'll take the tea and crumpets please :)
Comment by _Robert_ on July 17, 2014 at 10:11pm

My Great Grandma had crumpets. Or was that rickets? In any event it made her feet hurt when it rained.

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 17, 2014 at 11:27pm

I already ate the crumpets. I would say sorry ... but I had no choice.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 18, 2014 at 12:06am

The only way around [what you assert} is to nominate randomness.

U, you appear stuck in a two-state place. According to Sam Hayakawa's 1960s book on semantics, having but two options is a result of unresolved stress.

There is, you know, an agnostic option.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 18, 2014 at 12:27am

U, re your 'non sequitur much?' reply to my 'How soon will we see your specs for the world?'

Of course it's a non sequitur! I will explain with a metaphor.

I don't want to follow you to where so many of your posts have said you are going: unsupported assertion land.

Comment by Unseen on July 18, 2014 at 1:09am

U, you appear stuck in a two-state place. According to Sam Hayakawa's 1960s book on semantics, having but two options is a result of unresolved stress.

You remind me of the people who think something is true because they saw it on TV, though in your case it's a book.

Comment by Unseen on July 18, 2014 at 1:13am

I don't want to follow you to where so many of your posts have said you are going: unsupported assertion land.

And yet, your critiques are notably insubstantial.

I don't need to "support" what is obvious and, basically, so true it's virtually tautological: Either things are controlled by antecedents or they are not. You are aware of the in-between option? Where will we find its rules? In some spirit land? Ask Hayakawa.

Comment by _Robert_ on July 18, 2014 at 7:38am

Would anybody here say the fly has free will. The fly is 'immoral' for "bugging" Heather when it really could be dining on a rotting pumpkin somewhere? Now we move up to a chimp family where a teenage chimp is being scolded by his mother for bugging the old alpha male.

It seems free will is the apparent ability to evaluate choices that comes with complexity. Yet when we break down our complexity into it's parts..it all becomes simple again. If we could step up our understanding to a higher level so that we become relatively simple...the illusion of free will evaporate.

Comment by Ed on July 18, 2014 at 8:58am

@Unseen

"We have a methodology for judging people but no ethical basis for doing so. All involved are merely doing what they must do due to who they are. The thief steals because he is a thief, the judge adjudicates because he is a judge."

But the thief and judge made decisions in their life that led to that particular profession. It is not so much a matter of free will as it is a matter of processing information and making choices. Whether you decide to incorporate morals and ethics into that process is of your choosing. Society will possibly penalize you if you conduct yourself outside the rules of conformity, which secures order among the masses.

There are Free Will Baptist Churches all over the place in this neck of the woods. They equate free will with free choice. You can consider their preposterous proposal and decide whether to accept or reject it. They have no qualms about informing you, with vivid description, of the consequences of your choice. They truly are in their own little world of woo.

Comment by Unseen on July 18, 2014 at 12:00pm

@Ed - But the thief and judge made decisions in their life that led to that particular profession. It is not so much a matter of free will as it is a matter of processing information and making choices. Whether you decide to incorporate morals and ethics into that process is of your choosing.

I'm dumbfounded. Explain why those choices would be any different, in terms of being free, from deciding between oranges or apples in he produce department, a choice which is governed by electrochemical processes occurring in the brain.

Why would an ethical choice be a special case? It isn't. The same physical processes lead up to those choices which lead up to and determine all other choices we make.

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