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.



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Comment by Gregg R Thomas on July 18, 2014 at 3:11pm


"I'm dumbfounded."

That's true.

"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."

Not in the way your would like it to.

A "choice" is not the condition of a brain, it is the condition of a "mind".  A "mind" is the manifestation of brain activity, the two, mind and brain are inexorably connected but provide two separate functions.

Put in simplistic terms the brain is the car and the mind is the driver.

Without a driver the car just sits there even if the motor is still running (Terri Schiavo).

No one understands what the mind is exactly or why it is self-aware but the fact remains that the mind exists and is self-aware.

The determinist has a doG, it is "electrochemical process" and what he cannot explain ie."the self-aware mind" he just claims "doG did it!".

He is unable to accept the there is something at play that he doesn't understand, like the astronomer 100 years ago who thought the Universe was only the Milky Way, astronomers today know it is much, much more, including Dark Energy which they don't understand.

To use an analogy the mind is to the brain like the Dark Energy is to the universe, we don't understand it but we know it is there.

The mind thinks the brain does not.

The mind thru both conscious and sub-conscious activity sets new neural pathways and synaptic connections in the brain not the other way round.

I think of it as synergism, that the mind is greater then the sum of all the parts of the brain.

I reject the Sam Harris deterministic view, in the same way I reject the believers view, a tiny bit of reality and a lot of woo.

I don't understand how the mind works but neither do the Sam Harris's, I'm happy acknowledging that I don't know what I don't know.  I find comfort in being confident in knowing that which I do know, I'll wait on the rest.

I'm done...I just decided that this moment in my conscious self-aware mind. :)

Comment by Unseen on July 18, 2014 at 8:40pm

The mind is as the brain does. It is an epiphenomenon of the brain. In other words, it is just an appearance traceable back to brain activity. But even epiphenomena still follow rules. 

If thinking and making choices don't follow the same rules governing everything else, then either they follow different rules, and are not free, or they follow no rules, in which case they are random. Neither of those conditions would seem to support what we seem to want free woll to mean.

Comment by Gregg R Thomas on July 18, 2014 at 9:49pm

The truth:

OK, maybe not the truth...but funny as a fart in a spacesuit. LOL

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 19, 2014 at 8:00pm

A fart in a spacesuit is a very particular kind of truth

Comment by Unseen on July 19, 2014 at 8:13pm

Indeed, an apt metaphor for life itself.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 19, 2014 at 11:55pm

An apt metaphor for whose life?

Of course, for the lives of those who most vigorously deny its application to them.

Comment by Unseen on July 20, 2014 at 1:08am

It's just a humorous corollary to "Life is a shit sandwich and every day you have to take another bite," which is itself humor.

Comment by Ed on July 20, 2014 at 9:01pm


I misunderstood your position. It is true that all thought in the human mind is, at it's elementary level, an electrochemical process. That process involves acquiring data, processing it, and making a decision. I simply equate free will with choice. You do not. To me the physicality of thought is not relevant to free will or choice. Why should it be?

Comment by Unseen on July 20, 2014 at 9:22pm

@Ed - I simply equate free will with choice. You do not. To me the physicality of thought is not relevant to free will or choice. 

It is if you want to introduce concepts like intention and morality. Otherwise, I suppose you can regard it as irrelevant.

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 21, 2014 at 12:25am

You suppose it is irrelevant or you are certain it is irrelevant?


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