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 Unseen on July 21, 2014 at 12:33am

The reason most people care about free will (think it's relevant) is because they feel it's essential to praise and blame.

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 21, 2014 at 2:59am

So you are certain it is irrelevant?

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 21, 2014 at 4:33am

The reason most people care about free will (think it's relevant) is because they feel it's essential to praise and blame.

So true.

For 12 years nuns and priests told me people have free will. They did a lot of blaming; almost no praising.

Comment by Unseen on July 21, 2014 at 11:50am

It's ironic that the people who blame "bad people" for the "bad" things they do, are blaming people who can't have done otherwise, are bound in exactly the same way.

If by "free" we mean free of external constraints (didn't do it with a gun to his head), certainly we are free in that sense most of the time, but once one looks under the neurological hood, we see that we have to do what our brain tells us to do, and the brain does what physics and chemistry tell it to do.

Once you do that, you realize that the lack of external constraints doesn't salvage freedom in any ultimate sense.

Comment by Unseen on July 21, 2014 at 11:54am

So you are certain it is irrelevant?

If something that's not true can really be relevant, there is a great argument for believing in religion.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on July 22, 2014 at 6:27am

How do we edit Shakespeare's "sound and fury signifying nothing" to apply it to written stuff?
Anyway, consider it applied to this discussion.

Political activity persuaded me that whether behavior is chosen or determined, what counts more is who goes to prison.

Comment by Davis Goodman on July 22, 2014 at 7:06am

So then you are certain it is irrelevant.

Comment by Ed on July 22, 2014 at 8:49am

@ Unseen

Free will is often employed without consideration of praise or blame. In fact, free will can be used outside of a social context. You can utilize free will alone with no one around so I don't buy into the praise/condemnation proposition. Our perspectives are different on this issue.

Comment by Unseen on July 22, 2014 at 11:59am

@Tom Sarbeck - And who goes to prison is the result of the brain processes of those with the prisoner's fate. We may call them mental processes, but mentality is just a way of talking about what goes on in peopole's brains.

@Davis Goodman - Free will is a myth. How do you define "relevance"?

@Ed - People think they are using free will all the time, but let's go back to the original problem. What does "free will" mean? Does it mean that decisions are independent of brain states and activities or are they determined by brain states and activities?


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