Monday, 16 August 2010

Free-will is like an appendix

If the appendix has no function, why do we have it?

The same goes for conscious "choice". It's a side-effect, not a causal agent. Libet (1982) found that there's a certain time threshold for sensations to be perceived. If a contact/touch/whatever sensation does not endure for longer than, if I recall correctly, 80-200 milliseconds, we don't register it at all. The longer it persists, the more we become aware of it. So, when the brain is busy deciding to do something, once the decision state has existed for longer than the threshold of consciousness' minimum, then we become aware of it. It's a question of persistence of a state.

Are we automated machines influenced by outside factors? Yes. Think about it. You only respond to outer stimuli. Inner stimuli are, generally, memories. And memories are simplified reduced versions of previous outer stimuli, so they're still outer stimuli. The only inner stimuli we're aware of are neurological, e.g. When you have a headache. But we still have no control over those things; they 'happen to us'.

Why do we internalise outer factors? This is because our brains do process information even if it is non-conscious. I'm not saying they don't. What I'm saying is something like this: consciousness, as we know it, is a bit like a child in a trolley (shopping cart, for my American readers) - with a fake steering wheel. He's being pushed around in the trolley but he can still see where he's going, and his mom tells him as she pushes him round the shop, what she's doing. So she turns into the breakfast cereal aisle and says "now we're looking at breakfast cereals". He gets notified about what is going on after the decision has been taken. He has a fake steering wheel which he frantically turns, but it doesn't actually do anything. It just gives him the illusion of control. Sometimes his trolley goes the direction he turns it, sometimes it doesn't. He doesn't understand why, but when it does go the way he turns it, he thinks he's the one that did it, and gets a thrill of being in control.

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