Free will, an illusion worth believing in?
Rest both your hands on a platform out in front of your eyes. Now, make a decision to close only one of your hands. How do you think you could have arrived at this decision?
It is widely understood that we are influenced by our genes, the natural environment and social systems around us. However, with this in mind, we still tend to think of ourselves as the authors of our own actions, the intenders of our intentions. we feel that in every single conscious moment we have, there is a freedom to make a decision, like deciding to close one hand instead of the other. This is the idea of free will and unfortunately it is an illusion.
Developments in neurology have revealed that in fact our conscious decisions are simply the products of unconscious processes going on within our brains. Any decision we make in any moment is simply the end of a series of causes, causes that we are completely unaware of and thus of which we exercise no conscious control over.
Try and understand this by thinking of one person in your life. The person who comes to mind, feels like some one you freely chose. Its like you simply pulled this person out your memory. However, you cannot reason for why you chose that person and not someone else, why that person was the one that emerged into your consciousness. You don’t have an answer because of the fact that the choice you made was only the product, the final outcome, of a series of causes of which you were not conscious of. Your consciousness simply received a memory from your unconscious, thus making you no more than a mere witness.
This is why you cannot say why you chose to close one hand instead of the other. You are simply in no position to give of an answer, as the answer lies within unconscious processes of which you are unaware.
This understanding has come to light because of neurophysiology experiments that monitor changes in the brain when a person is making a decision. If scientists were to monitor your brain, they would be able to predict which hand you close seconds before the decision comes to your consciousness. Therefore, they would be in fact be conscious of your decision before you are conscious of it. (see the video below for a similar experiment)
It seems almost daunting to contemplate the idea that the biggest decisions you have made and are still to make, come from processes that are in reality out of your control. What career you decide to go into, who you decide to marry, where in the world you decide to live, are all decisions that are born of unconscious processes within your mind that work in the ways they do because of your genetics and the environments that your senses have been exposed to.
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the coming years, neurology will reveal more about our unconscious mind and its relation to consciousness. I’m curious to know what influences play a major role and how our age plays a role. There is also the possibility that our unconscious mind is influenced by external stimuli that we haven’t even discovered yet.. stimuli that we maybe aren’t consciously aware of at this point.
All we know is that this basic understanding of the relationship between our the unconscious and conscious parts of our mind is clearly just the start, but a radically astonishing start it is.
It is a mind blowing realization and one that really outlines the fact that there are illusions that are deeply imbedded in our subjective perspective of the world. Illusions such as free will are so rooted in our understanding, that it makes it hard to imagine a reality without them. Some might argue that we shouldn’t try to undercover such truths, that a blissful ignorance is better than a disruptive truth. I cannot see the point of this though. How can we ever take ourselves seriously and our position in nature, if we keep supporting illusionary stories that stunt our growth and development towards the truth.
I take from the fact that you have read this far, that you are curious about the world we live in and have a desire to understand it.
Hopefully this blog can help you with that.