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Study shows conscious decisions being made unconsciously, and in advance.

 
nv
 
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nv
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26 March 2013 11:11
 
gsmonks - 26 March 2013 09:08 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 26 March 2013 08:20 AM

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that our individual concept of reality is an illusion, rather than saying consciousness itself is an illusion?  Consciousness does exist - it comes from our brain (in the sense of self-consciousness). What does not actually exist is the brain’s construct of external reality. That, like the self, is an illusion.

I remember encountering this matter for the first time in 1966, when I read an article stating that we only think we’re conscious, sentient beings.

At the time I dismissed such talk as being provocative for the sake of being provocative, as many things in the 60’s were, but over time I’ve come to understand things about the human brain that, while they often make me uncomfortable to contemplate them, nevertheless seem to be true.

Self-consciousness itself is an illusion in that it’s something the brain generates for its own purposes. It seems real enough to us, but it’s anything but.

GS, I think Ecurb is trying to get at something important. So are you, of course, and so does Sam Harris when he throws out the baby with the bathwater (sorry for the cliche—it’s early in the morning and caffeine still needs to kick things into gear). Using an entirely legitimate definition of “illusion,” we can say that the mind, free will, and even sensory processing rely entirely on illusion and for that reason, do not really exist.

Every single abstract concept ever conceived and written or spoken about can be torn apart using “illusion” in such a way. But it seems to me to be somewhat of a misuse of the term to apply it everywhere. So what else is new?—human language is designed to function perfectly well whether it’s being used correctly or incorrectly. It’s design takes into account misuse, and its internal structures tend to correct for it, or at least not punish for it—most of the time. In this case, plenty of harm can result from language confusion.

So what word would work? No word I know of. My take on these matters is that mind, free will, and the quirks behind sensory processing are not illusions so much as that they are not what they appear to be. That is, the words we inherit from our culture can tend to describe abstract concepts inaccurately. When we wake up to these many inaccuracies, we see the concepts behind them as illusions, naturally. But it might be that abstract phenomena are simply different from how we commonly describe them rather than being entirely illlusory.

 
 
eudemonia
 
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eudemonia
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26 March 2013 12:33
 

Consciousness is reality. If it were not you couldn’t type your thoughts on your keyboard.

Now, whether or not you are exercising free will in choosing to do this is an altogether different question.

 
 
burt
 
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26 March 2013 13:34
 
gsmonks - 26 March 2013 09:08 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 26 March 2013 08:20 AM

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that our individual concept of reality is an illusion, rather than saying consciousness itself is an illusion?  Consciousness does exist - it comes from our brain (in the sense of self-consciousness). What does not actually exist is the brain’s construct of external reality. That, like the self, is an illusion.

I remember encountering this matter for the first time in 1966, when I read an article stating that we only think we’re conscious, sentient beings.

At the time I dismissed such talk as being provocative for the sake of being provocative, as many things in the 60’s were, but over time I’ve come to understand things about the human brain that, while they often make me uncomfortable to contemplate them, nevertheless seem to be true.

Self-consciousness itself is an illusion in that it’s something the brain generates for its own purposes. It seems real enough to us, but it’s anything but.

Take our senses, for example. Sight only exists in the human brain, as do spatial relationships, depth perception, colour, contrast and the like. The same is true of sound. Outside of our heads there is only vibrating air. Sound is created for us by our brains. The vibrating air acts upon our tympanic membranes, travels through three tiny bones to a fluid-filled chamber lined with cilia which converts the vibrations into nerve impulses which travel through the big auditory nerve and into the brain, where that information is interpreted as sound. Our sense of temperature is a highly complex illusion. Not only does our brain create what it feels like to be warm, but the “warmth” experience is a pleasant one, as is the “cool” experience when we’re too hot.

Our emotions are likewise highly complex illusions. Taken as a whole, they’re like the surface of the tongue with its discrete regions of bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami, the latter being a recent addition.

Being experiential, emotions have the distinction of defying all attempts to impart themselves as information, a characteristic they share with the senses. These are things that sentient beings must have in common in order for them to be shared.

Experiences themselves (of this sort) are complex processes with two discrete contexts- the human and the non-human. They act as referents in terms of human interaction but lose all human relevance when imparted as purely mechanical information. This is because meaning itself is tied in with consciousness, making it impossible for a human being to relate to anything wholly outside its built-in mode of perception.

In this way we are bound in every way, including intellectually, to the workings of perception. It’s not something we can escape. And in terms of understanding, the kinds of things we can understand are purely relative to the human experience, which effectively blinds us to that which we’re not, which is the rest of the universe.

Back in the early 80s I discovered through self-observation that the non-cognitive aspect of emotion was just a global pattern of kinesthetic and viscero-autonomic sensation.  Cognitive interpretation was a learned add on. 

But in terms of being blind to the rest of the universe, we do have some access through abstract mathematics.

 
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26 March 2013 13:38
 
nonverbal - 26 March 2013 10:11 AM
gsmonks - 26 March 2013 09:08 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 26 March 2013 08:20 AM

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that our individual concept of reality is an illusion, rather than saying consciousness itself is an illusion?  Consciousness does exist - it comes from our brain (in the sense of self-consciousness). What does not actually exist is the brain’s construct of external reality. That, like the self, is an illusion.

I remember encountering this matter for the first time in 1966, when I read an article stating that we only think we’re conscious, sentient beings.

At the time I dismissed such talk as being provocative for the sake of being provocative, as many things in the 60’s were, but over time I’ve come to understand things about the human brain that, while they often make me uncomfortable to contemplate them, nevertheless seem to be true.

Self-consciousness itself is an illusion in that it’s something the brain generates for its own purposes. It seems real enough to us, but it’s anything but.

GS, I think Ecurb is trying to get at something important. So are you, of course, and so does Sam Harris when he throws out the baby with the bathwater (sorry for the cliche—it’s early in the morning and caffeine still needs to kick things into gear). Using an entirely legitimate definition of “illusion,” we can say that the mind, free will, and even sensory processing rely entirely on illusion and for that reason, do not really exist.

Every single abstract concept ever conceived and written or spoken about can be torn apart using “illusion” in such a way. But it seems to me to be somewhat of a misuse of the term to apply it everywhere. So what else is new?—human language is designed to function perfectly well whether it’s being used correctly or incorrectly. It’s design takes into account misuse, and its internal structures tend to correct for it, or at least not punish for it—most of the time. In this case, plenty of harm can result from language confusion.

So what word would work? No word I know of. My take on these matters is that mind, free will, and the quirks behind sensory processing are not illusions so much as that they are not what they appear to be. That is, the words we inherit from our culture can tend to describe abstract concepts inaccurately. When we wake up to these many inaccuracies, we see the concepts behind them as illusions, naturally. But it might be that abstract phenomena are simply different from how we commonly describe them rather than being entirely illlusory.

The self as illusion, for example, is actually a result of processes going on in the brain/body.  The processes are real, but the self as an actual “entity” is a bit dicey.  Karl Pribram (and also Can Zen) was fond of pointing out that the word mind was better said as minding.

 
nv
 
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26 March 2013 14:23
 
burt - 26 March 2013 12:38 PM

The self as illusion, for example, is actually a result of processes going on in the brain/body.  The processes are real, but the self as an actual “entity” is a bit dicey.  Karl Pribram (and also Can Zen) was fond of pointing out that the word mind was better said as minding.

Can Zen—who’s that? Whatever became of Bob? Did someone insult him? Does he go somewhere else? Surely he hasn’t just stopped talking?!?!

 
 
Nhoj Morley
 
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26 March 2013 14:30
 

I have seen Mr. Zen logged in now and then but no posting.

Sometimes we pause to regroup.

 
 
NL.
 
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26 March 2013 16:34
 
nonverbal - 26 March 2013 10:11 AM

So what word would work? No word I know of. My take on these matters is that mind, free will, and the quirks behind sensory processing are not illusions so much as that they are not what they appear to be. That is, the words we inherit from our culture can tend to describe abstract concepts inaccurately. When we wake up to these many inaccuracies, we see the concepts behind them as illusions, naturally. But it might be that abstract phenomena are simply different from how we commonly describe them rather than being entirely illlusory.


I wonder sometimes if the concept of free will is born of our tendency (our tendency as proclaimed by me) to act in rather utilitarian ways until it is no longer necessary. (Side note - this strikes me as one of our more dangerous impulses when judging history as a culture - the tendency to look back on situations we find barbaric and think “Oh, what bad people they all were then and / or still are in this culture!” The whole idea about history repeating itself - to me, there’s a danger in not appreciating that every practice we find inconceivable today probably genuinely did seem moral and even compassionate at one point, and probably would to us as well if we’d been born into that time period / culture. But I digress.)


Again, I wonder if ‘free will’ will eventually be seen as a bit barbaric, but is nonetheless somewhat necessary in our time. The system seems to depend not so much on us having free will, but on us acting as if we have free will. While we may not have free will, we do have volitional activity that is sensitive to input from the environment. The idea of free will may be a false construct designed to act upon this feature - but it has to be carried out to its final conclusion to be effective. Perhaps the man who robbed that liquor store didn’t have free will, and punitive (as opposed to preventative,) action will only create more needless suffering. Unfortunately, if we say “Ah, well, no punishment for you, you couldn’t help it!” we are sending that information to many other would-be thieves who may or may not be swayed by the idea of prison. No, the original thief didn’t commit a crime out of “free will”, but he becomes a sort of sacrificial lamb in order to keep the system in place and keep the knowledge that ‘you will be treated as if you have free will’ alive and operating on everyone’s psyche.


We already make distinctions along this continuum. Did you hit that car because you were drunk or having a seizure, for example? I think the difference is largely which behavior might be open to influence in the future - no one can help a seizure, but maybe we can influence the next potential drunk driver with punishments and social shame. So, again, the punishment is more for the benefit of society as a whole, not for the person who actually committed said crime. I anticipate that if we reach a place where we can deal with our more unfortunate traits as humans, we’ll simply ‘fix’ problem behaviors in the brain and perhaps look back on this idea of free will in the way we look back on the practices of primitive tribes.

 
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26 March 2013 18:22
 

I was going to post something here, but then I didn’t.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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27 March 2013 12:39
 
NicLynn - 26 March 2013 03:34 PM
nonverbal - 26 March 2013 10:11 AM

So what word would work? No word I know of. My take on these matters is that mind, free will, and the quirks behind sensory processing are not illusions so much as that they are not what they appear to be. That is, the words we inherit from our culture can tend to describe abstract concepts inaccurately. When we wake up to these many inaccuracies, we see the concepts behind them as illusions, naturally. But it might be that abstract phenomena are simply different from how we commonly describe them rather than being entirely illlusory.


I wonder sometimes if the concept of free will is born of our tendency (our tendency as proclaimed by me) to act in rather utilitarian ways until it is no longer necessary. (Side note - this strikes me as one of our more dangerous impulses when judging history as a culture - the tendency to look back on situations we find barbaric and think “Oh, what bad people they all were then and / or still are in this culture!” The whole idea about history repeating itself - to me, there’s a danger in not appreciating that every practice we find inconceivable today probably genuinely did seem moral and even compassionate at one point, and probably would to us as well if we’d been born into that time period / culture. But I digress.)


Again, I wonder if ‘free will’ will eventually be seen as a bit barbaric, but is nonetheless somewhat necessary in our time. The system seems to depend not so much on us having free will, but on us acting as if we have free will. While we may not have free will, we do have volitional activity that is sensitive to input from the environment. The idea of free will may be a false construct designed to act upon this feature - but it has to be carried out to its final conclusion to be effective. Perhaps the man who robbed that liquor store didn’t have free will, and punitive (as opposed to preventative,) action will only create more needless suffering. Unfortunately, if we say “Ah, well, no punishment for you, you couldn’t help it!” we are sending that information to many other would-be thieves who may or may not be swayed by the idea of prison. No, the original thief didn’t commit a crime out of “free will”, but he becomes a sort of sacrificial lamb in order to keep the system in place and keep the knowledge that ‘you will be treated as if you have free will’ alive and operating on everyone’s psyche.


We already make distinctions along this continuum. Did you hit that car because you were drunk or having a seizure, for example? I think the difference is largely which behavior might be open to influence in the future - no one can help a seizure, but maybe we can influence the next potential drunk driver with punishments and social shame. So, again, the punishment is more for the benefit of society as a whole, not for the person who actually committed said crime. I anticipate that if we reach a place where we can deal with our more unfortunate traits as humans, we’ll simply ‘fix’ problem behaviors in the brain and perhaps look back on this idea of free will in the way we look back on the practices of primitive tribes.

Exactly!  The system depends on our believing we have free will, and we punish people “merely as a means” to dissuade others from behaving badly. Screw Kant and his pie-in-the-sky imperative.

The only thing I question is your implication that at some point in the future, the illusion of free will will no longer be useful. What do you think will make it so? You might draw a parallel between the illusion of free will and the illusion of an afterlife: at one time, before we had effective law enforcement, it was useful for people to believe they’d be punished in the afterlife even if they never got caught in this one. But now most criminals are caught, so the fear of being caught is enough without the fear of burning in hell. Although the fear of being caught is offset to some degree by the soft punishment we hand out, IMO.

 
 
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27 March 2013 13:00
 
Mike78 - 26 March 2013 05:22 PM

I was going to post something here, but then I didn’t.

I wasn’t going to post anything here… No, I was going to simply continue reading all of the thought provoking comments of each of you who are reading my words now - also those of you who have posted here but are not now reading my words, because you are busy doing other things and have abandoned this thread. And, what of those of you reading my words, who have not posted anything here? Well you don’t matter, because you are not real to me…
But then I didn’t…
Damn you Mike78.

[ Edited: 27 March 2013 17:27 by Fool4Reason]
 
 
nv
 
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27 March 2013 13:49
 
Jefe - 25 March 2013 11:24 AM

In the last few years, neuroscience experiments have shown that some “conscious decisions” are actually made in the brain before the actor is conscious of them:  brain-scanning techniques can predict not only when a binary decision will be made, but what it will be (with accuracy between 55-70%)—several seconds before the actor reports being conscious of having made a decision.  The implications of this research are obvious: by the time we’re conscious of having made a “choice”, that choice has already been made for us—by our genes and our environments—and the consciousness is merely reporting something determined beforehand in the brain.  And that, in turn, suggests (as I’ve mentioned many times here) that all of our “choices” are really determined in advance, though some choices (e.g., whether to duck when a baseball is thrown at your head) can’t be made very far in advance!

“Determined in advance”—yes, of course. Partly by our genetics, partly by our environment and partly by our personalities, preferences, needs and opinions.

I agree—or at least don’t disagree—with the notion that free will is an illusion or perhaps a mistakenly chosen term for an important aspect of human life. I disagree, however, with the cognitive-delay business playing any part other than what is already well understood and has been for many years. From an early age, our parents and eventually other people take part in attempting to program us to make sensible decisions precisely because it is common knowledge that we tend not to be able to make sensible, free-will style decisions on the spot. (I feel there is much more to this process that tends to get ignored, but I’m able to see the point at hand as possibly being entirely correct.) As we grow into adulthood, we gradually gain access to tools that assist us in programming ourselves, as well.

For instance, yesterday while walking to the shop where my car was being serviced, I rehearsed the way I would react to various things I knew the mechanic might say to me. Certain things were in dispute, and I wanted to be sure I didn’t react in ways I might later regret. Sure enough, when I got there and the discussion started, I reacted according to ways I’d previously programmed myself to do. I did not get taken advantage of and I did not unduly insult anyone, as a result of my having pondered, while walking, how I might best react. The walk took a half hour. I freely considered all possibilities that occurred to me and judged each according to my past experience as well as any minimal technical-mechanical knowledge I have. I considered what words to use and what words not to use. When the time came to react, I reacted not according to my scary subconscious but according to my personality and economic/comfort needs.

Musical performance provides an analogy. Practice of playing and reading notes, scales and exercises, rehearsing with others, and style analysis all lead musicians to be able to function in an ensemble. Even improvisation relies on previous practice and music-theory knowledge. When the performer is finally on stage playing before an audience, however, s/he is still capable of consciously reacting to the notes of the other players and the visual instructions of a conductor. Some considerable human will is in play during a performance.

But again, free will as it’s commonly seen to be is basically an illusion or mistaken term. Just not for the reasons stated in this article in my opinion.

 
 
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27 March 2013 14:51
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 27 March 2013 11:39 AM

The only thing I question is your implication that at some point in the future, the illusion of free will will no longer be useful. What do you think will make it so? You might draw a parallel between the illusion of free will and the illusion of an afterlife: at one time, before we had effective law enforcement, it was useful for people to believe they’d be punished in the afterlife even if they never got caught in this one. But now most criminals are caught, so the fear of being caught is enough without the fear of burning in hell. Although the fear of being caught is offset to some degree by the soft punishment we hand out, IMO.


I just think we tend to drop moral intuitions (particularly those that cause some sort of ‘sacrifice for the greater good’ type suffering) after they no longer have utility. Interestingly, religion probably tends to serve as a brake on this process - “No, no, not time to drop that intuition yet, let’s make it sacred and keep it around!” And yet we almost always do drop and change intuitions, at a pace that might seem excruciatingly slow in our lifetimes but is probably an eye blink in evolutionary terms.


Maybe this is pie in the sky, but I would hope that as our understanding of psychology, sociology, and neurology improve we can find solutions to criminal behavior that are far more effective than punishment. (For example, David Eagleman’s prefrontal workout: http://blog.neulaw.org/?p=3702 or our growing understanding of what childhood programs might prevent children from joining gangs.) Given the alternative of true rehabilitation vs. punishment, I think most of us would gradually shift to the idea that rehabilitation is preferred. No doubt there would be outcry about mollycoddling liberals and “In my day!” in the process - but I don’t doubt that we went through a similar process when people first suggesting putting the rack and the Iron Maiden away. We can pretty much uniformly shudder at the thought of those now, and yet as a society, we’re pretty happy to send young criminals into an environment where they may be beaten, raped, and forced into a gang. They’re bad people, after all, criminal! I’m not immune from this thinking myself, of course, when I think of horrible crimes against children and things like that - but again, it’s an interesting check to think this may have been what the citizens of yesteryear thought upon snipping someone’s eyeballs out in a dungeon.

 
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27 March 2013 20:50
 

Every good salesperson is taught the following rule over and over until they internalize it:

“People make decisions emotionally, then justify them rationally.”

Learn that, and your life will improve when dealing with others.

 
 
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28 March 2013 16:52
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 26 March 2013 08:20 AM

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that our individual concept of reality is an illusion, rather than saying consciousness itself is an illusion?  Consciousness does exist - it comes from our brain (in the sense of self-consciousness). What does not actually exist is the brain’s construct of external reality. That, like the self, is an illusion.

Coming from a Christian, this post earns the coveted Rabbit of Approval award.

“I see nobody on the road,” said Alice.

“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone.  “To be able to see Nobody!  And at that distance too!” 

“There is seeing, but no one who is seeing,” Buddha commented.

(Alice and the King quoted from Lewis Carroll)

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nv
 
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28 March 2013 18:50
 
gsmonks - 28 March 2013 02:26 AM

BTW- someone back there said “s/he” in “lieu” of a “genderless” pronoun. We already have such a pronoun. That pronoun is “he”. He is both a male and a genderless pronoun. The “he-she” pronoun thing is a feminist fuckheadism.

Just so you know.

That would have been me. I did it to piss you off, and now may not be able to resist finding new ways to do it more and more.

 
 
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