Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Free won't - part i

Experiment 0.5

For those of you that believe we have free will, you might like to try this quick experiment to demonstrate this to yourself. Thanks to Sam Harris for this efficient demonstration.

What I want you to do is think of a person who you know personally, it can be anyone, just picture them, whoever it is that springs to mind. Now, with this person in mind, I want to tell you about what we can observe:

1. I told you to think of a person, you thought of a person, simply because you were instructed to do so. Had I not told you to think of the person, the brain would not have had the required stimulus to invoke the memory recall.

2. You thought of a person and who you became aware of was, in fact, completely random. You had no choice regarding who it was you chose, a person just randomly popped in to your mind on cue.

We have just demonstrated how thought is propagated by a given environmental stimulus (this experiment) and you are not, in fact, in control of the contents of your thoughts. In no way were you able to choose who the person was that popped in to your awareness. Try it again if you like, use another topic other than people. If you are honest with yourself, you will be able to observe this is the case every single time.

From this experiment we have given ourselves a whole new conundrum. Not only does this have implications for all our thought, this lack of free will implies determinism. The fact that we are aware of choice on an experiential level implies that nothing is determined; so how do we reconcile this? Particularly as most of you reading this believe you are a causal 'self' being responsible for the thoughts and actions that arise.

Cause & effect

So, if there is no free will, what caused me to write this?

If I had no choice, what was the exact cause of me writing this?

  • Was it seeing no self? 
  • Was it the time that I had discovered RT and began looking? 
  • Was it the fact that I was in another country, that led me to be on the internet at the time to discover RT? 
  • Was it the fact that I learnt to use the internet 12 years ago?
We can not really find an exact cause. We have already debunked cause and effect (here) as a mechanism on which the universe operates. When we look at cause and effect, it is apparent that it is actually the nature of the brain to divide reality in to manageable chunks.

When we scrutinise cause and effect, it does not stand up as a usable premise. We can say that there is causality but we can not attribute a single cause to a specific event in time. This is where cause and effect breaks down, as it simply becomes an infinite regress. Rather, reality is a continuous flow of events, the accumulated unfolding of existence as it transpired which has delivered this very moment right now to us, exactly as it is. It is important that we state this before we consider determinism.

Nyeeps and tatties

In our experiment, we already showed how we are not responsible for what we think, it is a given of the environment and other internal criterion, that we are unaware of at a conscious level. If we think of the image of the person you thought of as a “nyeep” (packet of subjective information), these come from below the level of awareness or to put in old school terminology “bubble up from the subconscious”. In that respect there is no control over which nyeep will appear in our awareness and that is what we can see clearly from the experiment.

Our false self actually comes from the illusion that this process of calling up a nyeep, is something we can actually control and also the narration (internal dialogue) which results from these nyeeps on the level of awareness, telling the brain through a tertiary input, that this abstraction refers to a real entity separate from the brain and thought itself.

In effect “you” is simply a feedback cycle in thought, that is in turn generated from a cycle of cognition. Essentially “you”, your “self” or, whatever you want to call it, is nothing more than a thought. “You” do not exist, the illusion of self is caused by a feedback loop of thought.

Of course if you have just stumbled across this on the internet, you may well be bewildered, so I will say that everything is real except for “self”. The body is real, thought is real, everything is real but there is no you in real life, life is actually living itself, it always has done and never required a self to control it, that self is entirely illusory. What you perceive of as “you” is nothing more than a thought.

Heavy stuff but hang in there, lets dig deeper.

We are free in the sense that our experience causes an evolution in our thought patterns and rather than being restricted to 'only' a set of pre - programmed routines, the brain is like an adaptive learning computer that can update its model of reality on the fly. Programmed routines such as conditioning can not be undone by conscious thought alone however, our ever expanding database of experience increases our nyeep pool and as the saying goes, “we learn something new everyday”.

The feedback cycle of free will

One thing that complicates this, and actually installs a feedback cycle of free will on the level of an organism, is the fact that our awareness of consciousness forms a tertiary input into the brain. Along with sense data and our feelings, we also have an abstraction process where the brain is analysing its own cognitions and state. Basically, what is in awareness forms an input into the brain and, as such, this thought influences the brain in its decision-making processes. So, whilst we have no control over what that input is, our accumulated experiences can make us react differently in the future to similar events, so in a sense, we create a positive feedback cycle where accumulated wisdom factors into the decision-making process.

Depending on the outcomes of our actions in the past, the consequent input stimuli in to our conscious stream of thought from past experiences, constantly gives a new set of variables for the brain to work with. Our experience actually dictates our future actions and decisions but in that sense, it does feel uninhibited on an experiential level. The truth is, we are simply operating within the confines of our knowledge of the world, which is the product of our experience and the environment we occupy. We are simply aware of these decision making processes, which has been falsely attributed to a “self” being responsible for it. In reality they just happen.

Click here for: Part II


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