Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is consciousness in control? Does it matter?

I want to pass on a clip from SelfAwarePatterns that is as succinct a summary as I have seen (better than the one in my "I-Illusion" lecture) of the largely futile free will debate (the subject of many mindblog posts) that has persisted since Libet's original work showing motor cortex activity associated with a movement starts earlier than awareness of consciously willing that action.
Scenario 1: Consciousness controls actions:

You consciously decide what to do.
You do it.
You have conscious and unconscious knowledge of 2 and how it turned out.
Loop back to step 1.
Scenario 2: Consciousness does not control actions:

You unconsciously decide what to do.
You do it.
You have conscious knowledge (at least sometimes) of the results of 2.
The information in 3 is available to the unconscious parts of your brain.
Loop back to step 1.
I think most people agree that scenario 2 happens at all the time. For example, we usually don’t consciously think about walking or driving to work, or striking each key on a keyboard when writing an email. The question is whether scenario 1 ever happens.
But again my question is, does it matter? Look again at the sequences. What changes if scenario 1 or scenario 2 are happening? Isn’t consciousness still having a causal effect on actions in scenario 2, albeit a delayed one?
Maybe the real distinction is how often and how early step 3 in scenario 2 happens? I think there’s no question that it varies depending on the situation. I presented the scenarios above as two discrete possibilities, but I suspect the reality is more of a spectrum, with various actions arising with varying frequencies into consciousness.

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