Changing your mind/brain #2

Posted on November 12, 2011


How far are you willing to go in giving up your belief or bias concerning  free will?

You can probably agree that most of your basic physical functions and biochemistry runs on automatic: e.g.,  digestion, temperature, immune system, blood pressure going to sleep, nightmares, repeated unwelcome thoughts and feelings – little or no free will involved.

You can also probably agree that some of your overt behavior is automatic – such as reflexes like eye blinking and the startle reflex, sweating, shivering, maintaining balance, sexual impulses, etc.

How do you explain it when your  treasured ‘free will’  bias fails you – when you will one thing and do another – like repeatedly breaking  Resolutions? Stop and think about the  automatic behavior you try to control and have difficulty doing so, like …. habits and failed New Year’s resolutions (e.g., smoking, dieting, cleaning the basement, filing, etc.)

Now we’re getting into some of  Dennett territory – he has no trouble accounting for this apparently uncontrollable behavior – he ‘knows’ that teams of mini-robots are in control!  But he presumes that ALL your behavior, thinking and feeling are under the control – are performed by – teams of mini-robots – including what you think, what your remember,  what you say, what you sign, what you decide…..

Kids steering wheel -

What happens to your free will then ?  Where does it go?

I may see the behavior of others as determined by teams of mini-robots but not my own. I suspect you feel the same way. Our sense of possessing free will is so strong. How can anyone deal with that persistent and personal conscience evidence on the one hand and Dennett’s bias or model of teams of mini robots running the show on the other???

Here’s one suggestion. Recall the example of the child’s car seat and the toy steering wheel. At first the kid turns the wheel at random but gradually he/she learns to turn it just a second after his dad or mom turns theirs. Gradually the kid get’s supporting evidence that he/she is steering the car because….. whenever they turn the wheel the car goes in that direction. So they have clear conscious but erroneous evidence of personal control. Just as they’re  unwittingly mimicking their parents turning of the steering wheel and  taking credit for the effects, so too maybe we’re consciously taking credit for the behavior engineered by our teams of mini-robots… taking credit for having steered the car, ordered the meal, signed the cheque, asked the girl for a date, given the speech, agreed to have sex, etc.

In other words our consciousness provides delayed feedback of the behavior our mini-robots perform, we , track them and take credit for causing them – ‘turning the wheel’ – ourselves.

So this provides a plausible model of how consciousness is a learned, after-the-fact tracking response, in which free will is an illusion of control as we take credit for what the teams of mini robots are actually doing a second before.

Whatcha think???

Kids toy wheel:

Posted in: Sciencing