So the trend in cognitive sciences and evolutionary psychology - in most of the sciences, in short - is to assume that every last shred of what you we
call free will is in fact an illusion. I have read many of the books, and I have been exposed to all of the claims, rationales, and examples of how it
is that we imagine ourselves to be possessors of a free will. Still, however, I am not completely convinced.
First, let me say that there are without a doubt unconscious processes creeping beneath our thinking the majority of the time. We can't seem to help
this. When I look left, its because some "primer" - a sound, a feeling, impelled me to look that direction. It's hard to deny that these processes
aren't there when so many interesting books have been written showing us how it is happening; ever heard of the experiment which had two groups of
people read a list of words? The first group was show words like "tired", "Florida", and "age", while the other group were given a set of random
words. After reading off those words to themselves, participants got up, and headed out the room. This is when the experiment began. The people who
read the words like tired, etc, walked out of the room at a slower walking pace than the other group. This told researchers that those words has
subconsciously "primed" the readers to act like old people - which words like Florida, tired, age, subliminally intimate.
This was and is an impressive example of subconscious forces compelling our behavior. No one can deny that. But it's seems to be hyperbole and an
unnecessary blanket assumption to go the full way and say "free will therefore doesn't exist". It does exist.
The psychologist Daniel Kahnemans awesome book "thinking, fast and slow" introduced many people to the psychological concepts known as "system 1" and
"system 2". System 1 is automatic, intuitive, and a fast thinking. It happens when we are embodied. System 2, conversely, is logical, analytical, and
slow. It is what I am working with right now as I write this piece.
System 1 is without a doubt always
being mediated by unconscious processes. Some emotion flows in, "primes" us, and we carry out the action
like automata. I personally don't like the word "automata" - I think it's a rather beautiful process, being caught up in the "flow" of life, - but,
to be blunt, that is essentially what is happening when were in a system 1 state of mind. System 2, on the other hand, does afford us a veritable
degree of wiggle room, a real separation from whats going on in our unconscious minds.
At this very moment, become aware of yourselves as you read. This ability to be "self aware" seemingly highlights and exposes the mind to the
undercurrents of subconscious drives bustling below the surface. I see them, I can sense them. But is that it? Is that all there is to us? Does my
"sensing" count for nothing? How am I to understand my ability, at virtually any moment that I choose, to stop myself in my tracks, and freely choose
to locate the spotlight of my attention at anything that I want? Am I going to make the unfalsifiable presumption that "some" unconscious process is
making me think this way or that way? That I am writing this word - instead of this one, or dat one (yes, I wrote dat, like a Jamaican would say it)?
I think this is a pseudo scientific claim without evidence. It's taking something that happens a lot of the time, and just for the sake of it, out of
some personal bias, saying it happens all of the time
My ability to reflect on my life, to consider my values, to bring into awareness my love for others, happens because I freely chose to think about it.
Yesterday, I found myself to be acting a little petulant around my family members. I was just feeling that way. Then, I looked over to my mother, and
saw her looking a little insecure. I felt my coldness may have made her feel unhappy in some way: "I think she was trying to connect with me", I think
to myself. "I should have been more aware." Out of a sense of deep empathy, I went up to her, kissed her on the cheek, hugged her, and apologized for
any coldness. Why did I do that? Initially, when becoming aware of my behavior, I had two pathways before me: to continue lounging in my comfortable
sense of taciturn indifference to others, or, to change the course of my behavior. Intensity wise, the former feeling was stronger. Nevertheless, I
willfully forced myself to not think about those feelings, but instead, to access more deeply the burbling sense of love that had poked it's head into
awareness when I first noticed it.
Before I choose that behavior, a choice had to happen. a) stick with the relatively strong and dominant apathy towards her and others, and continue
watching the baseball game b) break the apathy, go to her, and give her a hug. I physically, emotionally, and mentally experienced myself change upon
insisting in my mind that I should go to her, give her a hug, and apologize for any coldness. This appeared to be an absolutely genuine experience of
free will. Intensity couldn't explain it, since the intensity was so low for getting up compared to the already rooted sense of comfort that I was
feeling. Instead, I fanned the flames
of the intensity by forcibly thinking about it, holding it in my minds awareness, and going up to her.
The primer was put in place
freely and deliberately in my subconscious mind after willfully meditating upon it, which means, the system
1/system 2 works both ways. I built
the intensity hat came upon me after I decided to think about it. After getting up, I felt the change that
occurred; but it occurred BECAUSE of my own freely willed conscious intervention.
Free Will may be in fact a fickle, fragile little thing which for many people exists in a smaller or greater portion depending on their degree of self
awareness. Nevertheless, despite it's being the David to our unconscious Goliath's, it can at any time be accessed and exercised without an
unconscious "primer" acting as a precursor.
At the end of the day, thought experiments like this wont convince the naysayers, just like stupid experiments like Benjamin Libets free will study
don't get us any closer either. As to the latter study, the evidence has paradoxically worked to prove and disprove the existence of Free will. The
supporters claimed that the "action potentials" clocked in the brain were the real source of our sense of free will. Yet, the difference was enough
for the person to check the urge to act, stop himself, and do something else, leading some researchers to make the counter-intuitive claim: does free
will lie somewhere between thought and action?
edit on 20-7-2013 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)