T Nation

The Hard Problem Of Consciousness


Inspired by other threads I'm raising the question whether consciousness is separate from the brain, or that consciousness is a product of the brain [without an agent].

This video gives you a good example of current scientific thought on the subject:

American psychologist Daniel Wegner argues that our sense of free will is an illusion and devised experiments to show this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Wegner

What are your reasons for believing one or the other, and why is that important?


Free Will is not a psychological phenomenon. It is praxeological -- the using of means for the attainment of purposeful ends.

Man's only tool to make choices is reason. Psychology only matters in the sense that a man's mental state might affect how he reasons those choices -- this is not to say he had no purpose behind his actions.

When a man makes a mistake in action at best we might say he acted incorrectly to attain the desired means; or he was confused about which desired ends he really wished to attain. Free Will is still the agent he used for making those choices, for whatever reason he made them.

Honestly I think this guy is off his rocker a bit to suggest that "intention comes after the fact". If I am hungry, I eat. Also, if it is supposedly an unconscious phenomenon how could he know about it?

Psychology is a totally bullshit science.



I don't have time to read it all right now, but I have to say that if free will doesn't exist, that's good news! That means that there are a number a physiological factors that can be tweaked to give a person a more positive, healthy decision-making paradigm. BTW, I'm not talking about lobotomies here- but regular things like diet, exercise... methylation pattern :wink: ... that provide optimal operating conditions. Combine those with proxemics and you could actually help a person change :slightly_smiling:

BTW, hilarious snippet from a proxemics page:

Parking space. "A study of more than 400 drivers at an Atlanta-area mall parking lot found that motorists defend their spots instinctively" (AP, May 13, 1997; from research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, May 1997). "It's not your paranoid imagination after all: People exiting parking spaces really do leave more slowly when you're waiting for the spot . . . . It's called territorial behavior . . ." (AP, May 13, 1997). http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/proxemic.htm


prove it.


Or, maybe they're just being more careful because there is a car behind them. In my completely unscientific and anecdotal experience, it is the person waiting for the space who exhibits territorial behavior and in doing so, may not give the exiting patron room to back up safely.

/end hijack


I need not prove it. It is contained in the definition of he word reason -- a basis or cause of actions.

Why do I eat food? The reason is that I am hungry.


Could be. But you get the point.


Nice. (no sarcasm) But reason has two meanings.

One is a way of thinking. And the other is cause-and-effect.

....unless you are saying that there is no free will and that all decisions are caused by an outside effect?


If you had watched, or understood, the video you'd realise that areas of the brain that govern decision-making show activity before there's a conscious effort.

This means that you've made an unconscious decision and that it can take up to 6 seconds before you think you actually are making the decision.

So there's decision making without you making a decision. Or, the decision is made prior to the thought of you making the decision.


The belief that an autonomous conscious agent that has the ability to make conscious decisions and choices exists is our psyche and therefore terribly difficult to accept as illusion.

This notion isn't just limited to instinctual or unconscious behaviour, it rocks the foundation of what it means to exist as a human being.


This experiment is hard to understand because it never says how much time it took him to make the decision after the question was asked. When I think about decision-making experiments, I kind of assume that the experimenters are asking questions with a fast answer. There would maybe be 6 seconds TOTAL between the question being asked and the button being pushed, during which the person is processing the question. So that means the brain activity indicating a decision being made happened RIGHT when the questioned was asked and it took 6 seconds for the person to turn this into action.

How do they know that that first sign of the decision-making, though delayed from the moment when the person "figures it out", is not a conscious decision? They already said that it's known to be influenced by beliefs. That sounds like an intelligent, changeable process to me.

Maybe I'm not getting what they mean by "conscious".


A reason is a reason exactly because it has been reasoned in the mind.


This is complete nonsense. It does not matter how long it takes -- not that I believe it can be accurately measured in the first place. No one else makes a decision to act but the actor. He chooses to use his scarce means to direct at a nearly limitless amount of ends.

If I am hungry and I want to eat I have many choices to make before that end can be satisfied but I still am using my free will to do it.


That's probably the providential, predestined manifestation of the decree of God.

Jeremiah 10:23 =]


So the six seconds was thinking about which decision to make? That's plausible. It seems that the researchers assume that when you press the button that's the moment you've decided what to do and not allow for contemplation.

If that is true then the experiment is flawed. I'll watch the whole episode to see if this concern is raised.

Stay tuned.


There's a huge amount of information processed by the brain each day that you're not consciously aware of. You scan your surroundings, process and unconsciously make decisions all the while thinking about the fight you had with your girlfriend.

Have you ever driven for hours, arrived home and not remember the trip? How can you zone-out like that if there isn't a level of unconscious decision-making?


It probably isn't.


I can't find the Horizon episode the clip is from just yet, but did stumble on another clip that deals with the decision-making process, and this one also does not speak in favor of a conscious agent:


You can skip to the middle part with the italian scientist but keep watching for the american researcher who found that you make positive or negative decisions based on what kind of drink you're holding.


A short clip about conditioning and Pavlov, who did not only experiment on dogs.


An hour long BBC documentary on the workings of the mind, including psychoactive substances, with regards to free will: http://www.novamov.com/video/t7upnkef0ecms