Free Will and the Unconscious

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

The key oversight, in my opinion, in the approach taken by neuroscientific research into free will (Libet et al) is in the presumption that all that is not available to us personally is ‘unconscious’ rather than conscious sub-personally. When we read these words, we are not conscious of their translation from pixels to patches of contrasting optical conditions, to loops and lines, to letters and words. From the perspective of our personal awareness, the words are presented as a priori readable and meaningful. We are not reminded of learning to read in kindergarten and have no feeling for what the gibberish that we are decoding would look like to someone who could not read English. The presentation of our world is materially altered at the sub-personal, but not ‘unconscious’ level. If it were unconscious, then we would be shocked to find that words were made of lines and loops or pixels.

In the same way, a robotic task is quickly anticipated, even 10 seconds ahead of time, without our personality getting involved. This does not mean that it is not ‘us’ making the choice, only that there is no need for such an easy and insignificant choice to be recognized by another layer of ‘us’, and reported by a third layer of ‘us’ to the personal layer of us.

When we work on the sub-personal level of neurons, we are addressing a layer of reality in which we, as persons, do not exist. Because we have not yet factored in perceptual relativity as a defining existential influence, we are making the mistake of treating a human being as if they were made of generic Legos instead of a single unique and unrepeatable living cell which has intentionally reproduced itself a trillion times over – each carrying the potential for intention and self-modifying teleology.

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