Let’s try again

Secondsightblog has been operating since 2008. Ove the years we have discussed a whole range of issues from the simple to the complex. The comments and questions of readers have been first class. However, one subject has always fascinated me, and I don’t think we achieved the answers. So let’s have another go…

I decided to click my computer mouse this morning. Or did I? There is good evidence that my brain anticipated my conscious decision by a fraction of a second or even, as the latest research shows, by up to seven seconds. And here we are at the heart of neuroscience: one of the fastest-growing disciplines of our time.

Already we can spot metaphysical questions. How can I speak of free choice for a decision made first by the unconscious brain? Could I have vetoed my brain at the last moment? Is my conscious decision merely a process of noting what has already been decided?

Neuroscience, or the study of the brain, involves many disciplines from basic biology to the meaning of consciousness, and takes us into the tricky area of the distinction between mind and brain, to say nothing of the theological question of the soul. We can date it back at least to Galen in the second century AD, who first recorded damage in the brains of the corpses whose owners formerly had mental defects. But the modern trigger has been the availability of measuring instruments, culminating in magnetic resonance imaging which can immediately locate and measure brain activity stimulated by external cues.

Already scientists can map the functions of many locations in the brain, which are better described as interacting webs of connections under continual revision, decay and addition. Although as yet we know only a fraction, we are able to identify basic aspects of memory, the senses, even the webs which process morality and religion, and many more. No wonder that some neuroscientists hold the view that we have just a biological brain, with a corresponding body, and nothing more. All is potentially explicable in materialistic terms, and hence presumed to have emerged through evolution. (Of course, other neuroscientists argue that there are elements, such as consciousness, which cannot be explained through conventional scientific methods. They are not always popular with their colleagues.)

But the sceptical conclusion is not surprising. If every function of which we know can be accounted for within the biological brain (even if they are not all discovered yet) what function could be attributed to any agent which is somehow superior to the brain but differentiated from it – and of course would not be a biological entity detectable by any conceivable scanning method?

Some believers may be concerned about this too. What, for instance, is my religious belief worth if it is simply the product of a gene expressed in my brain structure? What credibility can be given to my choices and aspirations if these can all be traced to biological brain function?

Of course, neuroscientists acknowledge consciousness (they had better, hadn’t they?) They see it primarily as active in the higher operations such as cognition, long-term planning, memory, and language. Such functions are centred in the neo-cortex, lying above the reptilian and mammalian brains whose operations, though essential, are more basic – and are thought to be earlier developments in our evolutionary progress.

But if you ask them to distinguish between brain and mind, you may get some strange answers. I don’t want to put words into their mouths, but I can fairly summarise the explanations which some of them have given.

They acknowledge that we are all Cartesian at heart. That is, we instinctively think in terms of a difference which distinguishes mind from brain. We experience a consciousness of self which overviews the biological. We are able to think about our thoughts with an introspection unique to human beings. We have a sense of self which is distinguishable from our brain although it may work through it – as the violinist makes music through the violin. Even sceptical neuroscientists find themselves speaking in Cartesian language because that reflects their inner experience.

Pushed back against the wall, a neuroscientist may claim that mind is simply another word for brain. Cartesian language may be convenient, they say, but in fact all the functions that we attribute to the mind are to be found in the brain including, perhaps, a higher level of consciousness through which our introspection takes place.

But few neuroscientists are philosophers. If they were, they would quickly see that the difficulty is not answered. We can think about our thinking, and we can think about our thinking about our thinking, and so on ad infinitum. Introspection must ultimately come from outside the biological for the merely material cannot introspect itself. And if it is outside the biological it cannot be caught in a scan.

Consider a couple of instances. First, think about the claim that the moral process is fully comprehended by a network of biological connections localised in the brain. In what way could moral approval or disapproval emerge from this? There would be no point in blame or approval if our behaviour were only the outcome of biological connections.

And that brings us to free will. How does the biological make choices? Without free will the sceptical neuroscientist is obliged to accept the conclusions of his neural circuits. And if those circuits came about through the random mutations of evolution, on what basis can he hold them to be true? 

Of course, many of our choices (far more than we imagine) are in practice not free. But there only has to be one occasion in the history of mankind when a truly moral decision was made, or one truly free exercise of the will – and the materialist case is blown.

So we can marvel at the wonder of God’s creation in the workings of the brain, without supposing for a moment that the brain has taken the place of the mind – or, if you prefer the terminology, the soul. (Many will remember the conditions which had to be fulfilled for mortal sin: grave matter, full knowledge, full consent. Without for a moment denying free will, it does seem hard to judge subjectively whether full consent is easily present. Conversely, when we perform a virtuous act, how do we separate our free choice from other, secular, factors which influence us? You may have a comment about this, or other aspects of the column. Keep them coming!

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Let’s try again

  1. David Smith says:

    This is a question for someone interested in science as a source of wisdom and truth – perhaps as the only reliable source. For me, science isn’t that – it’s simply a logical study of the observable world, according to internally consistent rules. I can take it or leave it alone. Like plumbing or carpentry, it’s good for what it is, but I’m usually not inclined to go there. I don’t have the sort of brain that’s good at collecting, storing, and correlating thousands of facts. But, as always, I’ll be interested in what others have to say.

  2. galerimo says:

    How amazing is the Incarnation!

    The manifesting of God in female flesh impregnated with the Holy Spirit before being birthed by her as a boy child endowed with all the potency of the human mind!

    Makes of this topic of mind a very appropriate one for Christmas time. Thank you, Quentin.

    The purpose of the human mind – to know God and learn to live the truth of that knowledge in love – is just staggering in itself and its realization in every single person.

    In this regard Jesus is best to lead – listening to and then critically questioning the received wisdom of his day and opening himself to possession by God’s Holy Spirit. Simple. Not easy.

    Even to have access to the amazing truth of the Incarnation – the single greatest event of all time not to mention human history and even is truly marvellous.

    Plus the record of His equally amazing work so clumsily lumped together as “salvation”, is all, barely within the bounds of comprehension.

    Our mind is really a response mechanism but the dynamism of its activity is the action of the Holy Spirit – and all of this too barely touches consciousness.

    The condition of humanity is one of being addressed, addressed by God and the life that results from that is our response to such an address. Not just, but certainly mind business.

    Christmas reminds me of that address – not just a little baby boy enfleshed by a woman but the reality of now sharing God’s being and life as, though uninvited by us to do so, God now into and shares ours. Mind and body.

    Really, we are more thought than thinker.

    Generated totally by the mind of God our opening up to the Holy Spirit is the making of us as co-creation, accomplished by Him.

    Itself a project – always worth trying again and again!

  3. Iona says:

    I decided to click my computer mouse this morning. Or did I? There is good evidence that my brain anticipated my conscious decision by a fraction of a second or even, as the latest research shows, by up to seven seconds.

    No; I didn’t decide to click my computer mouse. I decided (having checked my email) to take a look at secondsightblog. This entailed moving the mouse around, typing a few words, and clicking the mouse. All this was automatic, the operation of a skill which I have acquired through frequent practice. We don’t “decide” to carry out a random action which has no significant outcome, except in the highly artifical situation of a neuroscientist’s lab, where we are asked to click a mouse, or raise a hand, at a time within the next 10 seconds which we ourselves can decide on.

  4. John Nolan says:

    After Beethoven died in 1827 doctors examined his brain to see if it held any clues as to his genius. They found none, of course, and modern neuroscience can’t explain it either.

    One good thing about Covid-19 is that people have lost trust not only in politicians but in the scientists whom politicians claim to rely on for their hare-brained policies. Viruses were discovered 120 years ago, but a slightly different one still has so-called experts floundering around and panicking.

  5. ignatius says:

    Thank you Iona:
    “No; I didn’t decide to click my computer mouse. I decided (having checked my email) to take a look at secondsightblog. This entailed moving the mouse around, typing a few words, and clicking the mouse. All this was automatic, the operation of a skill which I have acquired through frequent practice. We don’t “decide” to carry out a random action which has no significant outcome, except in the highly artifical situation of a neuroscientist’s lab, where we are asked to click a mouse, or raise a hand, at a time within the next 10 seconds which we ourselves can decide on.”

    A few things to add:
    1) The will is usually subject to the desire. In a battle between the two it is usually the desire that wins.
    2) Desires are not reducible to to rational choice nor are they simply the product of an ‘objective ‘ brain. Desire and consciousness, beyond a certain point are not the domain of rationality.
    3) We know that 2) is the case simply from our own experience of the daily battle between will and desire. We also know that we cannot always explain our actions or whence cometh our impulses.
    4) We know that for human beings there is an outcome of the will and the desire which will most likely be a physical outworking. Desires cannot longer be acted upon and the will does not seem to operate if we are dead.
    5) From 4) we can fairly safely say that there is a link between desire will and action, though we cannot say how this operates in any detail.
    6) So it becomes clear that anything we actually do involves a many layered response to impulses not initially rational. Some of these impulses and actions we may control, others just emerge and we may act automatically. The brain is not necessarily the first mover, even at the physiological level this is true since hormones are not mainly secreted in the brain but in the body.
    7) All of the above is intended to point out that reflex or what might be termed ‘automatic’ acts are quite naturally not the initiators but are the responders. Therefore there will be a lag.
    Finally and on a slightly different tack it is quite possible to make the case that what we call our ‘awareness’ emanates not from neurology but from consciousness, which can neither be defined as fully matter or fully spirit. Since we must agree with 4) then it must be that there exists some link between that which we define as the ‘physical’ and the ‘metaphysical’. This would apply that we are most likely to remain somewhat of a mystery to ourselves and though the aim to bridge the gap in understanding might entertain the scientist and the philosopher, the solution remains obscure.

    • FZM says:

      There are some interesting ideas on the mind/body problem in the neo-Scholastic tradition,
      where a common argument is that many of the issues that give rise to it come into being with the advent of modern philosophy and can be traced back to the revolutionary view of what counts as physical conceived by Descartes, Newton and some of the other early ‘mechanical philosophers’. Descartes et al.’s general idea was that the physical is constituted by what is extended in space, so what is numerically quantifiable and describable mathematically. All the other non-quantifiable features of our experiences were the products of, and located in, the ‘mind’, which was not something that was spatially extended or describable in a quantitative way. This is when things like the mind/body split and the mind/body interaction problem come into being; how does the physical interact with and produce the relevant sensations in the very different mind substance? and things like that.

      In the Scholastic and Aristotelian tradition there is a different, less reductionist conception of the physical based on the fundamental division of being into act/potency and form and matter. The mathematical and extended conception of the physical is not foundational because physical things are defined as form/matter and act/potency composites. In this way consciousness and the qualities of the mind are not as mysterious as they are just inherent attributes or properties of the ‘human’ form.

      • ignatius says:

        FMZ:
        “In this way consciousness and the qualities of the mind are not as mysterious as they are just inherent attributes or properties of the ‘human’ form…”
        I always like the argument of form and matter, but I don’t especially understand it in technical terms. I can intuitively grasp the concept but if if you could give me one or two examples for descriptive purposes that would be marvellous!!

      • milliganp says:

        My philosophy / Theology are probably at the equivalent of ‘end of first year university’ so I’m no expert. Form and matter for tree does’t work for me but ‘the body is the form of the soul’ with the soul being the absolute me works. I can be me from conception to death with the form constantly changing and the real me constantly the same. Thus Christ’s presence in the forms of the Eucharist. Dying having not understood quantum mechanics is entirely different to dying not have known Christ.

      • galerimo says:

        The issue with Scholastic Psychology is its “realism” and how it sees the subject so separate from that which it can perceive.

        The shift to the subject in Enlightenment thinking moderates that Aristotelian otherness and opens up the experience of reality in our world to a more interactive process.

        To a extent we are the makers of our own reality.

        Aquinas was a moderate realist in the sense that he seemed to intuit this Enlightenment shift. In this Psychology of knowing the “species impressa” and the “species expressa”
        seem to hint at the knowing subject conveying, at least in part, the reality of the known object.

        In fact his Scriptural understandings too can be well ahead of his time with some amazing insight into what could only be later established in modern Exegesis.

      • FZM says:

        The issue with Scholastic Psychology is its “realism” and how it sees the subject so separate from that which it can perceive.

        The shift to the subject in Enlightenment thinking moderates that Aristotelian otherness and opens up the experience of reality in our world to a more interactive process.

        To a extent we are the makers of our own reality.

        Aquinas, and Aristotle seem to have held to direct realist ideas about what we perceive; the mind grasps the objects themselves and not representations of them. Whereas in Enlightenment thinkers (Locke, Descartes etc.) there is the idea that the mind is only aware of the subjective mental representations of things produced by sense experience.

        Oddly the subject seems to be less separate and distant from what it perceives in the view of Aquinas than it does in the Enlightenment view. The latter view is more subjective (the relationship between the mental representations and something they objective they represent is more uncertain, for example) so may also be seen as less interactive, because the extent to which the object itself causes our experience is not clear.

        In this Psychology of knowing the “species impressa” and the “species expressa”
        seem to hint at the knowing subject conveying, at least in part, the reality of the known object.

        As far as I understand, the species, as Aquinas understood it, was a medium of knowledge of the object; the species impressa and the species expressa are aspects of the same action, whereas in the Enlightenment understanding the senses form a kind of bridge between the object and the subject.

  6. David Smith says:

    John Nolan writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/12/19/lets-try-again/#comment-62272 ) :

    // One good thing about Covid-19 is that people have lost trust not only in politicians but in the scientists whom politicians claim to rely on for their hare-brained policies. //

    I’m sceptical. It seems to me that in the past century or three, science has become the new God. The vaccine designed for this most recent bug has been awaited anxiously and welcomed like a modern messiah. Politicians are doubted and despised, but scientists are revered.

  7. Geordie says:

    I have never had great faith in scientists and the present chaos makes me more convinced that I am right to be wary of scientists. I speak as one who has had a life-long interest in science.
    Scientists like to think that they have all the answers or they will have in a few years. However for years they have had theories which eventually have been disproved; e.g. phlogiston, the contradiction of the big-bang theory, the conviction that bacteria can’t live in the stomach and many others.
    Good scientists are the ones who admit that they just don’t know and may never know. Pushing the boundaries of knowledge is a perfectly legitimate pursuit but knowledge is infinite and is a demonstration of the existence of God. Many scientists will not accept this. They don’t want an infinite being interfering with their cleverness. They will not delve into the existence of free will because many claim that we are conditioned by our nature to do the things we do. All the evidence in the world will not convince them otherwise or they may have to change their life-styles.

    • milliganp says:

      //I speak as one who has had a life-long interest in science.// – Sound remarkably like the “I have some black friends so I can’t be racist” defence.
      //knowledge is infinite and is a demonstration of the existence of God// – I don’t remember that one amongst the proofs of the existence of God. Also it depends what you classify as knowledge – I suspect that knowledge is infinite but bounded whilst God is infinite and unbounded.

  8. galerimo says:

    I think it is advisable to apply the common sense test in these scientific studies.

    Just because the mind has the ability to establish a pattern that saves all the trouble of starting from scratch every time a person respects an action does not, by that fact alone, diminish a person’s freedom.

    I could always change my mind and instead of clicking the mouse try to use the keyboard shortcuts.

    What would any reasonable person decide if they were asked about forfeiting our freedom for purely biological autonomies?

    If you conduct an experiment about the freedom of human behaviours you would have to clearly define what is meant my freedom otherwise a result could easily be a simple confirmation of a limited or even biased point of view.

    And to all our wonderful bloggers I think I can freely to say thank you for the generous and enlightening contributions you have made during this Covid year of 2020 and I wish you all a truly happy Christmas and every blessing of health and prosperity for 2021. g

  9. galerimo says:

    There are more and more layers appearing around this topic as this Christmas season unfolds.

    The Christmas truth of how God so loved the world – not just humanity, brings focus to the clear knowledge, full consent and grievous damage we are responsible for, in our pollutions of the same world.

    Becoming like us in all things involves a growing in conscious awareness.

    A moody and difficult Jesus – sexual feelings that need to be owned and understood – sheer bad temper with all of the frustrations of life – opening the cupboard and having everything fall out.

    Getting a bump on the head – having a bit too much vino – and wondering all the time, about himself, about his world, about his destiny.

    Our “High Christology” like the dualistic Arianism that quickly emerged in the Hellenistic culture of those first centuries, has succeeded very well in placing him far out of reach from our frail humanity.

    He knows. I can’t fool him. He owns the stuff of our condition.

    I wonder how he dealt with the problems of success. When the throngs came to hear him and loved him, making him so popular they were ready to make him King!

    How did your ego cope with that Jesus?

    The thought of Jesus’ emerging consciousness with all the complexity of his human brain leading him down the many many paths of folly and understanding is the stuff of deep prayer. Makes him approachable.

    Christmas can be a bit too infantalized – not withstanding the beauty of its many legends, its music and culture of kindness.

    But having a human brain, just like every one of us, with all its emerging consciousness, reflexive, imaginative and creative pathways is something the Son of God desired and achieved.

    Those who got to see it happen were blessed. But so are we with our scientific and our artistic media through which we see even more.

    What’s your favourite joke, Jesus?

  10. John Nolan says:

    I’m not sure about jokes but Our Lord did have an ‘ask a silly question …’ moment concerning whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar. His response is wonderfully concise in the Vulgate: ‘Redde autem Ceasari quod est Caesaris et Deo Dei.’

    Just don’t try putting it into Google Translate.

  11. ignatius says:

    Tried the google translation…gobbledy gook!!

    “Becoming like us in all things involves a growing in conscious awareness.
    A moody and difficult Jesus – sexual feelings that need to be owned and understood – sheer bad temper with all of the frustrations of life – opening the cupboard and having everything fall out.
    Getting a bump on the head – having a bit too much vino – and wondering all the time, about himself, about his world, about his destiny”

    This is an interesting subject for a little contemplation:

    “He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin. … himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned. … our weaknesses, but One who was in every sense tempted like we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4.15

    I don’t place Jesus as out of reach of my own personally frailty, but on the other hand I don’t see him getting drunk and ratty just because of a bad mood.
    At root, here is something quite profound I would like to hear views on. Because we are encouraged to look upon Jesus, the author of our salvation, and indeed to dwell upon him. So who are we looking at? When I am, in myself without peace, and ‘reason’ has somehow transmuted itself into an inner nagging criticism, then I know that fear, pride, narcissism and desolation are upon me. I know too that this state, no matter how compelling, is not to be trusted as my ‘authentic’ self. So what is an ‘authentic self?’

    When I consider Jesus as a man I consider him as a man for all that ..in other words, still having a temper, still having sexuality and creative imagination. .probably even a little fiery. I consider him as overall a compassionate man having great insight/ wisdom regarding other human beings, I wonder too if he might have been a little introverted. Primarily though I see him as entirely motivated by grace which would imply, to me at least, though there may have been clouds, uncertainties, likes, dislikes.. we would overall see precious little of them showing on the exterior except of course for the renowned times of weeping, agony and anger we see in the gospels…any thoughts anyone, as we ponder his incarnation this Christmas season..

  12. galerimo says:

    “We have a sense of self which is distinguishable from our brain although it may work through it – as the violinist makes music through the violin.”

    – a beautiful and profound observation!

    I wonder if the same awareness of being, can be applied to our cosmos?

    Are we also living in and living on a mind that too has a material embodiment with all it’s patterns, it’s neural like pathways, both predictable and unpredictable?

    Is it possible to conceive of cosmic neuro-pathways similar to the diversity of natures and instincts as they exist externally to us, in our world?

    Are we witness to all the different plant and animal behaviours as a unique but nevertheless conscious type process of the universe’s evolving a life of its very own?

    Just as with our own habitual behaviours is our cosmos similarly unpredictable, capable of both folly and integrity as it moves forward in new ways of becoming alive?

    Perhaps we are the music and our cosmos is the violin with supreme Mind, Spirit, All-being, Goddess, Oneness, Consciousness (however we rationally name) the music maker?

    Let’s try again!

    Well, how about giving this a try. How brain science, engages with conflicting views of philosophy, religion and more established sciences, points us towards further understanding of our own “material???” and perhaps conscious world.

  13. Alan says:

    “We have a sense of self which is distinguishable from our brain although it may work through it – as the violinist makes music through the violin.”

    If the tuning pegs of the violin were manipulated or the instrument otherwise adjusted or damaged, why would that leave the musician unable to recall or “whistle” the tune to themselves?

  14. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // Already we can spot metaphysical questions. How can I speak of free choice for a decision made first by the unconscious brain? Could I have vetoed my brain at the last moment? Is my conscious decision merely a process of noting what has already been decided? //

    I’m doubtless failing to understand something very important here, and perhaps I should apologize for saying this, but none of that matters to me even a tiny bit. It seems to me like using language to complicate something very elementary and self-evident, over which I have no conscious control. God made me this way, and this is who I am. I have no desire to dissect the machinery of me, and I have even less desire to erect philosophies and ideologies around it. I’m hopelessly simple minded and content.

    Happy New Year!

  15. ignatius says:

    ha ha ha!! 🙂
    No, I don’t think you have misunderstood anything here! Most probably we are all a bit bored by lockdown..
    Happy New year, David

  16. galerimo says:

    Taking a different way home is as good a way of raising conscious awareness as any.

    I notice my resistance to changing a regular travel plan that I have devised over years of making the same journey.

    But when I am forced to, by road works or street closures I get to see and evaluate and then appreciate a new awareness of familiar surroundings.

    It is rare that I don’t have to deal with something different when I change. It consciousness raising.

    Perhaps those Angels who persuaded the Magi to take a different way home may be reduciable to neural pathways in the brain prompted by their Cartesian heart that you mention.

    And can we perform a truly virtuous act if all our doings are merely the material products of our biological brains? Well yes, we can.

    Our advances in learning have given us even better perspectives on human behaviour. And a more integrated understanding of the human person has deepened our sense of the good in life.

    Those conditions for mortal sin are really noting more than an impoverished and mechanistic view of how we choose moral evil

    really? – we all know it is dead easy to sin, in fact habitually so. And not one bit hard to sin and sin again. No “getting out of jail” with that rationalising clap trap.

    Rationalising about it as categorically dependent on conditions might be of some comfort to a judgemental mind but it is far removed from a wholistic view of the human person in today’s world.

    The map is not the territory. Even the clever way of mapping the actions and reactions of brain waves tell us nothing of the whole person on the ground.

    Our sins are very important. They are our way out of hell. And besides none of us could join in the celebration of the Eucharist if we didn’t have any!

    It is my willingness to exercise a mature adult consciousness around my own selfishness and my own desire to love and be loved that enables both the possibilities of virtue and of sin, in my life

    – not because either is finally achievable by the human person only but because of the supra conscious action of God’s own grace in living our lives and the choices we make doing so.

  17. ignatius says:

    Quentin:

    “I decided to click my computer mouse this morning. Or did I? There is good evidence that my brain anticipated my conscious decision by a fraction of a second or even, as the latest research shows, by up to seven seconds. And here we are at the heart of neuroscience: one of the fastest-growing disciplines of our time…”

    Turns out that tonic musculature, which is concerned with postural stability, is activated by ‘intention’ a few milliseconds before a movement begins to be activated. Since the movement you describe has been already ‘intended’ by your approaching the computer then a neural flicker will take place in advance of your actual ‘decision’ regarding the mouse. I don’t think this has anything to do with the philosophical connundrum that seems to concern you regarding overall consciousness but it does explain the issue to a degree….If it helps as an analogy..the vague desire for stimulus might lead you to the intention of going to the shops…then the mechanism of picking stuff off the shelf will be activated when required but the conscious ‘decision’ to sate the ‘desire’ will have taken place some time before.

    • Alan says:

      From what I remember having read about the experiments previously I think the philosophical conundrum arises from a machine being able to predict a person’s “free” decision to choose between pushing one of two buttons before they are aware of having made that choice. There is no fooling the machine by trying to change your mind from one moment to the next. Even allowing for the time it takes for a signal to travel from the brain to the hand the machine still knows what you are going to do before you do – at least as far as it is possible to measure such things. What can be predicted is very limited. I assume this is because we cannot clearly distinguish between more complex patterns of brain activity. At least not yet. But the very fact that these results exist at all still raises questions about something most people assume to be obvious. It appears that you may not free to choose something other than that which you have been predicted to choose.

      • ignatius says:

        Alan writes:
        “What can be predicted is very limited. I assume this is because we cannot clearly distinguish between more complex patterns of brain activity. At least not yet. But the very fact that these results exist at all still raises questions about something most people assume to be obvious. It appears that you may not free to choose something other than that which you have been predicted to choose”

        Yes, I think that lovely analogy of the violin and the player still holds true though. Watching my grandson growing through his first year it strikes me just how much storage and repetition goes on. Also that what we consider to be the ‘software’ of proprioception and musculo skeletal learning gets so woven in as to become almost the ‘ground of being’ as far as the human form is concerned.

        Perhaps this is why, at nearly 70 I do not have the faith in ‘freewill’ that I once had; because I am aware that my days are overgrown and thickened with habit to the degree that sometimes habits run ‘me’ rather than the other way round. The ‘machine’ in this case relates almost to my totality..but only almost and not at the centre of my being where there lies something that all the doctors, neurologists, philosophers, psychologists theologians and physicists ever produced cannot fathom. I guess this is why ‘intention’ remains significant in the discussion and is not reducible to hand/ brain neurological dynamics.

  18. ignatius says:

    PS,
    But I think that most of this thread rests on a misunderstanding of ‘freewill’ In considering the term we cannot have an abstract definition which implies every visceral or somatic expression of life is somehow ‘free’ and ‘rational’ Just tr, for example, imposing the notion of ‘free will’ on your bowels or your bladder!!!. Come to that even try marshalling that jumble of early morning thoughts simply by telling them to stand in line… If you’ve managed all that then how about persuading your heart only to fall in love with the person of your choosing!!!

    • Alan says:

      I find it hard to see where the misunderstanding might be. There are certainly examples such as the ones you give where we aren’t entirely free to make a choice. Choosing between one button or another (with no apparent autonomic response, no incentive, no reward, and no punishment for a particular choice) would seem to be about as free a choice as we could hope to consider though wouldn’t it? If we aren’t free to choose in such circumstances then when are we ever able to?

      The musician and the violin is an appealing analogy and it fits with the idea of a mind that is distinct from the “mere” material activities of the brain. I can’t see that it actually fits with observations however. An injection in the arm of few cc’s of a given drug will not only prevent the musician playing the violin it will leave them unable to finish counting backwards from ten in my experience. Not just incapable of doing so out loud, but in the mind either. If the mind is a separate thing that will eventually not depend in any way upon the brain for thought or experience or memory or self awareness, then why would it ever be so incapacitated or impaired by remote physical interventions?

      The answer that best seems to fit the facts does present problems. Neuroscientists don’t resolve them. It’s far from clear to me that philosophers do either. On the subject of freewill I recently listened to three different proposed solutions to this conflict with predicted outcomes. They were not in agreement.

  19. ignatius says:

    Alan writes:

    “If the mind is a separate thing that will eventually not depend in any way upon the brain for thought or experience or memory or self awareness, then why would it ever be so incapacitated or impaired by remote physical interventions?”

    Thanks for that observation, its very pertinent.
    Seems to me this line would lead to three possible conclusions:
    1) “Spiritual” is a term applied to that which is supra mental (My term meaning somehow above any observable mental/psychic measurement and mysterious in its outworking.
    2) “God” is a term we may or may not have invented and is a kind of figment of our human longing for something ‘greater’
    3) God may well be active and present in our lives but in some way so deeply meshed in with our human form that , like gravity, we have no direct everyday sense of God’s functioning.

    I’m not sure how much sense any of the above makes and am certain these conclusions may not be implied from your example at all.. but I’m just trying out a few ramifications

Leave a Reply to David Smith Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s