Is the self — as in the thing whichis‘me’,whichapparently is in charge of things that are ‘mine’ — really an illusion, as a lot of enlightened mystics, Eastern faith systems and sages down the ages have been telling us?
Much of the resistance to this concept springs from ingrained, reinforced habits and deep personal feelings of experiencing a self which seems to be very much there all the time and being very much in control of all our conscious decisions, ideation and
Lately, however, a few chinks in this armoury are beginning to get noticed by scientists.
As mentioned here earlier, in a series of experiments spanning the 1980s the psychologist and consciousness researcher, Benjamin Libet demonstrated that unconscious electrical processes in the brain actually precede people’s conscious decisions.
Subjects hooked up to instruments were instructed to carry out a simple motor action such as pressing a switch and then told to record when they first became aware of the wish or urge to do so.
When Libet compared the actual time of the start of brain activity with the time the subjects reported their awareness of wanting to act, he was surprised to find a lag of several milliseconds.
As of 2008, other researchers have found that in some cases, brain activity precedes a subject’s awareness by up to seven seconds.
Materialist philosophers have interpreted these results as bolstering their long-standing claim that consciousness — that is, the mind, self or ‘me’ — is merely an epiphenomenon or byproduct of the brain which only retrospectively creates a scenario of being in command and that we possess no real free will as such.
But in that case, how does one follow the wise counsel to get rid of the illusion of self if there’s no one there to do the ridding?
That’s where Libet’s experiments come in again.
He also found that although the brain is responsible for initiating an action because our consciousness is too slow to do so, it’s still fast enough to have the power to ‘veto’ that action — something called ‘free wont’.
Meaning, it appears there’s someone in the saddle after all holding the reins.
So, even if the brain does generate an epiphenomenon that creates the illusion of being in control — an illusion we blindly embrace — we still have the power to reject that as merely a chimera. Just like the enlightened have been telling us all along.
Posted by useless fellow | 17 Oct, 2010
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