The Echoes of the Mind (88-1) Intention


If a conscious intention or decision to act actually initiates a voluntary event, then the subjective experience of this intention should precede, or at least coincide, with the onset of the specific cerebral processes that mediate the act. ~ Benjamin Libet

In 1983, American physiologist Benjamin Libet experimentally found that neural activity precedes conscious awareness of a decision; in other words, intention registers physiologically before one knows of it.

Voluntary acts can be initiated by unconscious cerebral processes before conscious intention appears. ~ Benjamin Libet

This finding could not have been more controversial, as it seemingly brought into question the idea of free will.

We feel we choose, but we don’t. ~ English psychologist Patrick Haggard

Thoughts simply arise in the brain. What else could they do? The truth about us is even stranger than we may suppose: the illusion of free will is itself an illusion. ~ American philosopher and cognitive scientist Sam Harris

In dismissing free will, Harris ignores that the mind rules from the subconscious where intent lurks, rising from the pool of desire filled by experience. We may not be in complete control of our mind, but that does not mean the mind does not attend to our interests. Others criticized Libet for his experimental technique; but later experiments came to the selfsame conclusion: cerebral activity precedes awareness of volition.

The mind-body is an entangled complex which is witnessed by consciousness. That the mind acts as an independent agent is well-established, as amply illustrated by nattermind. That mind-brain activity begins before our mind bothers to consciously inform is unsurprising.

What Libet’s and others’ results show is that we are not our mind-bodies. Instead, consciousness is confined within a willful mind-body.

Choices are the fruition of desires, which derive partly from biology, and partly from what our mind informs us is possible: our environmental context. That withstanding, obviously we make decisions which may be fateful.

To claim free will or deny it is silly: a prisoner of the mind is never truly free, but neither is one chained to a train running on a predetermined track. Life is not a black-and-white experience. The technicolor pliability of the mind’s complex workings is what makes living such an opportunistic challenge.