Saturday, August 3, 2013

Free won't

In doing some research on the sociopath's supposed lack of impulse control, I stumbled upon this article from Scientific American (found in full here), which questions the popular conception that we make a conscious choice then act on that choice (i.e. free will). The abstract:
Most of us have a sense that our everyday actions are controlled by an intention that precedes the action: I decide to turn on the light, then flip the switch. But experiments don't consistently support this notion. Some psychologists believe that our sense of intention and purpose is constructed by the brain after the action takes place. Others disagree. The authors discuss ingenious experiments that probe this question, along with bizarre phenomena, such as "alien-hand syndrome," where brain damage leaves patients struggling with actions they cannot control.
The experiments:



Another experiment suggests even more strongly that our sensation of control is largely imaginary:
In one such experiment . . . two participants worked together to move a cursor over objects on a computer screen. One of the participants served as a confederate of the experimenter, but the experimental subject never knew this. The genuine subject heard words over a set of headphones that related to particular objects on the screen. For example, a subject might hear the word "swan" while moving the cursor over a picture of a swan. Unbeknownst to the subject, all of the movement of the cursor came from the confederate. The results showed that, when the relevant word was presented 1 to 5 seconds prior to the action, subjects reported feeling that they had acted intentionally to make the movement. In other words, they had experienced will. When the word was presented 30 seconds prior to the action or 1 second after it, however, there was no false feeling of willing the action. The authors argued that this experiment provided clear evidence that the human brain constructs feelings of causal agency after an action has taken place. It could be that a proper temporal order between intentions, actions and consequences triggers the brain—after the fact—to feel a sense of control.
This type of self deception is perhaps seen best in sufferers of alien hand syndrome, who often rationalize the behavior after the fact, "fool[ing] themselves that the actions they performed were indeed intentional" although "patients are not aware of what they are going to do until after the action has been made." Interestingly, schizophrenics, who frequently "describe an external agent as causing their actions, thoughts, speech or emotions," may largely suffer from an inability to delude themselves into believing that they are acting on their own intentions like "normal" people do.

We are not slaves to impulse, however. The literature suggests that rather than experience free will, we instead experience "free won't," or the ability to avoid acting on the impulse, possibly with the aid of the dorsal fronto-medial cortex, as explained in this article.

The idea of decisions being unconscious impulses that we either reject or make our own raises interesting issues for sociopaths with alleged impulse control problems, but raises even more issues for neurotypicals and the role that a sense of control plays in how they define themselves:
More than a matter of simply turning on a switch, this feeling of control over actions might even contribute to a conscious sense of self. In other words, I am because I control my actions. The question is: How do we go from mundane, everyday actions—like turning on a light—to developing a sense of self as a causal agent?

27 comments:

  1. Well, if nobody else will bite on this, I guess I have no choice. I blame my subconscious, but we'll get into that later.

    Honestly, this seems like pretty useless knowledge to anyone but a scientist. It doesn't raise any interesting philosophical questions, because these so-called subconscious urges are as much affected by our conscious thoughts as our conscious thoughts are affected by them. In my opinion, each and every one of us is a mix of the two, and I really don't see what makes this blog-worthy.

    Here's a real life example. I'm going to sit here for exactly 15 seconds after I'm done typing this sentence, and then I'm going to type out an ellipsis followed by "Balderdash."

    ...

    Balderdash.

    Very simple exercise. Very simple experiment. Perhaps my conscious mind directed my subconscious to type those words and fool me into thinking it was a conscious decision. Or maybe my subconscious fooled my conscious mind into directing my subconscious mind to type those words and fool myself into thinking it was a conscious decision. Does it matter?

    The simplest and most succinct observation anyone could make was that I, whatever I am, through some unknown mechanism, chose to type that ellipsis followed by the word "Balderdash," and it wasn't a spur of the moment decision. Beyond that, the particular pattern of expression I chose for these ideas is very unique to me given the current situation. Whether my subconscious or conscious mind is directing, or they're both sharing the responsibility, is largely irrelevant. At the root of it, my subconscious and conscious minds are synchronized, and that synchronization is at the heart of each and every choice I make.

    An argument could be made that these choices are little more than the results a long sequence of events leading up to everything I choose, everything I am, and everything I will be, but again, that's irrelevant. If it's true, then I am that sequence of events, and as a consequence of that, I am making each and every one of these choices. It's not done through some mystical power or soul that exists outside of the rational world, but through the simple virtue that I am everything that makes me who I am. There can be nothing more than that--no magic, no irrational soul figure.

    The chain of cause and effect starting at the beginning of time and leading up to this comment? That's me. Hello. I chose to write this.

    The closest my will gets to "free" might be the result of poorly understood quantum randomness, but I'll take that. It's not predetermination. That's free enough for me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Touché, Peter.

    As it happens, I've been spending some time the past couple of weeks thinking about free will, as I have recently realized that my life choices have had a lot less to do with my own choice than I previously thought. I am so much more of a reaction than a casual agent than I had previously realized. This kind of realization can suck for a control freak.

    As it is, I've been conditioned a certain way, by experience, biology, culture, defense mechanisms, id, ego, subconscious, etc. My choices do not exist in a vacumn. I do not exist in a vacumn. It's impossible.

    Where's the line between the "real me" and all that other crap? Is there even a line? Probably not. There is no "innate me" or "nurtured me", just...ahem, me. A stew of cause and reaction and a mess of other junk. In the end I decided that spending time trying to parse it all out is just a complete waste of time, as there is very little I can do about any of it.

    So much of science is just useless, like art. Or religion. Interesting maybe, but useless if you wanna actually get something done.

    Damn human urge to be constantly defining ourselves in as many languages as we can make up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Or to put it more succinctly...

    It's all relative.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am an anti-social, extreme, risk taking EMPATH. I love the innocent like the Dali-Lama but unlike him I would tear into the throat of a sociopath without hesitation if I thought I could get away with it. Many of you sociopaths lay claim to being very intellegent, I too am very intellegent. I am very strategic in my purposes also. I am a contradiction. I'm antisocial because politics, business and religion are full to the bloody gills with sociopaths. I am irreverant as a viper to the norm! I am at the opposite end of the spectrum from you sociopaths, but there a curious thing happens with me. I can reach out and touch your end of the spectrum as if that spectrum were not a straignt line, but a circle. There I step into the skin of the preditor within myself; the preditor that would predate preditors.
    I've been in quite a few scraps in my time(several life threatening) because I have an overwhelming sense of justice and will rarely back away from a fight with a would-be preditor. Inside my mind I simply say, "I'm Violent" and I become truly violent. I've won every fight so far. I can tell when I may lose if I attack head on; in those cases I will resort to subterfuge and cold calculation to attain a win for justice (I'm no fool). See, I'm empowered by my belief that justice is on my side and my intense rage at those whom would dare to harm the innocent. It may be similar to the religiously diluted gaining a strength beyond themselves through their belief. Every time I read about an innocent creature being victimized by a sociopath the preditor within me arises, like a vampire who would kill other vampires. Oddly, when contemplating the pain that sociopaths have caused I become somewhat of a sociopath myself(but only as concerns sociopaths) If I'm ever confronted with a situation in which I could end the existance of the type of sociopath who enjoys causing pain to others, and get away with it, I would certainly do just that, over and over and over again. The fist of a frustrated and enraged empath will always fly faster and hit harder than that of the equally endowed sociopath.
    See, maybe sociopathy is an evolutionary throwback to when we needed to be preditors to survive. That need will diminish more and more if we survive long enough to evolve further. Some day the lion will lay down with the lamb(I quote the Bible but I despise religion). The only way to improve life on this planet and society is to cure, lock away, or kill sociopaths.
    I believe that even though Utopia may always be a distant dream, it should be a dream that we aim toward achieving non-the-less. The thing that stands in the way of the empathetic utopian above all else is the malady of sociopathy. Sociopath's short-sighted fuck-ups are what's behind every problem that keeps us primitive and that could eventually send our entire planet to oblivion. I wish the world's governments would pour gobs of funding into finding a cure for you sociopaths, or that you be Xed out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Anonymous July 20, 2010 at 11:54 AM

      Kudos to you and thank you. My sentiments exactly.

      Wish there were more of you out there.

      Delete
    2. The world's governments have been taken over by the sick fucks already. We need a better solution.

      Delete
    3. Your awesome!!!! Great..loved it.

      Delete
    4. I bet you are not going to live very long. The fist of a frustrated and enraged empath does not fly faster and hit harder then the equally endowed sociopath. If you are claiming that you are quicker to resort to violence then a sociopath, you really need to look into the mirror. This should also allay your concern about vampires.
      But like I said, I doubt you will live very long. Eventually you will run into somebody with a weapon and the world will have one less self-righteous and childish asshole in it. Basically if you are beating people as badly as you say you are dealing with some serious pussies.

      Delete
    5. Neurotypicals are some crazy fucks. That's all I have to say. I'm not a sociopath, but I'm definitely not NT.

      Delete
  5. I am an anti-social, extreme, risk taking EMPATH. I love the innocent like the Dali-Lama but unlike him I would tear into the throat of a sociopath without hesitation if I thought I could get away with it. Many of you sociopaths lay claim to being very intellegent, I too am very intellegent. I am very strategic in my purposes also. I am a contradiction. I'm antisocial because politics, business and religion are full to the bloody gills with sociopaths. I am irreverant as a viper to the norm! I am at the opposite end of the spectrum from you sociopaths, but there a curious thing happens with me. I can reach out and touch your end of the spectrum as if that spectrum were not a straignt line, but a circle. There I step into the skin of the preditor within myself; the preditor that would predate preditors.
    I've been in quite a few scraps in my time(several life threatening) because I have an overwhelming sense of justice and will rarely back away from a fight with a would-be preditor. Inside my mind I simply say, "I'm Violent" and I become truly violent. I've won every fight so far. I can tell when I may lose if I attack head on; in those cases I will resort to subterfuge and cold calculation to attain a win for justice (I'm no fool). See, I'm empowered by my belief that justice is on my side and my intense rage at those whom would dare to harm the innocent. It may be similar to the religiously diluted gaining a strength beyond themselves through their belief. Every time I read about an innocent creature being victimized by a sociopath the preditor within me arises, like a vampire who would kill other vampires. Oddly, when contemplating the pain that sociopaths have caused I become somewhat of a sociopath myself(but only as concerns sociopaths) If I'm ever confronted with a situation in which I could end the existance of the type of sociopath who enjoys causing pain to others, and get away with it, I would certainly do just that, over and over and over again. The fist of a frustrated and enraged empath will always fly faster and hit harder than that of the equally endowed sociopath.
    See, maybe sociopathy is an evolutionary throwback to when we needed to be preditors to survive. That need will diminish more and more if we survive long enough to evolve further. Some day the lion will lay down with the lamb(I quote the Bible but I despise religion). The only way to improve life on this planet and society is to cure, lock away, or kill sociopaths.
    I believe that even though Utopia may always be a distant dream, it should be a dream that we aim toward achieving non-the-less. The thing that stands in the way of the empathetic utopian above all else is the malady of sociopathy. Sociopath's short-sighted fuck-ups are what's behind every problem that keeps us primitive and that could eventually send our entire planet to oblivion. I wish the world's governments would pour gobs of funding into finding a cure for you sociopaths, or that you be Xed out!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dear anon above, your comment bored me after the fifth sentence, and so I stopped reading after that. You're clearly an idiot. I did skim this one sentence as well as a few others, "I believe that even though Utopia may always be a distant dream, it should be a dream that we aim toward achieving non-the-less." I thought I'd analyze that little gem of wisdom that you've provided us, as any attempt to rip apart your entire pathetic message would take more time than I have to offer you.

    My response to that stupid sentence:
    No. The Nihilists have it right when they say that no man has the right to authority over another, as we are all the same. Is there actually a realistic concept of this dream of yours in that tiny scatter-brained head? No.

    "Utopia is a name for an ideal community or society, which is taken from Utopia, a book written in 1516 by Sir Thomas More. The word comes from the Greek: οὐ, "not", and τόπος, "place", indicating that More was utilizing the concept as allegory and did not consider such an ideal place to be realistically possible."

    At least look your shit up on Wikipedia before you start spewing it. Your poorly written comment was clearly fueled by a desire to one-up the people on this website, sociopath or not, who are interested in raising philosophical questions and discussing things that have actual intellectual value. I am repulsed by human beings who get behind a computer screen and try and compensate for their painfully broken senses of self-esteem.

    "Every time I read about an innocent creature being victimized by a sociopath the preditor within me arises, like a vampire who would kill other vampires."

    Way to come off as a pubescent freak, anon. I cannot see what anyone would stand to gain from sending out a message such as yours, especially when it is directed to the people who care the least what you think of them. LOL.

    " Inside my mind I simply say, "I'm Violent" and I become truly violent. I've won every fight so far."

    I hope that angry little display of your internal feelings of inadequacy calmed the bursting, sickening, shit-filled cesspit of your emotional being for at least a few, short minutes.

    I understand that hateful drive of yours, you disgusting little idiot, I really do. That's the great thing about us, we will understand you better than you ever will.

    P.s, nice comment Peter Pan, you know how to express yourself in an eloquential manner. I am in full agreement.

    ReplyDelete
  7. BTW,
    the reason for reference to Nihilism is that there cannot be a perfect society because THERE WILL NEVER BE A PERFECT FIGURE OF AUTHORITY. We're all just human.

    ReplyDelete
  8. PostmodernSociopathJuly 20, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    @Paloma: +1 for saving me the trouble. +1 for the nihilism reference.

    ReplyDelete
  9. anon said:" am an anti-social, extreme, risk taking EMPATH."

    I don't think you are an empath. What you are is angry and confused. I have negative feelings towards sociopaths as well. But I guess I'm interested in learning how to cope with them because they are everywhere in our lives and because I am an empath. But they will never be Xed out. Better come up with a better strategy for yourself…one that may actually work.

    Grace

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm going to assume that Anon is in law enforcement in the city of Baltimore. If not, s/he probably should be.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Replace "sociopath" with "teletubby" whilst reading the RISKING TAKING EMPATH's comment.

    Watch, it adds value to what he said: "I love the innocent like the Dali-Lama but unlike him I would tear into the throat of a teletubby without hesitation if I thought I could get away with it."

    ReplyDelete
  12. Can someone look at the post for July 9th and read the last few comments? A woman said some stuff about her husband then I commented and then UK commented. I don't always get the humor here so I can't tell if the comment made by the lady was authentic or am I just completely blind and it's a goof. lol just so I know either way. thanks.

    Grace

    ReplyDelete
  13. Here is a question. Since you know what the subconscious is, and since there are some sociopaths who cannot consciously control their urges influenced by their subconscious, does this mean that some psychopaths like Ted Bundy are weak to suggestion, hypnosis, and the like and that they are predator drones?

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think this means that it's open season on psychopaths who cannot control their impulses.The benefit of impulse control, or conscious mind controlling the subconscious, is that you aren't ever under the direct control of someone else through hypnotic suggestion, subliminal messages, or any of that.

    Just because you have a voice or thoughts in your head doesn't mean you put it there. On the other hand I don't think individuals with superior intellect should be forced to dumb society down for the sake of low intellect psychopaths. The individuals who have strength of intellect tend to dominate in all natural systems.Identity can be shaped quite easily through suggestion and we see it all the time in women who have eating disorders, their very identity is being shaped by magazine advertisements.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was always fond of Sergey Nechayev and his 'Catechism of a Revolutionary'. I like how his goal is to destroy the social order to replace it with nothing and to that end he will do anything.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Pure free will doesn't exist, maybe we can do what we want, but we can't decide what we want. However that doesn't mean we are not responsible, responsability and free will are high level concepts, like personality and self-conciousness, neurons interaction is a lower level one.

    ReplyDelete
  17. People are only ruled by their egos.
    The ego is the accquired self. It is all the socieital "programming a
    person receives throughout their lives.
    Once a person gets to the toddler stage this process of programming begins.
    When they were an infant, all the needed to do was cry to draw attention to
    themselves. If that didn't work they wouldn't have survived. Then comes a
    lifetime of programming.
    It's essental that an individual learn rudimentray survival skills like
    how to care for thier bodies and work skills so they can be productive.
    But everything else is a prop.
    "I" want to be well thought of and admired. If I'm not, my sense of
    well being is endangered and I equate this with my life being endangered.
    It is not your actual biological life that's endangered, it's the "life"
    of your ego. That's why in certain cultures saving "face" is considered
    so important. Remember when people fought duels over "honour?" and the
    phrase "Death before Dishonor." Or, "It will kill me if..."
    In the cowboy movie "Shane" an evil gunslinger insults a man's loyality
    to the Confedracy. The man reflexivly reaches for his gun, but he's no
    match for the gun man. At the conclusion of the film the hero (Played by
    Alan Ladd) confronts the gunman with a reservse insult and kills him!
    One of the best examples I've ever seen in art is the song: "Killing Me
    Softly With His Song," It's about a woman who attends a nightclub consert. A spotlight is shined on various audience members and the
    performer constructs jingles about them. The woman recounts her feelings
    of embarasment and says "He was killing me softly with his song." Really?
    She felt that way. Or better said her ego felt that way.
    We will be continually controlled by our own false perceptions unless we
    turn our attention back on oursleves and study how our own minds work.
    Except for food, clothing and shelter, the problem is not "out there" but
    in here.



    ReplyDelete
  18. If you're interested in free will you may find this Harvard project interesting:
    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/162678-harvard-creates-brain-to-brain-interface-allows-humans-to-control-other-animals-with-thoughts-alone

    ReplyDelete
  19. How do I become a sociopath? Can I be a sociopath? Can someone make me a sociopath? Can I make myself a sociopath?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'm not a sociopath, I'm a WRATHOPATH, which is a superior being even greater than sociopaths. All sociopaths will collapse before my might!! Then I will conquer the world.

    ReplyDelete

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