Monday, August 20, 2012

Urges, conscious thought and responsibility

As I think, read, write and talk about the mind, I find I am increasingly aware of what I have been reading about the unconscious.  Several books and papers discuss the current status and the history of the concept.  I am surprised to find that many sources see the concept as murky, ill-defined, maybe even controversial.

I have listed most of the authors I have read on the subject in the 6/21/12 post.  I got good additional understanding from each.  For my own thinking, the source of words that I write or type, the words that I speak and clear-cut examples of actions that are habitual with me are good examples of the unconscious at work.  So are some rapid thought/action combinations, as in sports, where I might not be exercising a habit but I am clearly reacting faster than I can consciously think.  Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Timothy Gallwey, the author of The Inner Game of Tennis, are both good sources on the idea of our heads working for us but not in a conscious, deliberate, explicit choice way.  Cordelia Fine is a good source on the lower and more basic parts of our minds that always see ourselves as fine people and the world as revolving around us, even when our conscious adult minds know this is a big fiction.  

Many different authors and thinkers emphasize that all our sense data is a fiction that our minds create as perceptions of the world but are actually only abstract models.  They tend to work pretty well for us but are not complete and accurate truths.

I noticed a while back that Michael Gazzaniga, a noted brain and mind researcher, has a book called "Who's In Charge?"  I guess that as we find more detail and develop more understanding, it becomes easier to say that what I do may come from unconscious sources and not my deliberate choice.  In an interview, Gazzaniga said that science and medicine are closer to being able to treat criminal behavior and tendencies, for example, and may get to the point where the treatment is highly effective.  That book and "Free Will" by Sam Harris, as well as other sources, bring up the question of how much responsibility for, and how much control we really have over, our thoughts and actions.
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