Food for Thought #2: Now I’m Delusional. And, My Free Will is Illusory!


They’re at it again!  Hammering home the message that they’ve been sending for some time that not only am I not ‘me’ but that I’m delusional with it.  Oh, and by the way, my reality is actually an illusion ( New Scientist (14 May, pp. 35 – 41).

According to the evidence there are a few problems with my construction of reality.  Firstly, I see the world through my prejudices and self-serving hypocrisies and I’m blind to the resultant bias.  Apparently no amount of new information will change my mind.  Mmmm?  So much for all that education in science, critical thinking and other life skills.  Whatever the views held by the particular camp that you are in, you believe that they are unbiased and rational and any attempts to contradict your beliefs with new information, more often than not, will just harden your position.  So much for reasoned and rational debate and support for a fairly compelling case ensuring that the self-interested are penalised for false advertising and erroneous statements of ‘facty-fiction’.  That’s the statement that contains an actual facty buried in lots of fiction, not necessarily relevant to the context of the statement.

Secondly, my memory is a mismatch of reality and half-truths and not a true and accurate record of the past.  For the most part it is an illusion that I have constructed to explain my life and to place my passage through it into some autobiographical story that hangs together in some semblance of order.  I imagine (dangerous ground that word) that my autobiography minimises my risk of becoming manic, depressed, suicidal and any other disorder associated with being faced with real reality.  What price the great autobiographical works of the Keating’s, Howard’s, Whitlam’s, etc, etc.  Reality and half-truths eh?  I would have never guessed!

Thirdly, I have a positive illusion of my ‘specialness’.  I’m always ‘better than average’ as are my loved ones and my friends.  I’m even more deluded about what people think of me.
Again I’m better, smarter, handsomer, more witty than what they think.  Apparently this is due to the ‘spotlight effect’.  Part of our self-awareness making us think that others are noticing us when, actually, they haven’t even noticed that we exist.  So to all those whom I’ve always thought of as ‘someone extra special’ – Sorry, but you’re just mediocre and average according to those who do the research in this area, and I’m just deluding myself about you.

Finally I’m told that my free will is an illusion because my brain has been shown to initiate movement before there is conscious awareness of the intention to move and that my vision is providing me with an educated guess about what is going on around me at any one time.  Apparently I blink every five seconds and these blanks are edited out.  The
saccades, occurring around 3 per second, which fill in the blanks to make my vision like a movie last 200 milliseconds (ms) each.  Information entering the eye is not processed
immediately and it takes 100 ms for the info to reach the processing centre and several hundred ms for processing to occur.  Studies suggest that reaction to visual stimuli takes place within 150 to 300 ms and it takes 190 ms to detect visual stimulus.  According to those who like to do numbers on such information my visual system is likely to be offline for around 4 hours of my waking day.

To deal with this large gap in the visual vacuum it is suggested that prediction fills in the gaps, verifies the guess when vision is updated and modifies perception according to necessity.  My brain is apparently predicting the future some 200 ms in advance of actuality.  Interrrrestingggg!  Now for the thought experiment.

A couple of days ago, my electric shaver fell from my hand while shaving and headed for the floor in accordance with gravity.  I managed to catch it after it had fallen about 0.8 of a metre (carefully tape measured), about level with the bathroom bench top.  Doing the gravity calculations that means the shaver had been falling for just over 400 ms, was
doing about 4 m/second or about 14 km/hr when I caught it.  Now what was I doing at the same time?

At time zero shaver falls and I see movement, 190 ms later vision information gets to brain, brain spends 150 to 300 ms organising a reaction to stimuli: CATCH SHAVER!  By
now 340 to 490 ms has elapsed.  That gives me plus 60 to minus 90 ms to move arm and grab shaver.  It would seem that several things may have happened.  I lied and didn’t catch the shaver, but I did, honest.  I have fantastic reflexes (60ms one’s).  My brain predicted that the shaver was going to fall and had pre-prepared me to catch the shaver.  Or, I actually travelled through time and caught the shaver deterministically. . . . . And that’s food for thought. . . . . . . .

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About deknarf

Australian born and bred who has spent most of his working life in R&D and IP management with earlier forays in the newspaper industry and martial arts. Fortunate enough to be living in one of the best countries in the World, even though I might get grumpy with it from time to time.
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