I read a some research finding a few years ago and can’t recall who the researcher was. Any input in that area would be appreciated.
The article describe how a researcher used a platinum probe thinner than a hair to stimulate deep regions of an individual’s brain. Since I can’t recall the researcher’s name, we’ll use the pseudonym of Dr. Cohen. And the subject of the experiment we’ll call Mr. Smith.
I don’t know the regions of the brain stimulated. I don’t know the voltage and frequency used. I don’t know the duration of the electrical pulse. All I can recall are some superficial details that have profound philosophical ramifications.
Dr. Cohen was sitting behind the small electrical control panel, and Mr. Smith was connected to the necessary circuitry and sitting in a chair next to him. Dr. Cohen sent a jolt of electricity into Mr. Smith’s brain and his arm shot up into the air. Dr. Cohen asked Mr. Smith why he raised his arm. Mr Smith replied, “Because I WANTED to.” Dr. Cohen recorded the events and asked Mr. Smith not to raise his arm in the next test. But when Dr. Cohen pressed the button sending another spark into Mr. Smith’s brain, up his arm flew. Yet when Dr. Cohen asked about the arm raising again after requesting that not be done, Mr. Smith said he didn’t care because he WANTED to raise his arm, so he did.
In the next trial Dr. Cohen requested a strong assistant to help Mr. Smith hold his arm down. When the electrical pulse was sent into Mr. Smith’s brain, he started struggling with the assistant and demanding to be released. The moment the assistant unpinned Mr. Smith’s arm, up it flew. And Mr. Smith complained that it wasn’t right for the assistant to hold down his arm when he wanted to raise it.
The findings suggest that when activity below the level of consciousness results in a particular behavior, then some mechanism of the brain has a way of fooling the conscious section of the brain into assuming it initiated the behavior. Other experiments and findings show this to be the case.
For one, research has found unconscious brain activity precedes conscious choice activity. Researchers have been able to predict when a choice will be made before the individual is aware of it.
Secondly, split brain experiments done to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy have determined that, when the neural network connecting the two sides of the brain is severed, an individual will “make up excuses” for choices that are initiated by the other side of the brain (the side that doesn’t control language). I put “make up excuses” in quotations because I don’t feel the individual is consciously aware that he is making up excuses. The “excuses” are merely the result a brain mechanism selected for such a purpose. Yet, think about it, how can an organism function otherwise?
Can you imagine walking down the street and suddenly your arm and hand work together to retrieve your wallet? But you had no conscious awareness of initiating the movement? You would feel like you were being robbed by and alien arm and hand that happened to be connected to your body. Some stroke victims have experienced their own limbs as alien to themselves.
I saw a YouTube video once of a dog biting its own leg. However, I suspect the biting was a conditioned response, because the owner found the behavior humorous and encouraged it for a good laugh. I don’t imagine the dog looked at the leg as being alien to its-self.
In my open letter to my granddaughter, I tried to explain that the “choice” mechanism within the child develops as a consequence of genetic-environmental interaction. It is not “nature versus nurture” when talking about human choice phenomenon anymore than it is “oxygen versus fuel” when talking about the causal factors involved in the phenomenon of fire. But my letter didn’t have the impact I had hoped for. In fact, my granddaughter now seems to share some of the old sentiments held by her mother.
I could just imagine a deep brain stimulation experiment being done on my granddaughter. In every instance, she would likely respond just like Mr. Smith did. And if her mother was there, she probably would scold Robin for not keeping her arm down as Dr. Cohen requested. And when Robin started struggling to unpin her arm in order to raise it, her mother would probably fuss and say the unruly behavior was Robin’s “fault.” And with that word, we really would be in a quagmire of crap. (I also covered the crappiness of that word a bit in my open letter.)
Human language is often infested with illusions and superstitious notions. You cannot express an idea using common language without passing on some of those illusions and old superstitions. For one, we often hear of a person choosing and setting goals and “overriding” other motivations and emotions. But the choosing and setting goals are subject to the structure and state of the brain at any given moment in time (previous nature + nurture). And “overriding” other motivations can only be accomplished providing the individual experiences a motive strong enough to override the first. However, you cannot choose what will motivate you. You can only choose according to what you feel most motivated by. Apparently Sam Harris is right when he says, “Not only is free will and illusion, but the idea of free will being an illusion is itself an illusion.” That is, maybe it is all rhetoric “made up” by the side of the brain that controls language communication.