Free will and the power to exercise it have been thought to be the exclusive domain of human beings, but from a systems view, a measure of free will is necessary for all mobile agents. Of course, the free will of human beings is more expansive than in lower animals… or is it?
From the position of an outside observer, the agent makes the final choice. The agent navigates, selects and chooses when and how to act. From our personal point of view, we make our own choices; we exercise free will. But research has shown that the process is not what it seems.
In experiments reported in Nature Neuroscience,(01 May 2008), human subjects were tested for decision making while hooked to brain scan equipment. The experiment showed that the brain made the decision as much as ten seconds before the conscious mind was aware of it. The area of heightened brain activity just before the decision was made, was so specific and consistent that researchers could predict the choice the subject would make, several seconds in advance. The subconscious made the decision and then let the conscious mind take the credit.
“Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist. (Article)
Ask anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or kick a habit, if will power is an effective tool. It isn’t. These experiments gives us a clue as to why changing one’s behavior can be so difficult. The ego is the last to know what is going on. I have often said that most of the human intellect is used making excuses for bad behavior, brought on by bad habits and hormones.
Our behavior is a joint effort between our conscious mind and our subconscious. In our culture, the conscious ego has a tendency to ignore the subconscious and pretend to be totally in charge. This can lead to trouble.
It isn’t that free will doesn’t exist, it just isn’t what we thought it to be. If we wait until the last second to exercise our free will, it is too late. The subconscious will have already chosen from the short list of options it has provided the conscious. If the ego wants to change behavior, it has to start before those hormones and habits take over. Changing habits or managing hormones, takes strategic planning and practice.
The subconscious can be conditioned to offer better options and make better choices, but the ego has to initiate the action. The ego has to anticipate future situations and condition the subconscious to give the desired response. Like i said, a joint effort.
For example, raised in a bad assed neighborhood, one might learn to react to potentially hostile encounters with an immediate display of aggression. If that behavior is successful, the subconscious gives it a high rating and stands ready to use it whenever threatened. No amount of will power will get the subconscious to drop that behavior from its options, especially if there are no other options sufficiently practiced and rated as successful. Aggression will remain the preferred behavior by the subconscious.
Jail time and warzones condition the subject to reactive behaviors that are inappropriate outside their context. However, changing those behaviors can’t be done with will power alone. It literally takes reprogramming one’s behaviors. It is very much like breaking an addiction.
Looking at this process of learned behaviors from a systems view, we see that there is really no difference between them and instinct. From flatworms to humans, the same system of storing experience is at work. Memory is fundamental to the system. The concept of instinct is a throwback to the days when people thought that human beings were not animals. Animals were believed to live by instinct while humans lived by free will. We are indeed animals, sharing functions, like navigation, food capture and mating with all other mobile species.
DNA delivers the same potential behaviors to all animals. The two strands of DNA contain only a vague pattern for a behavior; one bit of a holographic memory that has to be filled in as the organism develops. In animals that have these basic patterns reinforced constantly as they develop, they build very tight behavior routines that are almost never found unsuccessful, and therefore become extremely difficult to change. These “instincts” appear hard wired, but are actually habitual behaviors that have been super reinforced. Human beings are subjected to more dynamic experience which keeps their behavior patterns more flexible, but still not as easy to change as they seem.
Membership in the Holoverse
The Universe is composed of two totally integrated and inseparable aspects: the material world of atoms, molecules and other solid things, permeated by the holographic projection the material totality produces; the realm of information, consciousness and spirit. This is the holoverse. The holoverse is all of the information pertaining to the matter it represents. Within that holoverse, each physical entity, or agent, has an automatic account that gives them a bubble of consciousness, which includes a spongy block of holographic memory. This account is generated by the physical structure that comprises the entity itself. The account also represents membership in a species, possibly other evolutionary guilds and symbiotic partnerships.
This bubble of consciousness has two aspects; the conscious ego that deals with the physical side and the subconscious that deals with the informational/spiritual side. The relationship between the conscious ego and the subconscious mind is fundamental to a good life. Most people in our culture have a somewhat contentious relationship with their own subconscious. That’s too bad, because this relationship is one’s primary interface with LifeOS. Yours and my subconscious are very much a part of the system. Through our subconscious, the system presents information and options for our conscious mind to ponder and select, but then can override any decisions made by the conscious mind. Meanwhile, it saddles the ego with the responsibility for whatever behavior results. We are free to do whatever our subconscious wills us to do.
All of this control by the system serves us well. Stability is maintained while innovation can be tested thoroughly. In order to allow change in the established protocols, the system must loosen the constraints of past rules and allow for the exploration of new options. In order to live in a dynamic environment there must a balance between habitual behavior and new options developed to deal with environmental variation.
In order to meet crisis on a local level, the ego is allowed to imagine itself separate from the system, giving it the ability to ignore system protocols and develop new strategies pertinent to specific local conditions. The system does this by granting you and i a little bit of free will, and the illusion of a lot more of it. This keeps us trying new behaviors while still maintaining a level of stability.
You might recognize this strategy for teaching new subjects to students. The object is to get the student to practice the desired new behavior in a meaningful, but safe context. Like a flight simulator, where mistakes aren’t terminal. However, safe simulation lacks a certain degree of motivation that only risk can provide. So, the illusion of risk is employed. Tying performance to a score or grade, usually does the trick. However, it doesn’t work on students who put little, or no, value on grades or scores.
If the students can be made to believe that their performance really matters to them personally, they do much better. Say you could put the student at the controls of a real plane, flying low over the desert; one mistake and its curtains. But you have rigged the plane with computer controls, so that the student can’t make a fatal mistake. The commands issued by the student are followed as long as they don’t put the plane in danger, but overridden when they do. Of course, you don’t tell the student. So in this manner, free will is constrained to safe limits while the student learns to function within those limits. The fear of certain death is great motivation.
Isn’t it interesting that our subconscious uses the same kind of strategy on us. The ego is told that it is in charge, but in reality the subconscious calls the shots. We have been convinced that we possess free will, but most of that is an illusion. The ego is being treated like a difficult student.
We are multifaceted beings, but we have a lot to learn. We will do better.