A Life of Instinct

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On Friday, Professor Peterson talked about the idea of conscious versus unconscious behavior. He expressed the idea that most actions are actually unconscious however we have been conditioned to rationalize our behavior. Since we have the ability to communicate with others, we have been asked "Why did you do that?" But, what if we don't actually know because we do not consciously decide to act.

This question has been explored by investigating the behaviors and justifications made by people who have had their corpus callosum severed in their brains. This procedure is often done to remedy seizure issues or other localized brain damage but is always a last resort. After this procedure has been completed, most tasks are carried out naturally however, if stimuli only reach one side of the brain, considerable side-effects are noticed. Someone who is shown a picture of a bird and an orange may be unaware of seeing the orange because it could not reach the left side of the brain where the ability to recognize objects is located. This same person when asked to draw what they had seen may still draw an orange if asked to do so with their left hand which only communicates with the right side of the brain.

If conscious action is not what dictates one's life, than what is free will? Does this mean humanity is reduced to a series of rationalized instincts? I believe that actions become unconscious due to learned behaviors. Much like Pavlovian conditioning, as a task is completed repeatedly, we no longer need to consciously think about our actions because we've done it so many times before. Under this mindset, conscious action is still very real but the human brain simply becomes more efficient over time much like long-term potentiation. Once the brain has learned a task it no longer requires conscious attention to execute it. As the concept is investigated further, more answers will be uncovered, but I, for one, will always believe that I am in conscious control of my own life. Otherwise what's the point?

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This page contains a single entry by meye1867 published on October 9, 2011 7:48 PM.

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