Great Responsiveness Explains How Recognition Of Our Acts Come Only After Our Desire To Do Something Has Already Commenced The Action Desired


Scientists have grown increasingly bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the mechanistic laws of strict cause-and-effect.

What this means is that scientists develop their theories, and confirm those theories, only through this single structural understanding. So when scientists observe their experiments, while their observations are facts, how those facts are interpreted is strictly through a deterministic lens.

That being so, given a focus on our daily experiences of free will, it was inevitable that Science would declare that we, in fact, do not have free will, because the mechanistic laws of strict cause-and-effect (determinism) have no room for the kind of indeterminacy that free will implies.

Until the 1980’s the belief that we have free will was a fundamental personal and social assumption in our systems of Ethics, Morals, and Law, but it started to change when Benjamin Libet, a researcher in the physiology department of the University of California, San Francisco USA, did an experiment that, he claimed, showed that our assumption that we freely will our actions was false. A short video explaining his experiment can be seen here. In 2003, Libet was the first recipient of the Virtual Nobel Prize in Psychology from the University of Klagenfurt, “for his pioneering achievements in the experimental investigation of consciousness, initiation of action, and free will.”

Apparently, his research showing that we do not scientifically have free will, was something to cheer about, even though it reduced us all to deterministic mechanisms being entertained by baseless fantasies of our own moral and ethical agency. The phenomenon that his experiment exposed is now called “Libet’s Delay” in honor of the man’s research findings.

The delay in question in these experiments is the difference in the onset of a skin sensation and the reported consciousness of that sensation, or, as in the video linked above, in the initiation of a movement and the consciousness of the decision to make the movement. In both these cases, there is a delay between the brain responding and consciousness of that response arising, either as a decision, or merely an impression. The important point to remember here, is that, Science has not been able to establish what consciousness is, nor how it works; but Libet interpreted the reported delay as evidence that our conscious activity is not involved in the initiation of our physical activity or sensations — and it was inevitable that he would do so, given the strictly causal mechanistic understanding within which he worked. I will explain below how the delay is not unexpected, nor exclusionary to our having free will.

I witnessed an event some years ago at my university that sent chills down my spine. This event was similar to the Libet story in being that of a well-known scientist presenting a dénouement of our moral and ethical agency. It was during a talk by Patricia Churchland, a “neuro-philosopher” as she calls herself, that she gave at Stony Brook University (State University of New York) in February 2008. Her argument was to the effect that individuals with a body-chemistry associated — by neuroscientists — with violent or destructive behavior should be separated from the rest of society before they harmed themselves or others, or gave any indication that they were inclined to do so, since their body-chemistry effectively determined that they would do so at some point.

This included, she said, infants at birth who tested positive for the “violent or destructive behavior body-chemistry,” who should be separated from their parents and raised institutionally, because they were destined to be violent or destructive!

What was on display in her talk was the mereological reduction of the potential actions of a class of human beings to the chemical “makeup” of their bodies.

And she wasn’t laughed out of the auditorium! She received a standing ovation from many of the scholars in the audience.

According to a mainstream article in Psychology Today magazine:

The denial of free will is one of the major principles of the materialist worldview that dominates secular western culture. Materialism is the view that only the physical stuff of the world — atoms and molecules and the objects and beings that they constitute — are real. Consciousness and mental phenomena can be explained in terms of neurological processes.
Materialism developed as a philosophy in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the influence of religion waned. And right from the start, materialists realised the denial of free will was inherent in their philosophy. As one of the most fervent early materialists, T.H. Huxley, stated in 1874, “Volitions do not enter into the chain of causation…The feeling that we call volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but the symbol of that state of the brain which is the immediate cause.”⁠¹

Modern Science opens up many technological avenues, which importantly, have quickly brought us to the ruination of society, culture, and our planet, after little more than 150 years. In general, scientists disavow any moral considerations upon their pursuit of knowledge, claiming that knowledge isn’t the problem, instead it is how that knowledge is sometimes used that is at fault, and scientists don’t determine the uses, they say.

Ok, but it’s a bit disingenuous given where a significant part of their funding comes from, and their acquiescence to find useful knowledge for their benefactors to use in pursuit of their oftentimes troubling goals, but let’s skip the interminable debate and respond to their defense: We are better off without the kind of knowledge you look for. Unfortunately, consideration of our concerns does not enter into the ruminations of the Scientific Workshop, or if it does, it is a private matter of some concerned scientists only, and not a collective concern.

Given the mounting evidence that consciousness of our actions follows the commencement of our actions, which are already in motion before we decide to do them, and the positive and negative determinacy of our body chemistries, it was inevitable that scientists would declare we have no free will, no matter the moral consequences of convincing society at large that they were deterministic zombies completely driven by mechanisms in their body to do the things they did.

And the result of that? According to ​Stephen Cave, PhD, a philosopher, diplomat, and writer, who earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Cambridge:

This research and its implications are not new. What is new, though, is the spread of free-will skepticism beyond the laboratories and into the mainstream. The number of court cases, for example, that use evidence from neuroscience has more than doubled in the past decade — mostly in the context of defendants arguing that their brain made them do it. And many people are absorbing this message in other contexts, too, at least judging by the number of books and articles purporting to explain “your brain on” everything from music to magic. Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency. The skeptics are in ascendance.
This development raises uncomfortable — and increasingly non-theoretical — questions: If moral responsibility depends on faith in our own agency, then as belief in determinism spreads, will we become morally irresponsible? And if we increasingly see belief in free will as a delusion, what will happen to all those institutions that are based on it?⁠²

I wonder, do scientists themselves accept the implications of this paradigm of determinacy that they impose on all of us? The title I chose for this article makes clear the implication for scientists as well — they have no choice in what they do, so, given the structural limitations of their working paradigm, they had to come to the conclusion that we do not have free will. It was the inevitable conclusion — and its inevitable result is the reduction of humans to no better than zombies, and the ruination of the world. QED, Modern Science will be the end of us all.

Obviously, that cannot be the complete truth, and so, the assumptions that scientists work under must be wrong.

But scientists do not apply the same reductive outlook upon the practice of modern science, instead they hedge the application of strict cause and effect by introducing complexity and happenstance (“Chaotic Determinism”), which are the fundamental constituents of the ‘randomness’ that they assert — when it is useful to escape strict determinism — underlies the evolution of forms of life, for example, or the behavior of quantum waves/particles.

Yet, when scientists design their experiments, it is necessarily with the goal of observing strictly causal mechanisms. Why is that? Because there is no useful knowledge to be had of a phenomenon that is not strictly determinate, and thus, no predictions can be made with any assurance of the future manifestations of such a phenomenon. In short, it is a waste of time.

This was the reason that the idea of God had to die — having an intentional agent with unlimited powers behind every and any phenomenon undermined the ability of scientists to forecast anything at all, even if it seemed as if God wasn’t interested in manipulating a wide collection of phenomena that always seemed to operate in a law-like way. The point was: God could change it. And this insight adds a nuance to the rebuke by Albert Einstein that “God does not play dice!” in response to the apparent indeterminacy of quantum-level events.

You can’t calculate indeterminacy, so if physical reality is indeterminate, it is not ruled by mathematics, even if some phenomena can be statistically modeled. Therefore, the tension between classical physics and quantum physics is one between two irreconcilable models of reality, which explains the lack of movement over the past century in the endeavor to find a single comprehensive theory. It also explains the turn towards fanciful theories for which there is no evidence, but simply engender an aesthetic appreciation of their elegance; and, as well, the inevitable anathematization of any scientist, such as David Bohm, who presents a logically coherent theory that makes room for mind-like explanations for the indeterminacy. Desperation is in the air in the Scientific Workshop today — or should be.

Stephen Cave makes the point though, that quantum-level indeterminacy does not liberate anything from the laws of nature as promulgated by modern science. In other words, the evidence does not imply a mind that stands above or outside of these laws. But doesn’t that make these laws the inevitable conclusion of the paradigm scientists work under, and not the evidence?

…some other commentators point out that quantum mechanics demonstrates that the world is not straightforwardly deterministic. In this, they are right: quantum indeterminacy implies that physical reality has an irreducibly probabilistic nature. Other readers have pointed out that even classical physics does not always allow us to accurately predict what will happen: According to chaos theory, any of an incalculably huge number of tiny differences in initial conditions can lead to radically different outcomes. (At least, that’s the excuse weather forecasters use for getting it wrong.) This too is a fair point.
But neither quantum indeterminacy nor chaos theory give us free will in the sense of a special power to transcend the laws of nature. They introduce respectively randomness and unpredictability, but not free-floating minds that cause atoms to swerve, or neurons to fire, or people to act. So you could read instances of the term “determinism” in my article as meaning roughly “the belief that human action is the product of physical laws” and all the points would remain the same.⁠³

It is only when the results, confirmed over-and-over again, show that the mechanism believed to be behind the phenomenon being studied does not match the facts, that problems of misinterpretation occur. And to be completely accurate, many times there is ‘play’ on the part of scientists in which facts will be considered to be verification that the expected mechanism has been correctly hypothesized, so to be confronted with facts that absolutely go against the assumed mechanism should immediately cause a reconsideration of the initial hypothesis of how the phenomenon works, and new ideas, no matter how outlandish should be considered. In technical fields this process is called brainstorming — and it works well.

But the one ‘outlandish’ idea that few scientists seem able to entertain, is that the laws of nature only seem to work, but in reality, there is a different process in play. This is to say, any solution that lies outside of the paradigmatic understanding that undergirds modern science will simply not be entertained.

While the experimental facts don’t lie, their interpretation by scientists can be completely wrong. Whether the facts and theory can align is a matter of the paradigmatic understanding being used to interpret those facts. Modern Science works under a paradigmatic understanding that increasingly cannot encompass the experimental facts being generated, and not just in Quantum Mechanics. For example, the reason why computers have a ‘clock speed’, for example, is because the operation of electronic chips of silicon, no matter how careful the design, are not deterministic in the duration necessary to perform an operation, although they show a ‘preference’, and thus computers need a ‘clock’ that signals the longest designed possible duration for any operation to complete, so that the operations of all the components of the device can be synchronized at the beginning of each cycle — very much like the hortator that gave a rowing drumbeat on the ancient Roman triremes (rowed ships) to synchronize the rowers.

This idea of a paradigmatic understanding in modern science was first suggested by Thomas Kuhn, an American philosopher of Science, in his influential 1962 book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn argued that, rather than progressing through a linear and cumulative process, fields and subfields of science are typically dominated by widely accepted or dominant paradigms that define essential questions until anomalous research evidence leads to a scientific revolution and the emergence of new paradigms. This revolutionary process was put another way by the German theoretical physicist Max Planck in 1950:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.⁠⁴

This provocative quote from Planck underscores that even the most celebrated scientist of his era understood that the pragmatic success of a scientific theory does not entirely determine how quickly it gains adherents, or its longevity.

An excellent example of this today, which is still ongoing after more than thirty years, is the controversy over the theory that an asteroid impact killed off the dinosaurs, in which an academic, Greta Keller, a professor of Geosciences, who counters the majority opinion with her factual evidence and logical arguments, is vilified, denigrated, slandered, and laughed at by her colleagues, rather than listened to.

In case you feel that Planck was not being fair to scientists and Science in general, whatever his standing in the scientific community may have been, you should know that his statement, and its shorter version: “Science advances one funeral at a time,” were scientifically proven to be true based upon the sudden uptick in papers presenting alternative viewpoints being submitted and accepted for publication — a yardstick for measuring the opening up of discussion of alternative ideas after the literal death of a promenant researcher who had been using their position to squelch those alternative views.

Paradigms are not value free, but incorporate values which work to structure the very foundation of the scientific enterprise. Whether or not these values include something equivalent to “Do no harm” is basically meaningless, much as Google’s corporate slogan of “Do no evil” once was, before being unceremoniously dropped; but Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-born American physicist, systems theorist and deep ecologist, in his review of Kuhn’s work, insists that moral responsibility is an incontestable part of doing scientific research, and presumably whatever paradigm Science adopts should include moral responsibility as a necessary value — although it is missing from the current paradigm.

In any case, there is no independent ‘medical board’ equivalent for scientific research currently, and thus no mechanism to ensure that moral issues have not been overlooked, or ignored, in the pursuit of scientific research and funding. Capra writes:

Kuhn argued that, while continuous progress is indeed characteristic of long periods of “normal science,” these periods are interrupted by periods of “revolutionary science” in which not only a scientific theory but also the entire conceptual framework in which it is embedded undergoes radical change. To describe this underlying framework, Kuhn introduced the concept of a scientific “paradigm,” which he defined as a constellation of achievements — concepts, values, techniques, etc. — shared by a scientific community and used by that community to define legitimate problems and solutions. Changes of paradigms, according to Kuhn, occur in discontinuous, revolutionary breaks called “paradigm shifts.”
Kuhn’s work has had an enormous impact on the philosophy of science, as well as on the social sciences. Perhaps the most important aspect of his definition of a scientific paradigm is the fact that it includes not only concepts and techniques but also values. According to Kuhn, values are not peripheral to science, nor to its applications to technology, but constitute their very basis and driving force.
During the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century, values were separated from facts (as we discuss in Chapter 1), and ever since that time scientists have tended to believe that scientific facts are independent of what we do and are therefore independent of our values. Kuhn exposed the fallacy of that belief by showing that scientific facts emerge out of an entire constellation of human perceptions, values, and actions — out of a paradigm — from which they cannot be separated. Although much of our detailed research may not depend explicitly on our value system, the larger paradigm within which this research is pursued will never be value-free. As scientists, therefore, we are responsible for our research not only intellectually but also morally.⁵

But there is another way of interpreting the facts Libet and others have obtained through their experiments, when seen through a different paradigm. Having spoken about the Buddhist idea of Great Responsiveness in my earlier “Axiom of Great Responsiveness” article, I now want to show how Free Will works in this responsive reality — our reality in fact — and in such a way that our ‘consciousness’ of a decision is neither the driver of the action, nor an illusory belief in our own agency.

Because we have let go of the idea of a causal determinism in which things happen because something makes it happen, and have replaced it with the idea that the activity that fills our universe is, in fact, a coherent response to extant conditions within each context and the possibilities they engender. So we mustn’t focus upon what our recognition of our acts seem to indicate we did, but rather upon what our desires and focus of attention — preceding the activity — have added to the contextual conditions which define the possibilities in each moment.

This is our free will in action. It is not some mental decision-making before an action, but rather our desire and focus of attention that is what opens the immediate possibility of an action being manifested by the naturing that is called Great Responsiveness.

So it is through our desires and what we pay attention to that our freedom to choose becomes operative before any actual brain activity occurs. The brain activity that arises in the case of sense perceptions, as described in the previous article, “Why Do We Have A Brain If We Also Have A Mind?”, as well as action decisions, whether ‘chosen’ or ‘instinctive’, are recognized as they are being done, so a slight delay for the apperception of the recognition is totally expected, as was explained in the article “Why Awareness Will Never Be Found.”

We have already made our decision by desiring a particular outcome, while focusing our attention on that outcome. Our recognition of the action being performed has nothing to do with decision-making — and we all know this to be true in our lives. We recognize the coherent continuity of our body’s biological activity which is what gives rise to our actions, while our recognition of what is done is our acknowledgement of our ‘decision’, when seen from the perspective of the paradigm of Great Responsiveness.

Thus, scientific observations of nervous system readiness potential already occurring prior to a ‘conscious decision’ are true. But scientists are misled in their interpretation of the meaning of this sequence when they declare ‘free will’ to be false because of their paradigmatic understanding of what ‘should’ be happening.

And this understanding of Free Will is literally ancient, so it’s disconcerting that modern scientists haven’t already given it some credence. As Saint Augustine put it:

… there is nothing that I feel so deeply and strongly as that I have a will, through which I move to enjoy something. I find nothing which I can call my own if the will by which I accept or reject objects of choice is not my own will. Therefore, if I do any wrong through it, to whom but to myself can the wrongdoing be ascribed? Since, indeed, a good God made me, I cannot do any good except by my will. It is quite clear that a good God gave me the will for this purpose. If the movement by which the will is turned this way and that were not voluntary and within our power, we could not be praised when we turn toward higher things, or blamed when, as if on a pivot, we turn toward lower ones…⁠⁶

It was Science that decided that our Free Will had to be something that made things happen in their deterministic mold. And thus it was Science that setup the fall from grace of us all, by trying to convince us that our free will did not exist, once it failed to operate as they had decided it must.

We have a choice between adopting the worldview imposed by the modern scientific community, while trying to fit new phenomena into it that is challenging that worldview, or accept the phenomena as facts, which they are, and adapt a worldview that best supports the facts. And where better to start, than the hard-won wisdom of our ancestors, who, not to make too fine a point here, thrived for untold millennia, while the advent of modern scientific practice has coincided with a rapid descent into impending ruination.

It was an epiphany to realize that there was another starting point; that I didn’t have to wrangle with modern constrained and malformed ideas, just because new phenomena were being documented by adherents to those ideas. The choice is to adopt the worldview and try to explain the facts challenging it, or accept the facts and adapt the worldview to fit the facts. My preference was to stop trying to correct modern scientific misunderstandings, and go back to the great minds and their discoveries with respect and a yearning to understand what they went to such great pains to describe. That was my free will in action.

This is how humanity seems to have always worked in the past — before the institution of the modern Scientific Workshop. Maybe it’s not to late to change.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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