One thing separating us humans from other animals is sentience. Our ability to think and act accordingly. If it wasn't for our brain, we would still be roaming around like our nearest ancestors -- chimpanzees.
It is due to our brain that we are what we are right now. So it makes sense that we have control ourselves right?
It is amazing how little control we have. Let us see why.
Our Bodily Functions
There are a few things that our brain does for us automatically or, to be precise, involuntarily. Breathing, a process that is inevitable for our existence is performed by our brain for us even when we're asleep. But since I have explicitly mentioned breathing, you're now breathing manually.
Give it some time and you will go back to breathing automatically again.
Similar to breathing, some fundamental functions like managing our heartbeat, digestion, etc. are out of our control.
Stuff We Like
Okay so we can't control basic bodily functions but at least we can control what we like right? We control what food we like and what music we listen to?
Well... it's complicated.
When you do stuff you like, the brain likes it too and releases dopamine which is the feel good hormone. The more you like something, the more dopamine is released.
Let's take french fries for example. French fries are delicious but also unhealthy. They contain a lot of calories but we like them a lot.
Do you know why we like them? One big reason is that the brain releases a lot of dopamine when we eat them because more calories mean more energy which in turn means better survivability.
Since you are doing something that aids in your survival, the brain rewards you so that you continue doing the things that help you live longer.
What about motor skills?
Surely, stuff like playing the guitar or piano is in our control, right?
We choose which strings to pluck and which keys to press...right?
If you are a musician, you will notice at after you learn a song well, your fingers kind of move on their own. You don't have to explicitly think you are gonna play the F chord or the G chord next, you just do.
What about simpler movements then? We control how and when we move our hands and feet right?
In a study by Benjamin Libet, subjects were given a simple motor task of pressing a button when they felt like it. Upon monitoring their brain activity, it was found that the subject's brain would make a decision to press the button approximately 200ms before the subject had a conscious will to press the button themselves.
Is there anything we control then? Is free will a lie?
I don't know. Bye!
Further Reading and References:
- Benjamin Libet - Wikipedia
- Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action - By Benjamin Libet
- An interesting article about "free will" you probably will not read
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