Notes On Attention Paid

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Conscious, Annaka Harris, Chapter 3, Is Consciousness Free?

… the third chapter reviews (for me) the science which tells us our conscious mind is, essentially, the last to know when we (as a whole organism) decide to do something… perception and reaction are managed at preconscious levels where action and reaction can be more efficient… current neuroscience holds that will is not “free” in the way we believe it to be… we make choices with the complete apparatus of our bodies and our choice making is accomplished by the complete system, not just that part of it manifesting as consciousness… to quote Ms. Harris…

Surprisingly, our consciousness also doesn’t appear to be involved in much of our own behavior, apart from bearing witness to it12

… there is a discussion of ethics included, the idea that people are not in “conscious” control of their actions challenges notions of holding people responsible for those actions… Ms. Harris argues society has a need to manage the behavior of individuals, even, at times, locking them up, in order to maintain general order and public safety… she offers the example of a self driving car hitting a pedestrian… society would have an interest in knowing why… malfunction of the control programming?… malfunction of the mechanical parts of the car?… or perhaps choice to kill one as opposed to many, where killing someone was not avoidable, in which case, the “choice” made by the vehicle would be commendable…

… similarly, Ms. Harris relays the idea that human beings can be separated from the idea of free will and still face necessary consequences for their actions in the interest of the safety and well being of the general public…

… it is always necessary to enter into this discussion of ethics and accountability as this is one of the main points around which resistance to the science is organized…


  1. Annaka Harris, Conscious, p 26, HarperCollins, 2019 [return]
  2. … I have come to believe the role of consciousness is to assess actions and their outcomes and plan for better outcomes in the future… what drives the planning is a survival instinct in which our whole organism seeks to enhance its chances for survival… advanced planning (where are likely to be found next week) and problem solving, (how can i kill the buffalo more efficiently and with less risk to myself) are, to me, among the main goals of consciousness and are not dependent on a conscious free will… [return]