Annaka Harris, Conscious, Chapter 5, Who Are We?

… writing about where the sense of self is located (something called the default mode network) and how the disillusion of self when taking mind altering drugs indicates that the sense of self and consciousness are not one in the same1

… a passage recounting the experience of death of a loved one from heart disease causes me to pause… it is what is happening to my father… it tells me what to expect… in this case, it is hard to say that i love him or he loves me… we’ve been at odds for so long… we are both angry… it is, i believe, mom that holds us together… barely…

… Ms. Harris reviews some of the scientific studies that have broken down the notion that there is free will and that there is something definitive that constitutes the “I” experience we all have… in particular the split brain studies of Gazzaniga and Sperry at Caltech… i have read the book Who’s In Charge, written by Gazzaniga in which he describes that research and what it implies about self and conscious being… she concludes with the idea of multiple hubs (a network?) of consciousness as well as the interpenetrating consciousness of beings in close proximity to one another… this sets the stage for a discussion of panpsychism…


  1. Annaka Harris, Conscious, pp 48-9 [return]

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]

04 Rabbit Hole D’jour, Free Will

… Maria Popova sends me down this RH this morning… a post on James Baldwin quickly links to another post on Sam Harris talking about free will… she quotes this from his book on the subject…

The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about. Morality, law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, feelings of guilt and personal accomplishment — most of what is distinctly human about our lives seems to depend upon our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice. If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clockwork, and any conception of justice that emphasized punishing them (rather than deterring, rehabilitating, or merely containing them) would appear utterly incongruous. And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high.1

… the thought leaps through my mind, i wonder if the troubles we cause ourselves are all because so many of us believe we are free agents in the cosmos?…