Friday, January 25, 2013

Mind Time 5: Free Will 2

The second, and the final, set of quotes from ``Chapter 4: Intention to Act: Do We Have Free Will'' of the book, ``Mind Time,'' by Benjamin Libet.

... How can we explain our feeling or experience that we initiated an act? If the cerebral process that initiates a freely voluntary act is an unconscious one, the feeling of consciously initiating the process becomes paradoxical. We know that we do become aware of the urge (or wish) to act before the actual motor act. That could give rise to the feeling that we had consciously initiated the process. However, the feeling of having initiated the voluntary cannot be valid; we are not aware that the process is actually initiated unconsciously.
On the other hand, it is possible the conscious will, when it appears acts as a trigger to enable the unconsciously prepared initiative to proceed further to production of the act. In such a case, the conscious feeling of initiating or producing the voluntary act would reflect reality; it would then not be an illusion.
What we are sure of is the ability if the conscious will to block or veto the volitional process and prevent the appearance of any motor act. ...

We should, at this point, consider the possibility that the conscious veto itself may have its origin in preceding unconscious processes, just as is the case in the development and appearance of the conscious will. If the veto itself were to be initiated and developed unconsciously, the choice to veto would then become an unconscious choice of which we become conscious, rather than a consciously causal event. ...---pp. 144-145, Mind Time

Mind Time 4: Free Will 1

Next, I quote from ``Chapter 4: Intention to Act: Do We Have Free Will'' of the book, ``Mind Time,'' by Benjamin Libet.

How the brain deals with voluntary acts is an issue of fundamental importance to the role of conscious will and, beyond that, to the question of free will. It has been commonly assumed that in a voluntary act, the conscious will to act would appear  before or at the start of the brain activities that lead to the act. If that were true, the voluntary act would be initiated and specified by the conscious mind. But, what if that were not the case? Is it possible that the specific brain activities leading to a voluntary act begin before the conscious will to act, in other words, before the person is aware that he intends to act? ...
we were able to examine this issue experimentally. What we found, in short, was that the brain exhibited an initiating process, beginning 550 msec before the freely voluntary act; but awareness of the conscious will to perform the act appeared only 150-200 msec before the act. The voluntary process is therefore initiated unconsciously some 400 msec before the subject becomes aware of her will or intentions to perform the act. --- pp. 123,124, Mind Time

The finding that the volitional process is initiated unconsciously leads to the question: Is there any role for the conscious will in the performance of a voluntary act (Libet, 1985)? The conscious will ... does appear 150 msec before the motor act, even though it follows the onset of the cerebral action ... by at least 400 msec. ... An interval of 150 msec would allow enough time in which the conscious function might affect the final outcome of the volitional process. ...
The conscious will could decide to allow the volitional process to go to completion, resulting in the motor act itself. Or, the conscious will could block or ``veto'' the process, so that no motor act occurs.
Vetoing of an urge to act is a common experience for all of us. It occurs especially when the projected act is regarded as socially unacceptable, or not in accord with one's overall personality or values. In fact, we showed experimentally that the veto of a planned act was possible even during the last 100-200 msec before the expected time of the action. ...
We may view voluntary acts as beginning with unconscious initiatives being ``burbled up'' by the brain. The conscious will would then select which of these initiatives may go forward to an action, or which of these initiatives may go forward to an action, or which ones to veto and abort so no motor act appears. ... --- pp. 137-139, Mind Time

Mind Time 3: Implications for Mental Functions 2

The third set of quotations from the ``Mind Time'', Chapter 3: Unconscious and Conscious Mental Functions.

(12) Modulation of the content of a conscious experience is recognized as an important process in psychology and psychiatry. It is most directly demonstrable when a person reports an experience that differs from the actual visual image presented. Persons who are emotionally disturbed by the sight of a nude woman may report seeing an altered version of the nude picture shown to them. ... The alteration in the content of the experience appears not to be one of conscious distortion; the subject is unaware of his distortion of the image and the process appears to be an unconscious one.
Freud, of course, made use of the modulatory phenomenon in his views of the unconscious effects of emotional conflicts on a person's conscious experience and verbal expressions (see Shervin, 1973). The time-one theory provides a physiological opportunity in which unconscious modulations of the content of an experience can occur. ...
Our evidence indicates that a substantial period of neural activity (500 msec of time-on) is in fact required to elicit awareness of the sensory event. That delay provides a simple and sufficient physiological opportunity during which unconscious brain patterns can alter the content of the experience before awareness of it appears! Indeed the experimental phenomenon of subjective referral of a conscious sensory experience backward in time provides relatively direct evidence for one kind of modulatory distortion of the subjective experience. The delayed experience is subjectively timed as if it were not delayed at all. ...
Any modulations of modification of the developing experience would be unique to the person involved. It would reflect the person's own history of experiences and his emotional and moral make up. But the modulations are made unconsciously! Consequently, one may say that the unique nature of a given person can express itself in unconscious processes. This is in accord with the proposals of Sigmund Freud and with much of clinical psychiatry and psychology. --- pp. 120--122, Mind Time

Mind Time 2: Implications for Mental Functions 1

The second set of quotations from the ``Mind Time'', Chapter 3: Unconscious and Conscious Mental Functions.

Recall that in the time-on theory, the feature that adds awareness to an otherwise unconscious psychological function is a substantial increase in the duration (time-on) of the appropriate neuronal activities. The theory suggests or leads to the following views.
(1) Perhaps all conscious mental events actually begin unconsciously before any awareness appears. We already have the experimental evidence that this situation occurs in the case of a bodily sensation, and also for the internally generated awareness of the intention to perform a voluntary act (see Chapter 4). That is, to elicit any such awareness requires a substantial duration of cerebral activities. That means that unconscious, shorter-lasting cerebral activities have preceded the delayed conscious event. ...
Application of such a principle to internally generated thinking and emotional feelings introduces a very interesting attribute. Thoughts of various kinds, imaginations, attitudes, creative ideas, solving of problems, and so on initially develop unconsciously. Such unconscious thoughts only reach a person's conscious awareness if the appropriate brain activities last a long enough time.
(2) Vocalizing, speaking, and writing fall into the same category; that is, they are all likely to be initiated unconsciously. ... this means that the process to start speaking, and even the content of what is to be spoken, has been initiated and prepared unconsciously before the speaking begins. ...
In smoothly flowing speech, words are allowed to appear ``on their own,'' in other words, they are initiated unconsciously. ... there is the event recounted by Bertrand Russel after a late night talk with Lady Ottoline. Russel wrote, ``I did not know I loved you till I heard myself telling you so---for one instant I thought, `Good God, what have I said?' and then I knew it was the truth.'' ... And, there is the elegant statement by writer E. L. Doctorow, ``I love to have my mind flowing through sentences and making discoveries, to trust the gift of writing and see what it will deliver me in to.'' ...
(3) The playing of a musical instrument, like the piano or violin, or singing must also involve a similar unconscious performance of the actions. ... Smoothly expressed music with heartfelt and spiritual feelings, is produced when the performer allows the expression to arise without conscious specifications, in other words, to arise unconsciously. ...
(4) All quick behavioral, motor responses to a sensory signal are performed unconsciously. These are responses that can be made within 100-200 msec after the signal, well before awareness of the signal could be expected. Many actions in sports fall into this category. ...
I might even add that great athletes in general, are those who can let their unconscious mind take over without interference from the conscious mind. ...
(5) Unconscious mental functions can proceed at higher speed ... the effective time-one for neural activities in unconscious functions can be very short indeed---about 100 msec or less. This implies that the series of unconscious processes involved in solving a problem can proceed speedily, each brief process after another. ...
(6) The appearance of a conscious experience has an all-or-nothing character ... That is, there is no reportable conscious awareness of an event even if the appropriate neuronal activities persist for as much as 90 percent of the 500 msec required for actual threshold awareness. ... --- pp. 107--112, Mind Time

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mind Time 1: Time-on Theory

Quotes from "Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness" by Benjamin Libet, 2004. Here he summarizes his main experimental findings in terms of the ``time-on'' theory:

Conscious and unconscious mental functions differ most importantly in the presence of awareness for the former and the absence of awareness in the later. We found that the brain requires substantial time (about 0.5 sec) to ``produce'' awareness of a sensory signal. while unconscious functions appear to require much less time (100 msec or so). What was the brain doing during the shorter periods of  activations that did not last long enough to produce awareness? Far from being silent, the brain exhibited recordable neuronal responses that resembled those that went on to finally become adequate for awareness. These shorter-lasting trains of nerve cell responses could not produce awareness. But, we asked, could they provide a mechanism for an unconscious detection of a sensory signal? That question led us to propose a time-on theory for explaining the transition between brain activities required for unconscious mental functions and those required for conscious functions.
The time-on theory has two simple components:
(1) To produce a conscious sensory experience (in other words, with awareness), appropriate brain activities must proceed for a minimum duration of about 500 msec (when the event is near threshold).  ...
(2) ... when these same brain activities have durations shorter than those required for awareness, they could nevertheless be involved in producing an unconscious mental function, without awareness. An unconscious function might then be transformed into a conscious one simply by increasing the duration (time-on) of the appropriate brain activities. We realized that time-on was probably not the only factor in the transition between unconscious and conscious, but we saw it as a controlling factor.
... what is that makes some time-ons long enough for awareness and most of the others not long enough? We don't have a full answer to that. However, there is good reason to believe that focusing attention on a given sensory signal may be an agent for making the sensory response a conscious one. We don't yet know what brain mechanism ``decides'' to focus attention on one signal and not on others. But there is evidence that the attention mechanism could ``light up'' or activate some areas of cerebral cortex; such an increase in excitability level of those areas might facilitate their lengthening the duration of their nerve cell response to achieve the time-on for awareness. ---pp. 101-102, Mind Time

Saturday, January 19, 2013

All in, all the way in

There is something quite amazing about going all in, taking the whole life as it is in, and not shying away from the good and bad of it.
I had "LOOBIA POLO" for lunch just now. Sima had left it in the freezer before going to Toronto, and today I prepared it with a little butter and had it with some additional stuff. I had an indescribable climax after having it. Such a simple, and yet powerful and precious, experience.
I am proud of myself because in the past few days (or couple of weeks, in fact) I have taken important steps in the direction of facing (and accepting) the inherent uncertainties of life. I have started accepting all my feelings, good and bad, positive and negative, as they are.
You have to let your heart break, so bad that you feel your whole chest burning in despair, and yet do not turn your face on your emotions, and then life gradually changes its meaning for you and some simple moments can expand to infinity, LOL
I am proud and happy!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love, Promises, and Freedom

Start of a new year is the time to make resolutions. Most resolutions are broken and forgotten. We make all sorts of promises to our selves and they become sources of ever growing internal conflicts and torture for most of us.

What are promises? We make promises (resolutions, pacts, ...) with ourselves when we are hurt in some way. We use them as a way of imposing our conscious wills on ourselves. Promises can become our prison.

Love makes us vulnerable. When we love someone, we open ourselves to the possibility of being hurt. When this happen, a hurt lover promises him/herself to do this or not do that. But if the love is strong enough, we break our promises. In this process, sometimes we are fortunate enough to set ourselves free.

The delicate point here is a matter of perspective. When we break promises, we get mad at our selves and we feel that someone inside us has betrayed us. I suggest an alternative point of view. That thing inside us, who breaks these promises, is the source of life in us. By saying no to these promises, plans and schedules, we claim our aliveness. These are the last kicks and screams of a small child that is buried under the overwhelming demands of the grown-up world. Breaking promises is a cry for help.

This observation completes the answer to the puzzle of decision making that I tackled in an earlier post [Found God or Something]. The God, the creator symbol, is related to our subjective sense of our selves. Our subjective self is the dreamer inside us. To make decisions that we can genuinely ``own'', we have to start the decision from our subjective self, by asking, ``what do I want to do if I have no internal and external constraints?'' That is the way to find ourselves and hence God.

The more we make decisions this way, starting from our subjective self before imposing the objective reality and our self-imposed promises and constraints, the less our decisions turn out to be our prison. We own our decisions and take responsibility for their outcome.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Impressive Performance

I came across this performance accidentally, such a great performance of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20:

Mozart Piano Concerto No 20 D minor K 466 Camerata Salzburg, Mitsuko Uchida
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exapssCHAFg



This performance is amazing. This may sound stupid, but I specially love her (the pianist) gestures and emotions, I can identify with her feelings, very close to how I hear this music.
Don't get me wrong, the music itself is a masterpiece, one of my most favorite Mozart works: exceptional depth of raw emotions that takes you to darkest places in your soul, maybe only surpassed by "Requiem" among Mozart works.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Found God or Something

I think I have found the equivalent of God in my life, and therefore, I am very excited.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f5KByRag1g



Here is the observation that lies at the heart of my discovery. There are two ways of making decisions:
First, the way I used to make decisions all my life, which made me frustrated and depressed and hesitant and hopeless, and it starts from "constraints". Constraints are everything that is imposed on us, by the reality of the external world, our parents, our spouses, our culture, society, morals.
Second, an alternative way of making decisions that starts with asking, ``If I could do anything I wanted, what would I like to do? What is it that I really want?'' and once we answer this question, then we look at the constraints and reach a compromise.

Simple, right? But this is easily one of the most fundamental realizations of my life.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Intentionality, Playfulness, and Eroticism

I finished the "Mating in Captivity,'' by Esther Perel. The last chapter has some very interesting ideas that I am still processing. One of them, the idea of intentionality, appears very important to me, especially its connection to ``subjectivity'' and ``agency'' ideas. Although I am not quite sure how, or rather, I understand them at a primitive, sub-language, level, LOL
Here are some quotes:

We like to believe that sex arises from an impulse or inclination that is natural, unprompted, and artless. ... This ... suggests our impatience with seduction and playful eroticism, which take up too much time, require too much effort, and---most important---demand full consciousness of what we are doing. ....
When my patients wax nostalgic about the early days of rapid-ignition sex, I remind them that even in the beginning, spontaneity was a myth. Whatever used to happen ``in the moment'' was often the result of hours, if not days, of preparation. ...
The idea of planning a hurdle many couple need to cross. They associate planning with scheduling, scheduling with work, and work with obligation. Often, therapy is a process of dismantling these beliefs.
... quite a few of my patients balk at the idea of deliberateness when it comes to sex. They find these strategies too laborious for the long haul, believing they should no longer be necessary after the initial conquest. ... This reluctance is often a covert expression of an infantile wish to be loved just as we are, without any effort whatsoever on our part, because we're so special. It's the grandiosity of the baby and we all carry it inside. ...
Anticipation implies that we are looking forward to something. It is an important ingredient of desire, and planning for sex helps to generate it. ... Fantasy is the mortar of anticipation. It's a way of imagining what something is going to be like. ...
I believe that longing, waiting, and yearning are fundamental elements of desire that can be generated with forethought, even in long-term relationships. ...
Animals have sex; eroticism is exclusively human. It is sexuality transformed by the imagination. ...
Eroticism, intertwined as it is with imagination, is another form of play. I think of play as an alternative reality midway between the actual and the fictitious, a safe space where we experiment, reinvent ourselves, and take chances. ...
When we are children, play comes to us naturally, but our capacity for play collapses as we age. Sex often remains the last arena of play we can permit ourselves, a bridge to our childhood. Long after the mind has been filled with injunctions to be serious, the body remains a free zone, unencumbered by reason and judgement. In lovemaking, we can recapture the utterly uninhibited movement of the child, who has not yet developed self-consciousness before the judging gaze of others. ---pp. 212-218, Mating in Captivity
2013-2-23: (1) She has a TED talk now:
http://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship.html 
(2) The concept of intentionality is quite advanced, I am still in the process of understanding what I wrote and being able to implement it :)

Freedom, Religion

A couple of days ago I read a discussion between some friends regarding religion, worship, freedom, and slavery. In Farsi and Arabic, the t...