Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Damasio on conscious and nonconscious processes
Damasio’s concluding chapter in Self in Mind, Living with Consciousness, addresses many of the issues explored of late in the blog. Right off he goes into nonconscious control and the work of Libet and Wegner, and how this work has been interpreted. Damasio does not deny that the majority of our behavior is nonconscious, but some of it is conscious. And at least some of our nonconscious behavior has been trained as a skill by our consciousness, like morality. The following quote is illuminating:
“What is meant by conscious deliberation has little to do with the ability to control actions in the moment and everything to do with the ability to plan ahead and decide which actions we want or do not want to carry out. Conscious deliberation is largely about decisions over extended periods of time…and rarely less than minutes or seconds. It is not about split-second decisions….[which are] thoughtless and automatic” (271).
Regarding a previous post on mirror neurons, he discusses how conscious deliberation simulates and rehearses a behavior long before it is enacted. Hence it has already begun to program the unconscious for that enaction when the time comes. Then it leaves it up to the unconscious processes to figure out the details of those actions in the moment (272). It is a partnership between our conscious and unconscious processes. Even though both are derived from our bodies, and one predates and provides the foundation for the other, they are not entirely the same thing, one emerging from the other with properties not in the former.