Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Evan Thompson, Neuroscience and Free Will

Updated below. Check out Evan Thompson's You Tube series called "Neuroscience and free will": part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. From part 1, quoting William James: "Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will" (7:10). From the conclusion of part 6: "Free will then is not exempt from causes and conditions but is rather the flexible coordination of attention" (4:05). In part 2 he starts to talk about the self related to meditation (around 7:00). Around 7:45 he notes it has 2 aspects, the present-centered "I" and the narrative self which adds past and future. He relates it to Damasio's ideas.

The end of part 2 was on Damasio's core self, the beginning of part 3 on his autobiographical self. The rest of the latter part discusses how we might differentiate them via meditative practice. Part 4 goes into some experiments with those who meditate and those who don't, measuring the brain activity correlated with these 2 selves. Those who meditate have much more flexibility to distinguish and go between the core and narrator, whereas those who do not conflate them. Moreover at 4:55 the meditators have some command of voluntary (aka conscious) regulation of attention and emotion.

Part 5 continues the discussion at the end of the previous section on large-scale brain dynamics, where conscious activity synchronizes the brain regions and produces high frequency gamma waves. He goes into a study of long-term practitioners doing compassion meditation, which displayed a lot of high amplitude gamma synchrony. And voluntarily produced. At 4:45 he goes into volition and emergence. At 6:00 he calls this volition interventionist causation.

The beginning of part 6 concludes from a study that meditation is a strong top-down causative effect of self-generated attention on brain dynamics. This global activity emerges from the local brain activity and shapes and constrains it. This is no way denies that local brain activity can also cause effects, i.e, our zombies. But the zombies do not exhibit the kind of global synchrony as does volitional control, so we're talking about the very real differences between conscious and nonconscious acts. Hence the conclusion already provided in the beginning.

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