Here's a brilliant letter to the editor in a recent issue of New Scientist. I've read Castaldo's letter several times.
Don't claim to understand it fully. But I love this sentence, particularly:
I believe that what we call a conscious decision is just an awareness that our myriad subconscious systems have collectively resolved a course of action or state of belief.
This makes a lot of sense.
Like... yesterday I noticed that my wife had left a page in our local newspaper open to a Best Buy ad. A Labor Day sale was on for televisions. We'd talked a bit about getting a new television, but hadn't made any decision about this.
Suddenly I felt, this is the time. It wasn't like I consciously reasoned my way to this conclusion. It just popped into my mind, seemingly full-grown. Where did it come from?
Obviously from my brain. But what part of my brain?
That's what this letter is getting at. It really isn't talking about anything new, neuroscience-wise. Like I said, I just think this guy has a fresh and interesting take on the relation of conscious and subconscious.
We ended up buying a TV at Video Only, by the way. The process went smoothly, as if it was meant to be. According to my subconscious, I guess it was.
Responsibility and Consciousness
From Anthony Castaldo
David Amodio discusses how unconscious bias can determine our actions in some situations (18 July, p 26). But I believe that every conscious thought is supported by hundreds or thousands of subconscious systems. If I type “insulation” when I meant to type “insolation”, I think the word “no” and correct it: but what neural structure triggered the word “no”? What structure beneath that knows my text is related to solar radiation and did a check in that context?
It is silly to speak about my subconscious as if my conscious mind is independent of it. I don’t believe in conscious decisions; I believe that what we call a conscious decision is just an awareness that our myriad subconscious systems have collectively resolved a course of action or state of belief.
That does leave the possibility that one subsystem might hijack the whole and execute an action, such as shooting a child, that the collective of systems would reject if given time to reach a consensus. But the subsystem is not some alien: if it can seize control of a person then it is that person.
San Antonio, Texas, US