Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Readiness Potential

Magnolia Bud
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao.

Somewhere in time between Maharishi’s and Byron Katie’s comments, a scientist by the name of Benjamin Libet had enough experimental evidence to start a debate that rages to this day.

Libet asked his subjects to move a finger at some moment of their choosing. They were also to report when they made the decision to move by noticing the position of a dot circling a clock face. Meanwhile, an EEG monitored the electrical activity of their brains.

Earlier research had shown that consciously-chosen actions are preceded by a pattern of activity known as a Readiness Potential (or RP). RP’s indicate that the motor region of the brain was preparing to act upon a command like, “Move your finger.”

Strangely, Libet’s experiment showed that the time each person decided to move their hand consistently occurred after the RP appeared.
Thus, is seems as if the conscious decision to move a finger had been preceded by an unconscious command to which the brain began to react.

Other labs got similar results, and the debate has raged for decades.
Are our actions really generated subconsciously?
And what does this do to our notions of Free Will?

People were upset.

Daniel Wegner, a Harvard psychologist, calls it “The Mind’s Best Trick.”

We think of moving a finger and then do it, we think of going to the store for milk and do it, we think of looking away from this page – and then do it. It certainly doesn't take a rocket scientist to draw the obvious conclusion …[but] the mind has been known to play tricks… What if our minds keep … leading to an impression of conscious will again and again, but never revealing to us how our actions are actually caused?

To me, this is science stumbling upon, “Thoughts seem to come from somewhere deep inside.”

It seems, to me, to be the physiology supporting Adyashanti’s comments to those who look deep within their consciousness:

You might even start to notice that your thoughts, they are not even yours.
And how do you know that? Because when you…want your mind to stop, it doesn’t pay attention, does it.
… It’s my mind, or so the mind thinks, but at each moment …it’s an impersonal thing.
It thinks when it wants to think and stops when it wants to stop.

Student: “So you just let it?”
Adya: “Pretty much. Or you don’t, and you suffer like a dog.”

Ahhh, suffering!

Why bother about where thoughts come from?
Because if we don’t know, we make the mistake of thinking what that our thoughts are really REAL.
We make the mistake of confusing My Will for Thy Will.

Byron Katie emphasizes the non-reality of thoughts by calling them “stories.”
Spiritual Inquiry allows us to clearly see this. We are able to distinguish My Will and Thy Will. And this sets the stage for liberation, freedom from suffering, and Enlightenment.

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