Cause vs Effect
March 19, 2010 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Are our feelings/emotions (love, anger, lust, sadness, etc.) a result of chemical reactions that take place in our body? Or do chemical reactions occur as a result of our emotional state? What comes first?
posted by murtagh to Science & Nature (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
The brain is an electro-chemical device and everything we think or feel is a result of electro-chemical processes within it.
posted by meadowlark lime at 2:36 AM on March 19, 2010


That's a huge question!

I think everything starts in the body. Everything is chemical, but we can be aware of what's going on in our bodies and we can learn to control/modulate our responses. It's not easy, but it's possible and we can condition ourselves, in particular toward more positive responses.

CBT and mindfulness practice. Guard those Sense Doors!
posted by nnk at 2:39 AM on March 19, 2010


There is no 'first' unless you believe that a feeling can exist independently of your body. Since feelings take place inside a physical object (your brain), they are physical processes happening to that object. Chemical reactions and electrical signals beget other chemical reactions and electrical signals, modulated by external inputs; the fact that thoughts and emotions are complex and unpredicatable make them no less subject to physical laws.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:57 AM on March 19, 2010


Our feelings and emotions -are- the "chemical reactions" that take place in our body. They're not cause and effect, they're one and the same thing, viewed from different places. We are nervous systems walking around.

There is rich reciprocal connectivity between the prefrontal cortex, the sensorium and the limbic system -- and much else. It is not a one-way thing, more like a series of feedback loops which come and go and sometimes reciprocally inhibit each other.
posted by dacoit at 3:04 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The answers that you receive here will say something about the beliefs of the answerers, but they won't give you a clear answer to your question. It's like asking if chocolate is delicious, or just a bunch of atoms. The answer is: it's both. But the deliciousness of chocolate and its atomicity are two different levels of description, useful for different purposes. I think the answer to your question lies in this way of thinking. But that's me. It's a good, very philosophical question, touching on the mind-body problem. Which no one has come up with a satisfactory solution to.
posted by smorange at 3:12 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I wonder if the OP's question is more accurately restated as "Does our consciousness control our emotions or does an emotional reaction dictate how we feel about something?".

If that's what they were asking, it's the chicken and egg question of did I feel sad because I think it's sad, or do I think it's sad because (out of my conscious control) my body decided it was sad and put a lot of hormones in me that I now have to deal with?

I don't know the answer to that.
posted by qwip at 4:09 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The brain is an electro-chemical device and everything we think or feel is a result of electro-chemical processes within it.

If that were true, wouldn't we be randomly feeling sad or happy without external stimuli? It seems to me there's an input/output relationship -- the tree falls in the woods, it makes a sound. Someone dumps us, we feel sad. Sad can be described in a chemical way or in a subjective way, but it's the same thing, in the same way that you can describe it as 'I feel sad' or you can write bad poetry about it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:31 AM on March 19, 2010


Whatever is posted in this thread, there is no widespread consensus regarding this question, at least among philosophers. You've hit quite the philosophical nerve here.
posted by reverend cuttle at 4:32 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, there certainly is a feedback loop, so however it gets started, one's body and one's thoughts each contribute to the other's effects.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:36 AM on March 19, 2010


The commenters here are giving their opinions. They haven't necessarily solved the mind-body problem, and neither have I. I'm sure some of them would scoff at the very mention of a "mind-body problem," which is a reflection of this site's bias toward physicalist reductionism. You're asking a philosophical question, and this is not a good forum for getting such questions answered. Obviously the people who are answering will disagree with me because they believe their opinions, but please don't think the above answers are "scientific" just because they declare that this question has an easy answer or that emotions are indistinguishable from brain states.

Rather than an AskMetafilter question, maybe you'd be more interested in a philosophy book -- I'd recommend John Searle's Mind, or his book The Mystery of Consciousness. (Many would recommend Dennett's Consciousness Explained, but if you're going to read that, please read the chapter on Dennett in the second Searle book I recommended.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:44 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


If that were true, wouldn't we be randomly feeling sad or happy without external stimuli?

Well, that certainly does happen, look at people who are bipolar, for example.

Someone dumps us, we feel sad.

Well no, if we think someone dumps us, we feel sad. It could be a misunderstanding, or it could even be a dream. But the point is, all of our understanding about what's going on in the world comes from chemical reactions caused by inputs.

The inputs are not direct emotions, but rather images and sounds that get processed.
posted by delmoi at 4:48 AM on March 19, 2010


There was an episode of Radiolab that said that if you look at brain scans or something like that, the chemicals and physical reaction to emotions come before you're entirely conscious of a situation. The take away was that especially in dangerous situations, you react before you even realize what's going on; if you wandering around the woods and hear a sound and see a bear, you'll have all the physical reactions before you even think, "Holy shit, a bear!" They talked a bit about how your "body" or nervous system knows how you feel before you do.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out which episode this was in, though; I looked through the obvious candidates and it wasn't in there. Maybe someone else will remember.
posted by Nattie at 4:52 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


According to the premises of cognitive behavioural therapy, feelings come from thoughts. Not saying that that's correct or incorrect, just saying that CBT worked for me in curing the inappropriate emotions of anxiety and nervousness that I was experiencing, through analysis and rebuttal of my 'automatic thoughts' - thoughts so fast that we're not even aware that we're thinking them.

So that's one theory.
posted by different at 5:23 AM on March 19, 2010


Every man is an organ put forth by the divinity in order to perceive the world. - J. L. Borges

Just in case that's helpful.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:31 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the answer is "Yes". Chemical changes in our bodies can get our emotions going. Our emotions can produce chemical changes in our bodies.

As far as I can tell, there is no consensus among either scientists or philosophers about which has priority.
posted by valkyryn at 5:40 AM on March 19, 2010


Emotions neither precede nor follow chemical signals in your body. They are chemical signals in your body.

For more, see Candace Pert's Molecules of Emotion. If you can get past the freaky new age rainbow on the cover and the forward by Deepak Chopra, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find the book was written by one of the pioneers of neuropeptide and receptor pharmacology.
posted by tsmo at 6:21 AM on March 19, 2010


What smorange, reverend cuttle, and jaltcoh said.
posted by shivohum at 6:25 AM on March 19, 2010


But the one who studies nature and the logician would define each attribute of the soul differently, for instance what anger is. The one would say it is a craving for revenge, or some such thing, while the other would say it is a boiling of the heart. Of these, the one gives an account of the material, the other of the form and meaning. For the one is the articulation of the thing, but this has to be in a certain sort of material if it is to be at all. In the same way, while the meaning of a house is of this sort, a shelter that protects from damage by wind, rain, and the sun's heat, another person will say that it is stones, bricks, and lumber, and yet another that the form is in these latter things for the sake of those former ones.

Which of these is the one who studies nature? Is it the one concerned with the material who ignores the meaning or the one concerned with meaning alone? Or is it rather the one who is concerned with what arises out of both?
— Aristotle, On The Soul, I.1


The rest of the book is in part intended as an answer to your question, murtagh. Although I think I can say that Aristotle's short version would be: feelings are the same things as chemical states, in a certain way; to put it in a different way, they are two different aspects of what is in fact the same thing.

The difficulty which arises when we treat them as different things has, incidentally, been one which has plagued modern [post-1500] philosophy; many of the so-called 'idealists,' particularly Leibniz and Berkeley, were forced to posit that, by some miraculous coincidence, the chemical process and the event within the soul just happen to occur at the same time. That's not an easy position to take, honestly, but you have to take it, I think, if you insist that they're different things. Otherwise, you have to say that an immaterial thing causes a material event, or that a material thing causes an immaterial event. And that's getting into difficult territory.
posted by koeselitz at 6:30 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a neuroscientist's take on this issue, you might check out Antonio Damasio's books, particularly Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain or The Feeling of What Happens.
posted by dorque at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2010


– and, by the way, I would be careful about saying that emotions are nothing but chemical reactions that take place in your body. Of course, in one aspect, they really are nothing but that; but that's certainly not how we experience them, or else we wouldn't call them 'emotions,' right? I think Aristotle is correct in pointing out that we have to take into account all aspects of the phenomena in order to understand the underlying nature of what is going on.
posted by koeselitz at 6:33 AM on March 19, 2010


Jaltcoh: “You're asking a philosophical question, and this is not a good forum for getting such questions answered.”

Not to scoff, but that's nonsense; this is a great forum for philosophical questions. If we can get LobsterMittens to say a few words on the subject, for example, we'll have some great philosophical representation here. Paging LobsterMittens...
posted by koeselitz at 6:36 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


In my opinion, knowledge of the material nature of our bodies and brains permits me to unequivicaly agree with the statement: "Emotions neither precede nor follow chemical signals in your body. They are chemical signals in your body."

In my opinion, those who discount such concrete statements as "just" opinions--unproved by science--would permanently put such questions in the murky realm of philosophy. If what we currently know about chemistry and biology doesn't support the material nature of emotions, then I don't know what ever possibly could.

-
posted by General Tonic at 6:46 AM on March 19, 2010


General Tonic: “In my opinion, those who discount such concrete statements as "just" opinions--unproved by science--would permanently put such questions in the murky realm of philosophy.”

There's no need to hint darkly that philosophy is a realm of unanswered questions and vague rhetoric; even if philosophy really were that vague, you don't need to go so far for 'murky realms.' We're talking about emotions here – and I don't think any of us can deny that emotions are murky.

And while understanding that emotions are in one aspect identical to physical processes can help us to distance ourselves from them and be more rational, they don't actually get less murky. They are still the same difficult, messy emotions we've always dealt with – they don't magically fall away and disappear from our inner lives. That's how we know that they are not only chemical processes in the body.

As far as the physical realm goes, emotions are purely physical. As far as our inner lives go, emotions are a particular experience which is characterized by a sort of irrationality and lack of control. To say that one causes the other is to forget that cause and effect are aspects of physical reality, so it makes no sense to say that a physical event causes a metaphysical event. In this case, they are just the same event.
posted by koeselitz at 7:06 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


An interesting experiment was conducted along these lines: participants were injected with adrenaline; some were aware that what they were injected with could be psychoactive, others were not.

Those that knew they were injected with something psychoactive felt physiologically different and attributed those differences to the injections. They didn't really change emotionally. Those that did not know became angry at every little random thing in their environment.

Another similar experiment involved changing the CO2 in the ambient environment. Those that were unaware that this would have a psychological effect became anxious about any random thing.

End evidence, begin interpretation:

There are chemical flows in brains that are statistically related to the reported emotional experience of that brain. These flows vary in how accurately that relationship is. The examples given above (adrenaline and CO2) would be somewhat accurate, but not completely, because there were many people with altered levels of adrenaline and CO2 that did not experience emotional changes.
posted by Jpfed at 7:13 AM on March 19, 2010


Touché, koeselitz. I amend my statement: "...would permanently put such questions in the murky realm of philosophy."

I didn't intend 'murky' to be a dark hint. And I'm in total agreement with your additional point. Although our emotional states are chemical processes, because we inescapably experience them, they are not only chemical processes.

-
posted by General Tonic at 7:17 AM on March 19, 2010


For clarity on this subject, I have enjoyed several recent books.
Spark
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain
Mindset
posted by SamanthaK at 7:20 AM on March 19, 2010


This is one of the best questions, but with no answer.

Delmoi: The inputs are not direct emotions, but rather images and sounds that get processed.

Whenever this comes up, I think of the example of seeing a stick on the ground in the woods. No one of sound mind would be afraid of a stick laying on the ground. But if it's mistaken for a snake, your fear response will kick in, your heart will race and adrenalin will start pumping.

I also recall reading about an experiment (details subject to fuzzy memory) with male college student picking up their dates at the dorm. One group was told the eleveator was out of order, and they had to walk up the stairs. The men who walked up the stairs reported being more emotionally and sexually excited about the date than those who took the elevator. The assumption is that they interpreted their increased breathing and heart rate as "excitement" rather than exertion. The key point is: if they interpreted it as excitement, then is was.

I've heard the Radio Lab episode Nattie refers to, and it's pretty awesome. I can't recall the episode, but if I find it I'll post a link here.
posted by The Deej at 7:29 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


...they interpreted their increased breathing and heart rate as "excitement" rather than exertion. The key point is: if they interpreted it as excitement, then is was.

That's remarkable! I'd never thought of this before, but what if our world of leisure and technology (elevators instead of three flights of stairs) has, in physical fact, made our days and moments less emotionally significant? Just because we don't walk to the fair, or saddle the horse, or do a million other energetic bodily activities which were common for our ancestors.

-
posted by General Tonic at 7:41 AM on March 19, 2010


Along the same lines, you may also be interested in what googling just taught me is called the "facial feedback hypothesis." The wikipedia article describes the experiment I was thinking of in which participants were asked to perform a task while holding a pen in their mouths. Those who held the pen in a way that was muscularly similar to a smile reported higher enjoyment of the task.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:50 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aren't you really asking about fate versus free will? In other words, if the universe is deterministic, your body is just a physical machine, a fully predictable automaton. You will do whatever the chemical processes in your brain dictate, and any perception of free will is just an illusion.

In order to have free will, we must have access to something outside of our physical bodies. Identity must be somehow separate from physicality. Of course, there's no scientific evidence of such a thing. Then again, science by its very nature must limit itself to empirical observation of the material universe. Maybe it's a limitation of science, or maybe it's a limitation of us, desperate to believe there's more to our senses of self than meets the eye.

Ah, philosophy. You're not going to get a conclusive answer here, so choose your favorite belief system. I think it's a lot more optimistic to believe in free will than determinism, personally. My dignity is offended if there's nothing more to humanity than a bunch of soulless biological processes acting on each other for eternity. I have to find meaning in the world.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:54 AM on March 19, 2010


I totally agree with what koeselitz has said above. And would like to add I believe the source of the disagreements is that we all have unique patterns of feeling. There are three universally disliked emotions: fear, anger, sadness. I cannot stand fear and will do anything to avoid it. My most recent experience of intense sadness I did not even recognize as being sadness until years after the fact. I recognized it as intense; I did not recognize it as unpleasant at all. My most recent experience of intense anger was fun as hell, although I couldn't get to sleep for 48 hours after so that sucked. Different people have different emotional susceptibilities and I speculate we may never figure out exactly what emotions are for precisely this reason.
posted by bukvich at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2010


Others have touched on this, but there is some intriguing evidence that much of what we think and feel is actually a subconscious post-hoc rationalization of our actions; the reasons we think we did something are simply made up out of whole cloth.

They've shown this with people who, through surgery or trauma, have severed their corpus collosum which is how the hemispheres of the brain communicate. You can then have those people read something with one eye (I forget which) which instructs them to do something. They do it. If you then ask them why they did it, they will make up a reason and be absolutely convinced that's why they did it no matter how ludicrous the explanations have to be to explain why they performed the action.

So, disturbingly, there is some reason to think that we often don't actually make decisions. We just have the illusion of making those decisions afterwards. All of which is to say that I think believing that our "feelings" come first and cause the chemical states is becoming increasingly hard to justify from the evidence.

It's absolutely true that there is no definitive answer to the mind-body problem at present, but it's kind of like the "god of the gaps". As time goes on, we find physical explanations for more and more of our mental and emotional processes. That's a fact. My belief based on that fact is that this will continue to happen until, scientifically, there will be no basis for concluding that there is any mind separate from the body.
posted by Justinian at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2010


One group was told the eleveator was out of order, and they had to walk up the stairs. The men who walked up the stairs reported being more emotionally and sexually excited about the date than those who took the elevator.

A similar technique is used in horror movies. The female protagonist is shown taking a shower, which excites the male viewers. The killer attacks and all that excitement translates directly to fear.

Also, I heard that quadriplegics feel less emotion due to their sensory detachment from their bodies. I can't remember where I heard this, but I'm guessing Dr. Dan Gottlieb on Voices in the Family on NPR.
posted by malp at 8:31 AM on March 19, 2010


“You're asking a philosophical question, and this is not a good forum for getting such questions answered.”

Not to scoff, but that's nonsense; this is a great forum for philosophical questions.


Either you've been reading different threads than I have, or the prevailing biases are more in line with your views than mine.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:49 AM on March 19, 2010


My opinion is that our bodies are a consortium of entities (genes, bacteria, viruses atoms, quarks, strings, who knows?) and feelings/emotions are manifestations of the communication happening among those entities. So, chemical reactions are part of the answer, but I think the, as yet unknown, fundamental answer can be derived from lessons in physics and biology as well.
posted by surfgator at 8:52 AM on March 19, 2010


There have been a series of psychological experiments that get at this, but don't answer the question.

1. Back when it wasn't considered unethical to do this type of thing, they injected study participants with adrenaline & then put them in a room with someone who was either nice & friendly, or a belligerent jerk.

In both cases, the people who were injected reported having a greater emotional response - either pleasant or negative. So the adrenaline influenced the intensity of the emotion, but not the quality.

2. The aforementioned study (or a similar one) where participants met an attractive member of the opposite sex on a rickety bridge. The adrenaline associated with crossing the bridge was transferred to a positive experience with the other person & they were more likely to agree to a date or whatever.

3. People who've had a portion of their brain damaged and lose control over their body (Locked In Syndrome) report feeling calm. They're still upset about their condition, but they're not freaking out in the way you'd expect.

The general conclusion I'm trying to lead to is that emotions are a combination of thoughts, chemical reactions in the brain & chemical reactions in the body.

The model I'm proposing is something like this:

External stimulus (seeing or hearing something) or internal stimulus (having a thought) causes the brain to send a signal to the body to increase activity in the autonomic nervous system - your heart pumps faster, you begin to sweat, etc.

The brain then notices the activity of the autonomic nervous system & tries to rationalize the emotion. "I must be ____" - excited, scared, upset, etc. This is why people sometimes give the advice "don't be scared, feel excited" for things like stage fright, etc. Same physical response, different mental interpretation.

You then get into a feedback loop - the brain increases the types of thoughts that lead to the emotions, signalling the body to increase the physical response that the brain interprets as intense emotion, and so on.

Ever notice how you can hold on to anger, but then sometimes something makes you laugh and all the tension goes out of you? That's because you've interrupted that cycle.

So to answer the question, which occurs first - it's both. The body can produce the hormones that signal the autonomic nervous system to increase its activity, producing a heightened emotional state, or the brain can produce the thought (perhaps in response to some outside stimulus) to signal the body to have the emotion.

Since the two exist together in a feedback loop, either can be the cause.

As for whether or not thoughts are chemical reactions in the brain - such as when a doctor touches an electrode to a person's brain during surgery & the person reports having a completely real hallucination - was the chemical reaction triggering the thought or do thoughts trigger the electro-chemical reactions? - that's another discussion entirely.

Two more interesting tidbits about severing the corpus callosum

1. Aside from the two hemispheres reacting differently & one (the left) making up excuses for things you tell the right hemisphere to do there's also Dr. Strangelove Syndrome - where the non-dominant hand develops a "mind of its own" and tries to kill the person. If you have your eyes on both hands, then this doesn't happen, but if you're not paying attention, the non-dominant hand will pick up a knife & try to kill you.

Why? Nobody knows, but my theory is that because language is processed primarily in the left hemisphere, the right hemisphere becomes disconnected from the world & depressed.

2. Agreement between left & right hemispheres is necessary for decision making. People who have this severed have difficulty making decisions unless they do a "gut check" in the body. It's a way of bypassing the brain bridge (which has been severed) by allowing the two halves of the brain to communicate through the body. If a decision "feels" right that feeling can be communicated to both halves of the brain & the person can make a decision.

Then there are the studies that find that happiness is activity in the left frontal lobe & that buddhist monks who spend their lives meditating on 'compassion' can instantly trigger an 'off the charts' level of activity in the left frontal lobe.

Or the neocortex (logic) & the "lizard brain" amygdala (emotion) & studies into the relative strength of each, especially in people who have uncontrollable rage.

My question is - at what point in evolution did emotions arise? At what point can we call a reaction an emotion? Is a cockroach skittering across the floor panicking? What about an amoeba that shies away from some sort of negative stimulus? Scientists disagree on whether or not animals (even other primates) have emotions, which I think is ridiculous, it's clear animals have emotions. So how far back on the evolutionary scale can you go & say 'that's an emotion'?
posted by MesoFilter at 9:30 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do people create society, or does society create people? Both. Society emerges from the interactions of individuals, and society in turn strongly affects how those individuals feel, think, and act. We generally think of individuals and society as separate entities, but it would be more accurate to consider them inherently interrelated—different hierarchies of the same underlying thing, which in this case is humanity.

Similarly, emotions and their underlying physical processes are just two levels of the same continuum. One could say that the two influence each other, but this is somewhat lacking in perspective, as the division lines between them as phenomena are essentially arbitrary.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:44 AM on March 19, 2010


As others have said, your question is a good one that's got a lot of strands and on which there is still a lot of uncertainty in the science and debate in the philosophy.

The somewhat technical and very detailed entry on Mental causation in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy might be useful. (Mental causation is the philosophical jargon for when a mental state/event causes a physical state/event, or vice versa.)

Another entry in the SEP that might be useful is the one on consciousness. Part of what you're asking is whether conscious awareness of emotions comes before or after their biological correlates. Another part of what you might be asking is, how can our subjective experience of consciousness come from seemingly non-conscious entities like neurons and squirts of chemicals?

jaltcoh suggested a couple of philosophy books that you might enjoy -- Dennett's Consciousness Explained is lively and readable and full of fun little examples. I have found Searle's writing on this subject (though I stopped with some of his older stuff) to be less plausible than Dennett, even though I think Dennett can't be right either. Dennett is more fun to read, IMO.

Here is a nice website where you can ask questions directly of a panel of academic philosophers. Questions will usually get a shortish answer, but sometimes the answers are very interesting. This is their page listing questions that people have asked about "mind": philosophical questions about minds, you can run down the list (I think there are several pages of questions on mind) and see if anyone's asked a question like yours.

But -- there's no simple answer to your question - at this point, we don't know yet.

If you're asking about a practical question, such as "should I try to help my depression by practicing/inducing happy emotions, or should I try to help my depression by taking pills?", my sense (which is not authoritative by any means and obviously you should listen to doctors in real life rather than anonymous people on the internet) is that different things help different people and it's worth trying every trick in the book.

Paging LobsterMittens...
Thanks, koeselitz; that's very kind. I actually think other people have done a nice job laying out a bunch of different options of positions to take on this, and describing some of the puzzling results in current studies of consciousness.

posted by LobsterMitten at 9:07 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want to read some current academic papers on these subjects, for philosophy you can look at PhilPapers. The site is not at all comprehensive; it mostly includes papers if their authors link them -- but a quick skim of the abstracts can give you a sense of some of what's going on. For example, here's their listing of some online papers about Emotion and Consciousness in Psychology.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:22 PM on March 19, 2010


The Winsome Parker Lewis: “Aren't you really asking about fate versus free will? In other words, if the universe is deterministic, your body is just a physical machine, a fully predictable automaton. You will do whatever the chemical processes in your brain dictate, and any perception of free will is just an illusion. ¶ In order to have free will, we must have access to something outside of our physical bodies. Identity must be somehow separate from physicality. Of course, there's no scientific evidence of such a thing. Then again, science by its very nature must limit itself to empirical observation of the material universe. Maybe it's a limitation of science, or maybe it's a limitation of us, desperate to believe there's more to our senses of self than meets the eye.”

This is kind of a side-issue, but, though this seems to be the common conception of this issue, there are two significant problems with it:

First, not only is there "no scientific evidence" that there is some cause outside of our bodies which acts or is acted upon – such evidence cannot conceivably exist. To put it another way, if that happened, there would be absolutely no way for science to know it; science presupposes that such things don't happen, so it's not exactly stunning that science doesn't catch this kind of thing on film every day. A "caught in the act" scenario would not and could not happen the way most people imagine it.

Second, though it is the common conception, strictly and scientifically speaking the world simply isn't deterministic. There is some assumption of determinism built into science as we apply it today, but even modern science accepts and even embraces the idea that there is some randomness built into the world. In other words, while you may run a closed experiment and hope and expect that, if all controls are the same every time, everything else will be the same every time – there is some variability, some chance, and that means that things really aren't determined. In such a world, the will is as free as anything else, I think.

The fact is, I think, that the conceptions we have of "body" and "spirit" or "mind" are just woefully inadequate to the reality.
posted by koeselitz at 3:40 AM on March 20, 2010


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