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Consciousness and the illusion of choice


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#1 Ten oz

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Posted 5 May 2017 - 01:47 PM

There have been a couple good threads recently which deal with awareness and consciousness which has gotten me thinking a bit about the function of consciousness and what it actually does and doesn't do. I consciously reason and make choices in life but only after I have unconciously interpreted things. I know instantaneously without any thought what I do and don't want or how I feel about everything. My consciousness chooses an action but the action chosen seldom ever changes what I want or feel.

 

Simply examples of this happen all day everyday. While walking down the street I see a jacket in a store window and immediately am aware that I want it. The desire to have it comes without any thought. Then I consciously tell himself that I don't need it because I have others,can't afford it, don't have time to go in the store, or whatever and continue walking. Despite making the choice not to obtain the jacket the desire to have it, which sprung from up without any thought I was aware of remains. A stronger example would be a homosexual  who spends decades of their life trying to consciously suppress their desires yet is unable to. Why would one be unable to change that which they desire if one has conscious control over their own mind?

 

If I am fully self aware and consciousnessly control my own mind than I should be able to choose to desire healthy food, choose not to fear spiders, and etc. Instead I have the ability to ignore my desires and fears. I cannot control what those fears and desires are. Which means I actually have limited influence over what things I will be making choices between. I do not consciousnessly determine what captures my attention, what pops into my mind. Instead my unconscious interprets the world and presents me with actions and ideas which I consciously reason through. My consciousness is led by unconscious thought I do not control and prehaps have no influence over.

 

Some will agrue that a person can tap into or learn to control their fears, desires, and etc. I am very skeptical of this. There are millions of depressed people who would strongly prefer not to be depressed. Millions of people who suffer form one of a thousand personality disorders who would prefer to just make them go away. It isn't simple. Is self awareness simply a mechanism our minds use to make choices?


Edited by Ten oz, 5 May 2017 - 01:54 PM.

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#2 dimreepr

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Posted 5 May 2017 - 05:53 PM

For me this taps into why people are "good" or "evil", do we choose or does circumstance decide for us?


Edited by dimreepr, 5 May 2017 - 05:56 PM.

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#3 Ten oz

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Posted 5 May 2017 - 06:14 PM

For me this taps into why people are "good" or "evil", do we choose or does circumstance decide for us?

We seem to have the ability to make choices about how to handle our compulsions but no control over what our compulsions are. To me that possibly mean that we aren't fully self aware. Rather we are confined/limited to only making specific choices by a larger or more dominate consciousness in our minds which we are unaware of.


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#4 goldglow

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Posted 5 May 2017 - 08:07 PM

We seem to have the ability to make choices about how to handle our compulsions but no control over what our compulsions are........

Yes, i think that's true. Desire awakes after perception: we see a nice car, or that nice jacket, or hear some lovely music, or see someone singing on TV and then thought  jumps in and says " I want that car..........i want that jacket......i want to hear that music again.....i want to sing on TV. "  Then we are free to take the appropriate course of action - whatever that may be. So it is not the perception per se, but thought that is the desire, seeking pleasure, and we cannot control our thoughts but, as you say, we can make choices. The mechanism of desire is, then, the same for everyone- gay, straight, depressed or otherwise - and is impossible to eliminate. Many ancient ascetics, including Buddha, thought that controlling desire was a way to enlightenment and put themselves through all kinds of agony to no purpose.

 

 

. To me that possibly mean that we aren't fully self aware.

 

  I feel that this incomplete self-awareness is a property of thought being aware of itself , and being under the false impression that it is somehow different from consciousness. Desire, fear, envy, joy hope,  hate, dimreepr's " good and evil ", ( i would say " good thief and bad thief " ) and choice, are all part of one whole consciousness, which has limitations, and thought is a part of this consciousness too. Unfortunately. one thought - the infamous " I " - has tried to usurp all authority and control,  and the problems start from there. This is like one fish trying to control an ocean. So i don't think there are any actual divisions in consciousness,  only a division in thought. This is where the illusion  begins.

 

 

 

. It isn't simple........... Is self awareness simply a mechanism our minds use to make choices?

No it isn't simple, i agree. I hope i haven't rambled too much. I'm aware, too, that a reply is not necessarily an answer. Self-awareness is a part of consciousness too, not something separate.

The ancient Greeks advised " Gnothi seauton "- Know yourself- meaning consciousness knowing itself in it's entirety, with all it's limitations, by simple self-observation but always being aware that, in the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti: " The observer is the observed. "  I hope you can make some sense out of this- i'm learning too!


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#5 tar

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Posted 5 May 2017 - 09:15 PM

"Some will agrue that a person can tap into or learn to control their fears, desires, and etc. I am very skeptical of this. There are millions of depressed people who would strongly prefer not to be depressed.​"

 

Ten Oz,

 

I am not so sure one can "control" the world enough to "control" that subset of the world which is one's self.

 

What I mean, is that consciousness requires "something" to be conscious of.  One's body, heart, mind, and through our five senses, the rest of the world, including, billions of other selves, living and dead.

 

Having a desire to own the jacket, on a chemical, neurological level, probably involves norepinephrine (attention, concentration, energy), serotonin (mood, memory processing, sleep), and dopamine (reward, pleasure, motor function, compulsion, preservation, motivation and well being.)   We have all learned from our parents and teachers and clergy and poets and friends, what to "do", when we get the desire for the jacket.

 

"Controlling" our feelings is not the actual problem.  Deciding what activity to pursue, given a situation, IS the problem.  The choice, and we certainly have a choice of many actions and inactions, given any situation, is always ours to make.  We go through a huge calculus of pluses and minuses for every possible action.  Expending energy, if you will, needs a payback, on some level, or you would run out of energy and cease to function.

 

My personal theory, is that things that make us feel good, actually are good, or were good in the past as things that promoted survival.  We felt good when we did them, so we did them again, to feel good, to feel right.

 

Many, if not all of us, have the same basic brain chemistry, the same reward, motivation circuitry that underlies our "choices" of action.  Just because we are all similarly motivated, does not mean we have no choice.

 

Regards, TAR


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#6 studiot

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Posted 5 May 2017 - 10:50 PM

A small observation (not a criticism).

 

All the choices so far presented seem to be of the 'all or nothing variety' for instance

 

 

Despite making the choice not to obtain the jacket the desire to have it

 

Perhaps you were actually taking your girlfriend for a Chinese meal and the choice was not

 

jacket or no jacket

 

but

 

jacket or chinese

 

because you had money in your pocket / on your credit card for one and not the other.

 

I chose to go to Scotland on my last holiday, not Tibet.

 

In this case I was spending time, not money as holiday time is limited, though I could have afforded the money for both.


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#7 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 12:00 AM

Yes, i think that's true. Desire awakes after perception: we see a nice car, or that nice jacket, or hear some lovely music, or see someone singing on TV and then thought  jumps in and says " I want that car..........i want that jacket......i want to hear that music again.....i want to sing on TV. "  Then we are free to take the appropriate course of action - whatever that may be. So it is not the perception per se, but thought that is the desire, seeking pleasure, and we cannot control our thoughts but, as you say, we can make choices. The mechanism of desire is, then, the same for everyone- gay, straight, depressed or otherwise - and is impossible to eliminate. Many ancient ascetics, including Buddha, thought that controlling desire was a way to enlightenment and put themselves through all kinds of agony to no purpose.

 

 

 

  I feel that this incomplete self-awareness is a property of thought being aware of itself , and being under the false impression that it is somehow different from consciousness. Desire, fear, envy, joy hope,  hate, dimreepr's " good and evil ", ( i would say " good thief and bad thief " ) and choice, are all part of one whole consciousness, which has limitations, and thought is a part of this consciousness too. Unfortunately. one thought - the infamous " I " - has tried to usurp all authority and control,  and the problems start from there. This is like one fish trying to control an ocean. So i don't think there are any actual divisions in consciousness,  only a division in thought. This is where the illusion  begins.

 

No it isn't simple, i agree. I hope i haven't rambled too much. I'm aware, too, that a reply is not necessarily an answer. Self-awareness is a part of consciousness too, not something separate.

The ancient Greeks advised " Gnothi seauton "- Know yourself- meaning consciousness knowing itself in it's entirety, with all it's limitations, by simple self-observation but always being aware that, in the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti: " The observer is the observed. "  I hope you can make some sense out of this- i'm learning too!

What if we aren't making any choices. What if the belief we are has an evolutionary advantage of some kind. Our unconscious directs us through life using a series of false choices.

 

I am not saying this is the case. I am just pondering.

 

A small observation (not a criticism).

 

All the choices so far presented seem to be of the 'all or nothing variety' for instance

 

 

Perhaps you were actually taking your girlfriend for a Chinese meal and the choice was not

 

jacket or no jacket

 

but

 

jacket or chinese

 

because you had money in your pocket / on your credit card for one and not the other.

 

I chose to go to Scotland on my last holiday, not Tibet.

 

In this case I was spending time, not money as holiday time is limited, though I could have afforded the money for both.

The jacket was a bad example. I was not able to this of an ideal example. Ultimately thoughts pop into a person's head all day dealing with everything from desires to memories. So you are right that the choices aren't always yes vs no. Sometypes it isn't even a choice at all. Sometimes it is smiling out of nowhere because of a random thought.

 

What I am interested is understand the relationship, why it exist, and where the thought come from.

 

The relationship - are they equal?

 

Why it exists - does our consciousness need to be stimulated international to function? Obvious we receive external stimulation in the form of sight, hearing, smell, and etc. Maybe that isn't enough. Perhap it requires a dilemna?

 

Where the thoughts come from - is it genetic. Like animals that are born know migration patterns and what not. Are we born with certian desires, fears, thoughts,and etc?


"Controlling" our feelings is not the actual problem.  Deciding what activity to pursue, given a situation, IS the problem.  The choice, and we certainly have a choice of many actions and inactions, given any situation, is always ours to make.  We go through a huge calculus of pluses and minuses for every possible action.  Expending energy, if you will, needs a payback, on some level, or you would run out of energy and cease to function.

 

My personal theory, is that things that make us feel good, actually are good, or were good in the past as things that promoted survival.  We felt good when we did them, so we did them again, to feel good, to feel right.

 

How do you know the choice is also ours to make? I didn't choose to be a hetrosexual. I just react to my attraction to women. I suppose I could choose to try and ignore it but that would cause a termendous amount of misery and pain.

 

There are things that make people feel good which are good and may never have been good. Some sick people feel good murdering people. Other people amputate limbs as part of freakish fetishes.


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#8 tar

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 12:51 AM

Ten Oz,

 

You are right.  There are many things we do that make us feel good, that are not actually helpful, or constructive, or beneficial toward survival.  And like you say, destruction and hurting, makes some people feel good.  Like people that love fire, and torch a place just to see it burn.  Or someone that gets off on domination, or seeing someone they have power over, squirm.

 

When talking about consciousness and choice, I always like to consider a greater consciousness than my own.  Not God, but an objective reality, that exists, outside an individual, made up of all that is aware of the world, especially in the bodies of other humans, and other mammals, and other living things that have survival needs in competition to, or in concert with my own.

 

That is, the worm squirming on the driveway, flushed out of the ground by the rain, is conscious of its situation, and wishes to survive, and will take actions, instinctual or reflexive, to stay alive.

 

So, you figure we are somehow just wired to make the choices we make, and therefore they are not choices at all, or they are false choices and its just hormones and neurotransmitters running their natural course, not requiring any Ten Oz to make a contribution, or take responsibility for, or credit for a choice.

 

There is, to my mind, a reality in Ten Oz, or TAR, that requires there to be that lump of chemical and organs that is Ten Oz or TAR, that does not require that there is a Ten Oz or a TAR that is not those particular lumps of living stuff.  That is, there is not a TAR that could have been born into a different body, with different sexual preferences or of different parents in a different country at a different time.  There is only one TAR, and only one Ten Oz, and although we are components of larger families and countries and races and biosystems and such, we are never-the-less, not ghosts in a machine, but the machine itself.

 

Regards, TAR


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#9 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 02:15 AM

Ten Oz,

 

You are right.  There are many things we do that make us feel good, that are not actually helpful, or constructive, or beneficial toward survival.  And like you say, destruction and hurting, makes some people feel good.  Like people that love fire, and torch a place just to see it burn.  Or someone that gets off on domination, or seeing someone they have power over, squirm.

 

When talking about consciousness and choice, I always like to consider a greater consciousness than my own.  Not God, but an objective reality, that exists, outside an individual, made up of all that is aware of the world, especially in the bodies of other humans, and other mammals, and other living things that have survival needs in competition to, or in concert with my own.

 

That is, the worm squirming on the driveway, flushed out of the ground by the rain, is conscious of its situation, and wishes to survive, and will take actions, instinctual or reflexive, to stay alive.

 

So, you figure we are somehow just wired to make the choices we make, and therefore they are not choices at all, or they are false choices and its just hormones and neurotransmitters running their natural course, not requiring any Ten Oz to make a contribution, or take responsibility for, or credit for a choice.

 

There is, to my mind, a reality in Ten Oz, or TAR, that requires there to be that lump of chemical and organs that is Ten Oz or TAR, that does not require that there is a Ten Oz or a TAR that is not those particular lumps of living stuff.  That is, there is not a TAR that could have been born into a different body, with different sexual preferences or of different parents in a different country at a different time.  There is only one TAR, and only one Ten Oz, and although we are components of larger families and countries and races and biosystems and such, we are never-the-less, not ghosts in a machine, but the machine itself.

 

Regards, TAR

I don't think it is anything outside us or anything profound within. It seems the unconscious process is actually rather basic. Most animals seem to have fight or flight. Have a instantaneous cognitive process that guides them. Maybe it is the most straight forward way a mind works. It is selfish and entirely focused on need/desire. Our self aware consciousness may have been a filter that simply allowed us to cooperate or organize thought into language. Or believing we had a choice may have had the evolutionary advantage of enabling us to manifest the motivation to do things which we emotionally didn't want to do but needed to do.


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#10 goldglow

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 12:01 PM

I've found it helpful for me to see choice ,for now, as a decision- i hope that isn't just semantics. So i can now ask: how do we come to a decision?  When we have 2 or more options what is it that makes the decision? What is the deciding factor? Sometimes it is merely a superficial preference -" I'll have red wine, please ", or,  like Yul Brynner, " I only wear black clothes ".  Or , it may be a decision purely from habit - " I always park my car here ". etc. Or, again, it could be a decision constrained by cultural, traditional or religious beliefs and customs.  Maybe long-term memories stored in the normally dormant unconscious can influence immediate decisions, too: "what did i do the last time ? " etc. As Ten Oz says , these decisions are ".. rather basic ", and all take place in the conscious, mechanical processes of the brain-cells, which ties in with what TAR says : " ... we are .....not ghosts in a machine, but the machine itself." Fortunately, we rarely if ever have to make instantaneous  life or death decisions, but i think i would be right in saying that , if that was the case, there may be a less superficial , less conscious decision to be made and the sane, " selfish " brain would act independently of thought and protect itself, and this would not be a conscious decision, nor a  " fight or flight " reaction. In this case, the brain is programmed to protect itself without any conscious decision having to be made. Allow me to be a little flippant here:  I've " decided " to stop now because i'm hungry..... or did hunger decide to stop me ...... or is it my habit, or my stomach's habit,  to have lunch at this time? Who Knows? ( Ha, ha ).

 

I don't think it is anything outside us or anything profound within. It seems the unconscious process is actually rather basic. Most animals seem to have fight or flight. Have a instantaneous cognitive process that guides them. Maybe it is the most straight forward way a mind works. It is selfish and entirely focused on need/desire. Our self aware consciousness may have been a filter that simply allowed us to cooperate or organize thought into language. Or believing we had a choice may have had the evolutionary advantage of enabling us to manifest the motivation to do things which we emotionally didn't want to do but needed to do.

 

There are more questions here that need to be addressed by someone more qualified in more complex matters than i am: co-operation,language/thought  and " mind "  among them,  and i can give no better answer than to recommend  a book titled  " The Astonishing Hypothesis. " by Francis Crick, the scientist who helped to discover the structure of DNA. It covers all this in a far more erudite fashion than i could.


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#11 dimreepr

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 12:35 PM

While I generally agree with the OP, I do think we can intentionally/consciously influence future pre-conscious decisions, using mindfulness for instance.


That would suggest we have two types of consciousness:

 

The decision in the moment, how to adjust to the latest external stimulus.

 

Planning/contemplation, how to influence the outcome of future stimulus both internal and external.

 

Just thinking out loud  :-).


Edited by dimreepr, 6 May 2017 - 12:36 PM.

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#12 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 12:57 PM

While I generally agree with the OP, I do think we can intentionally/consciously influence future pre-conscious decisions, using mindfulness for instance.


That would suggest we have two types of consciousness:

 

The decision in the moment, how to adjust to the latest external stimulus.

 

Planning/contemplation, how to influence the outcome of future stimulus both internal and external.

 

Just thinking out loud  :-).

To influence future pre-consciouse decisions you are implying our real time decisions are true decisions and not illusions of choice. Believe we are making choices for ourselves does provide a source of motivation. If my wife orders me to vacuum the carpet I won't want to do it. If my wife hints it needs tobe done and then at some point I make the choice to do I will then want to do and feel good about doing it. The illusion of choice could purely be internal manipulation designed to keep of motivated and satisfied.

 

When I become aware in my dreams I am able to control my actions within the dream. However the world of the dream itself continues beyond my control. If I become aware I amdreamin the middle of a dream about hiking in the forrest I remain in the forrest I just gain control over myself. The world as presented and thechoices I am presented still exist beyond my understanding. It is a bit like a video game in a way. We can control our character, control their choices, but ultimately are confined by the game itself. As such the characters we are "controlling" never actually do anything unpredictable or beyond the confines of the game.


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#13 dimreepr

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 01:09 PM

To influence future pre-consciouse decisions you are implying our real time decisions are true decisions and not illusions of choice. Believe we are making choices for ourselves does provide a source of motivation. If my wife orders me to vacuum the carpet I won't want to do it. If my wife hints it needs tobe done and then at some point I make the choice to do I will then want to do and feel good about doing it. The illusion of choice could purely be internal manipulation designed to keep of motivated and satisfied.

 

When I become aware in my dreams I am able to control my actions within the dream. However the world of the dream itself continues beyond my control. If I become aware I amdreamin the middle of a dream about hiking in the forrest I remain in the forrest I just gain control over myself. The world as presented and thechoices I am presented still exist beyond my understanding. It is a bit like a video game in a way. We can control our character, control their choices, but ultimately are confined by the game itself. As such the characters we are "controlling" never actually do anything unpredictable or beyond the confines of the game.

 

I think it's the difference between internal and external stimuli:

 

External - we have evolved to react as fast as possible to external stimuli, no time to involve a conscious decision.

 

Internal - we have time to cogitate sift all the evidence and plan for the next time (that's why we dream, some say). 


Edited by dimreepr, 6 May 2017 - 01:11 PM.

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#14 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 01:32 PM

 

I think it's the difference between internal and external stimuli:

 

External - we have evolved to react as fast as possible to external stimuli, no time to involve a conscious decision.

 

Internal - we have time to cogitate sift all the evidence and plan for the next time (that's why we dream, some say). 

Or could it be defaults? Ones unconscious mind just completely takes over as needed when needed. It is constantly running on the background providing choice and jumps in when it doesn't have time to set up choices to provide us.

 

I have so many questions about it and no answers unfortunately.


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#15 tar

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 01:37 PM

 "It is a bit like a video game in a way. We can control our character, control their choices, but ultimately are confined by the game itself. As such the characters we are "controlling" never actually do anything unpredictable or beyond the confines of the game."

 

Ten Oz,

 

Like dimreepr says there is a difference between internal, dream, wondering, guessing, non-binding "play" actions and actions in the waking world, that can not be taken back.

 

You can make a decision, sort of and play out in your mind, how it is likely to turn out...but pull your bosses pants down, for real, at work and that decision is going to heavily inf luence your future survival.

 

Regards, TAR


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#16 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 01:51 PM

 ... we are .....not ghosts in a machine, ll this in a far more erudite fashion than i could.

We carry genes of our ancestors down through time and there is definitely a repetitive nature to societal behavior. Many battles are fought over and over against. Currently we are experiencing a rise in a type of nationalist driven facism throughout western culture. Could just be an organic movement reacting to the times or part of a larger repetitive cycle. Maybe we cannot see the forest through the trees. Maybe some part of our inherited cognitive traits attempt to resolve past experiences which leaves some segment of the population in a loop. We know that the thoughts and fears of women while pregnant impacts the fetus. Maybe those who reproduced in the mist of all the chaos of WW2 put a different ghost into the machine than those who reproduced in during the resolutions which followed its end.

 

*Just spitballing


 "It is a bit like a video game in a way. We can control our character, control their choices, but ultimately are confined by the game itself. As such the characters we are "controlling" never actually do anything unpredictable or beyond the confines of the game."

 

Ten Oz,

 

Like dimreepr says there is a difference between internal, dream, wondering, guessing, non-binding "play" actions and actions in the waking world, that can not be taken back.

 

You can make a decision, sort of and play out in your mind, how it is likely to turn out...but pull your bosses pants down, for real, at work and that decision is going to heavily inf luence your future survival.

 

Regards, TAR

I have no desire to pull anyones pants down. And as we have discussed desire is someone presented to us unconsciously and not a choice. What I do in the real world cannot be taken back and has domino effects that connot be predicted or known. That doesn't mean that my unconscious isn't influencing what I will choose by controlling the strength of my desire.


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#17 dimreepr

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 02:05 PM

Ones unconscious mind just completely takes over as needed when needed. It is constantly running on the background providing choice and jumps in when it doesn't have time to set up choices to provide us.

 

That's my thinking.


Edited by dimreepr, 6 May 2017 - 02:08 PM.

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#18 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 02:11 PM

 

That's my thinking.

But are the choices real or just a carrot?


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#19 dimreepr

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 02:13 PM

That's my thinking.

 

 

Sort of

 

 It is constantly running in the background providing choice

 


But are the choices real or just a carrot?

 

What do you mean?


Edited by dimreepr, 6 May 2017 - 02:14 PM.

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#20 Ten oz

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Posted 6 May 2017 - 02:26 PM

 

Sort of

 


 

What do you mean?

Are we actually able to make the choice or are they provided to us in such a way that a specific one will be what we choose. Sort of the way parents manipulate children with quid pro qou set ups which the adults know children with 100% fall for, The children believe they have made a choice but really they were led to make it.


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