there is no conscious act, according to a new study

Would any decision or action systematically fall into unconsciousness? A new theory from Boston University suggests that decisions are made unconsciously, then become conscious about half a second later.

Before we tackle anything about consciousness, we must begin by defining it, even if the task is not so obvious. It would be about our personal experience of perception, thought, emotion and action according to the philosopher William James. Therefore, several questions can arise from this definition: What is consciousness for? Why is it so difficult to control? If our actions are under our conscious control, why is it so difficult for most of us to diet (and resist other cravings)?

Consciousness: a memory system?

Researchers at Boston University have tried to answer these questions by developing a new theory of consciousness. ” In short, our theory is that consciousness developed as a memory system used by our unconscious brain to help us flexibly and creatively imagine the future and plan accordingly. “, explains in a press release from the American university the author Andrew Budson, professor of neurology.

Previous work reports that consciousness does not flow linearly over time and often occurs in the wrong order (ie, after, rather than before, or with, perception, decision, or action). Clearly, and according to the new theory, we do not directly perceive the world, make decisions or take actions. ” Instead, we do all of these things unconsciously and then (about half a second later) consciously remember doing them. Budson adds.

In addition, the slowness of consciousness could not previously explain the many decisions and actions that often take place in a fraction of a second when playing a sport or playing a musical instrument. We can also tell ourselves that we are going to have a scoop of ice cream and eventually the container is empty because our conscious mind has not controlled our action!

Does my brain make decisions for me?

“This lack of control explains why mindfulness is difficult”

Even our thoughts are more unconscious than conscious. In fact, if the purpose of consciousness is to allow us to control our thoughts and actions, this control is often difficult to achieve. ” This lack of control explains why we can have trouble stopping a rush of thoughts going through our heads when we’re trying to fall asleep, and also why mindfulness is difficult. », argues the neurologist.

As the theoretical study published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology advance hypotheses, the researchers point out that they can be refuted. Furthermore, they acknowledge that their assumptions have only addressed many small aspects of consciousness and have ignored many of the parts of any full theory of consciousness.

Budson and his colleagues consider a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder or certain types of autism to be disorders of consciousness. Subsequently, this work could help to better understand how brain structures promote memory, and even open philosophical debates about free will and moral responsibility.

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