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Anne Dalke's picture

Notes on the Brain's Way

My notes from today's rich session:

* To choose is to have alternatives.

* We can choose not to engage in the habitual; we cannot but choose.

* Most of our choices are unconscious: to perceive is to choose.

* The "you" making the choice, in most cases, is "the you not known to you."

* What gets us into trouble is our illusion about conscious choice ("what a piece of work is man/How noble in reason..."): our seeking meaning independently of our unconscious relation to the world.

* We idealize conscious choice as separate from what constitutes the basis of our decisions: the coarseness of our organs.

* Several different metaphors were evoked to describe the relation between conscious and unconscious processes: an onion with layers, a rider on the back of a horse, and a continuum.

* The hazard of focusing on conscious choice is that of getting stuck; this belief can generate a number of problems, including depression.

* We recognize in Hamlet our fears about conscious choices--though there is actually a pair of choosers in that play: Ophelia has the "more raw choice" ("her options were worse than his") of tearing herself out of the narrative, purposely absenting herself from the play.

* This series began with an overview of the history of theater:

  • conventional Aristotelian theater, in which the audience makes no conscious choices of their own;
  • Brechtian theater, which forces the audience to become conscious choosers;
  • a postmodern theater of connection and engagement, which involves the interplay of the conscious and unconsciousness.

* We closed by invoking a further range of related ideas:

  • Sartre @ the cliff: "Your present tense self unwilling to trust your future self to jump";
  • William James similarly invoking the "will to believe";
  • the use of totems to enhance one's sense of agency;
  • the role of the "we-function" (culture; the "unloading of language"; the revising of the past) in choosing;
  • the developmental model of Damasio, moving from "proto-" to "autobiographical" self.

 

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