This afternoon, as I gave my second lecture, I found my thought process a bit sluggish. Here and there I would stumble over a word, mispronounce something, or formulate an awkward sentence. Associations weren’t coming to the tip of my tongue as quickly as they often do. I had not yet eaten lunch and had had a very small breakfast, so the sluggishness of my thought process was literally a function of having no gas to run my engines. Yet consciously, phenomenologically, this sluggishness, this lack of alertness, all seemed to me to be a failure of my own will. That is, they felt as if they were my own doing. I am not sure what is worse… Blaming such moments on oneself, or being haunted by the momentary phantasm that none of these things are one’s own doing, that ultimately we’re a sort of machine governed by very complex cause and effect relations over which we have no ultimate control. In such moments a sort of nausea flows over me and I’m horrified by the thought that perhaps my sense that I direct myself, that I will actions, that I am an agent is nothing but an epiphenomenal illusion and that every thought I have, every emotion I experience, every feeling of failure and moral guilt I suffer, everything I seem to will is nothing but the ticking away of a very complex machine where I am ultimately absent. Can anyone not experience horror at the vision of the cap of one’s skull cut open, revealing that fiberous network of neuronal connections where electro-chemical reactions flash and burst without any centralized co-ordination, all the while realizing that that is you? What cruel creator would create a machine that is conscious of itself as an illusion? What accident of nature could produce such an abomination? Fortunately I quickly forget such horrifying phantasms and return to the reassuring thought that I’m somehow directing myself and am not simply an epiphenomenal mist arising out of a network of essentially random connections and processes.
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