A recent study conducted by San Francisco State University associate professor of psychology Ezequiel Morsella suggests our consciousness may not be as powerful or as in control of our thoughts as we think. Morsella asserts that consciousness actually serves “…as a passive conduit rather than an active force that exerts control,” meaning that our concept of free-will effectively “does not exist.”
Given our growing affinity toward freedom of choice in the Western world, Morsella’s theory is very distressing. However, it thankfully does not appear to be concretely grounded in hard science just yet.
To best explain how the human consciousness functions, Morsella compares our experience to the Internet. “Taken at face value, (the Internet) would seem incredibly powerful. But, in actuality, a person in front of a laptop or clicking away on a smartphone is running the show—the Internet is just being made to perform the same basic process, without any free will of its own.”
According to Morsella’s reasoning, this would mean that by default, our impulses and influences to do things must be programmed into our subconscious. This describes a line of thinking many may associate with Sigmund Freud’s work in psychology, whose theories rely upon the existence of subconscious drives and desires.
What I find funny about Morsella’s Internet analogy is that he is using an individual who is clearly acting consciously as an example in his theory. “The person in front of a laptop” is used in the example to represent an entity capable of free will, which leads to the implication that humans do, in fact, have free will. At least in this example, the theory seems to refute itself.
Morsella’s theory, in my opinion, struggles to account for the notion of discipline: Restraining ourselves from doing what we want to do. If we perform actions only through the influence of our unconscious desires, then to be able to actively resist those desires as a conscious decision would be impossible.
Human beings have proven they are more than capable of doing things they don’t want to do, and some even do so on a daily basis. The ability to solve problems and discuss with each other are acts that not only require consciousness, but conscious effort.
Even if we as conscious human beings are not in command of our impulses, what can we gain from Morsella’s theory? According to Science a GoGo, this theory could change the way doctors study medical disorders “…because, in a sense, the consciousness system doesn’t know that you shouldn’t be thinking about something” Morsella says.
For example, if your mind doesn’t realize there is a problem (in other words, a disorder), then the problem can be very difficult to unearth and properly diagnose. This conclusion makes sense, but Morsella does not completely refute the possibility of the consciousness being in full control in this example. Say, for instance, that a manager represents your conscious. This manager can tell his or her workers to do something improper without realizing that what they’ve told them to do is wrong.
Morsella’s way of thinking may benefit psychological study, but it cannot assuredly remove free will from the equation.