PAGE IN PROGRESS What you see here is a page of my hypertext book POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. Initially empty, this page will slowly be filled with thoughts, notes, and quotes. One day, I will use them to write a coherent entry, similar to these completed pages. See this post to better understand my creative process. Thank you for your interest and patience!
Starting from the Enlightenment era, human beings have regarded their brain as a source of power. This was in contrast to the previous era, the Middle Ages, which was dominated by the idea that the ultimate power in the universe was God. Some Renaissance thinkers cautiously advance the idea that, because human beings were created by God, they were imbued by his power, which allowed them to be explorers and creators in world made possible through God's will. The Enlightenment took these ideas to extreme, based on the perception that people can use the power of their brain to unlock all the secrets of the universe and change it according to their own plan.
The XX century brought doubts that shook this overly optimistic view. On one hand, the horrors of the world wars and the awareness about these horrors (made possible through strengthening networks of mediated communication, aka media) sowed doubts about whether human beings knew what they were doing to the world and to themselves. On the other hand, advancements in science suggested that universe's secrets are very far from being unlocked (e.g., bizarre and unpredictable nature of the quantum world). Scholars who studied human behaviors also suggested that people do not really know themselves or are able to control their thoughts and desires (e.g., Freud's ideas about the unconscious mind).
The era of postmodernism went to the extreme opposite from the optimism of the Enlightenment. Postmodernist thinkers suggested that individuals are hopelessly subjective and have no ability to really understand the world around them. Knowledge is always flawed, as are all tools we use to make sense of ourselves and the universe. Even the language that we use to learn, connect, and communicate is against us.
I believe that both the extreme optimism of the Enlightenment and the extreme pessimism of postmodernism are misleading. Truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in-between, and it is not easy to navigate or formulate. We need to understand what kind of power our brains really give us, but we also need to be very clear on where this power ends.
Authors of article "Consciousness as Memory System" explain: “'We don’t perceive the world, make decisions, or perform actions directly. Instead, we do all these things unconsciously and then—about half a second later—consciously remember doing them.'” "According to the researchers, this theory is important because it explains that all our decisions and actions are actually made unconsciously, although we fool ourselves into believing that we consciously made them." "'Even our thoughts are not generally under our conscious control. This lack of control is why we may have difficulty stopping a stream of thoughts running through our head as we’re trying to go to sleep, and also why mindfulness is hard.'” [New Explanation for Consciousness]
Notably, the authors included a special section of free will where they are very careful to explain that their arguments do not equal the denial of free will: "We would like to make several points about free will. First, just because our decisions and actions are ultimately made unconsciously does not mean that we do not have free will—or, at least, not any more than if we made our decisions and actions consciously. The implications regarding determinism are no different whether decisions are initiated consciously or unconsciously. Second, as we just discussed, our conscious mind can cajole our unconscious self into making the best decisions in particular instances and can change the tendencies of our unconscious self over time. Third, if major life decisions are made slowly, over minutes, hours, days, or longer, these important decisions will almost certainly have input from both our conscious mind and our unconscious brain processes. Lastly, our memory theory of consciousness makes no predictions about whether our decisions and actions are determined on a microscopic scale, so on that point, we will not comment other than to say that we believe that we must act as if we have free will." (p. 286)
They continue to explain how they believe that human beings can, indeed, impact their behaviours, even though many of their actions are influenced by unconscious processes: "Just because a large part of who we are is our unconscious self does not mean that we cannot change and improve ourselves over time... In the same way that we can change who we are by consciously deciding to change our unconscious self, we firmly believe that we can control our actions. Perhaps this is obvious now that we have explained that we are both our conscious and our unconscious selves. But, even if we are just considering our conscious self, we believe that our conscious self can cajole and convince our unconscious self to make the decisions and take the actions we desire." (p. 287)
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