There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought:
Philosopher Peter Carruthers insists that conscious thought, judgment and volition are illusions. They arise from processes of which we are forever unaware
...According to a new article in Scientific American.
It's long been know that the brain functions way too slowly to explain real-time consciousness. Peter Carruthers suggests that we are actually observing pre-canned thoughts, and inner dialogue / monologue, rather than generating actual thoughts as things stimulate those thoughts.
You see a stop light turn to yellow and move your foot from the gas to the brake. That's all conditioned. There is no way you can actually think "Ah, this is a yellow light. What should I do? I think I'll get ready to apply the brake...Hm,, I'm moving my foot now...." Even if you have such an inner monologue, that must be simply downstream of the source of all those actions, hidden, unconscious conditioning.
Carruthers says this is all an illusion that this is actually thinking, when it is just another set of cognitive behaviors we are witnessing that are conditioned. Even the thought "what shall I do? What are my options" are all part of a chain of conditioning.
There is no other way to explain how our slow slow brains can keep up. Stuff doesn't even get into working memory for us to become aware and act in anything like real time. So our perception that we are seeing, thinking and acting in real time, "Here and Now" must be an illusion.
I believe that the whole idea of conscious thought is an error. I came to this conclusion by following out the implications of the two of the main theories of consciousness. The first is what is called the Global Workspace Theory, which is associated with neuroscientists Stanislas Dehaene and Bernard Baars. Their theory states that to be considered conscious a mental state must be among the contents of working memory (the “user interface” of our minds) and thereby be available to other mental functions, such as decision-making and verbalization. Accordingly, conscious states are those that are “globally broadcast,” so to speak. The alternative view, proposed by Michael Graziano, David Rosenthal and others, holds that conscious mental states are simply those that you know of, that you are directly aware of in a way that doesn’t require you to interpret yourself. You do not have to read you own mind to know of them. Now, whichever view you adopt, it turns out that thoughts such as decisions and judgments should not be considered to be conscious. They are not accessible in working memory, nor are we directly aware of them. We merely have what I call “the illusion of immediacy”—the false impression that we know our thoughts directly.
In ordinary life we are quite content to say things like “Oh, I just had a thought” or “I was thinking to myself.” By this we usually mean instances of inner speech or visual imagery, which are at the center of our stream of consciousness—the train of words and visual contents represented in our minds. I think that these trains are indeed conscious. In neurophilosophy, however, we refer to “thought” in a much more specific sense. In this view, thoughts include only nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals. These are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences. Such thoughts never figure in working memory. They never become conscious. And we only ever know of them by interpreting what does become conscious, such as visual imagery and the words we hear ourselves say in our heads.
We are only aware of our thoughts when a stimulus event triggers them into conscious awareness, or our internal monologue brings them up, but otherwise they are unconscious. And so we think we are doing the thinking but we, the observer, are just along for the ride seeing thoughts long after they were created.
Comparing the brain's slow functioning to our verbal reports, what we do see isn't the whole picture. We live in an illusion of complete awareness of "here" that is missing a lot and a false sense of immediacy, of "now", that isn't actually "now".
Carruthers very intelligently distinguishes conscious thought with Awareness:
Some philosophers believe that consciousness can be richer than what we can actually report. For example, our visual field seems to be full of detail—everything is just there, already consciously seen. Yet experiments in visual perception, especially the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, show that in fact we consciously register only a very limited slice of the world....
The illusion of immediacy has the advantage of enabling us to understand others with much greater speed and probably with little or no loss of reliability. If I had to figure out to what extent others are reliable interpreters of themselves, then that would make things much more complicated and slow.
If there is a Here and Now, and a truly "mindful" Observer, who can "Be Here and Now", it hasn't been detected in the brain yet. And Carruthers believes it might just be an illusion.
Or maybe it's just not inside the physical organ of the brain?