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David Eagleman: The Brain and The Law



It’s still very much a work in progress trying to unravel the paradox of free will. There’s so many layers and contexts to consider. Yes we have free will of course, I CHOSE TO TYPE THESE WORDS RIGHT NOW, I ALSO CHOSE TO PAUSE FOR TEN SECONDS BEFORE TYPING THIS NEXT SPELING MISTAKE. I’m consciously aware in this present moment and can add a certain agency to what I’m doing.

However, there’s layers and contexts to consider that lead up to those free will choices I make. Moving on to explain… An Indian person will go through the same free will pattern as I just did to let’s say go to the Hindu Temple on any given day, A FREE WILL CHOICE. But can they step back to assess how they became believers in Hinduism in the first place? If that was a complete free will choice or to consider if the brain creates automated mind to associate with various appropriate cultural patterns that have built up over time and then contribute to each triggered surface, conscious free will choice? India has a majority estimated at 80% Hindu and another country being 95% Islam and another country 80% Catholic and so on, with what ever majority pattern they may all correlate with, for either religion, politics, or more trivial memes such as fashion trend and language patterns etc… Are where the birth of such patterns came from, why they became fixed into place and formed as majority patterns ever questioned? More often than not, no. If yes, then just from that questioning, proud association to majority affiliation would loosen and there would be much more diversity… India would not be 80% Hindu, Saudi Arabia not 95% proud Muslim and so on they would instead by a mix of hundreds of religions to choose from if any at all.

Why has Japan got an extremely low crime rate, why not just random chunks of high and low here and there with such a high population and people spread far and wide there? Why is Northern Europe happier than the rest of the world, following consistent patterns year after year? Each person born into any given culture becomes proud or somehow attached to the various memes of that culture. To be proud of one thing and all the details that come with that, which involve positives but also negatives means there needs to be a comparison against another in relation to, yet it’s hardly ever considered that if the same person glowing with pride for a specific meme if born into a different culture, their affiliations would almost certainly lie elsewhere and their pride being in line with that majority instead.
Two accidental birthplace scenarios for the same person and you can get two completely different free will choices because of that. Most of our daily decisions are trivial. Who cares that an individual drives with similar / same pattern every day as long as it’s safe. Who cares what same / similar daily pattern an individual uses to shower and brush their teeth as long as they are clean. Who cares what daily pattern of how we hold our knife and fork and how fast or slow we chew as long as we enjoy our food and do not choke…. We did not in any detail choose those trivial patterns, they just formed, happened to us and then set in place over time. Patterns they became where others can associate with those patterns as part of our identity.
Not all daily patterns of decision making that just happened to us over time, that became automated, without the need for us to be consciously aware while doing / thinking them are trivial though. When it comes to politics and religion, decisions can be quite significant and often the difference between acceptance, exclusion, life and death. A person will judge another with seemingly a free will choice and at the same time be unaware that if they were simply born into another country / culture with the exact same body and gene pool they would most probably be believing something else that would influence a completely different outcome, to the extremes of completely rejecting someone, to forming a relationship and starting a family with someone… ACCIDENTAL BIRTHPLACE, AS NO BABY BORN HAS CONTROL OVER THEIR GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION AND THE CULTURAL NORMS THAT COME WITH IT.
FOR THIS DISCUSSION NOT TO BE RAISED OFTEN ENOUGH IS SOMETHING FUTURE, MORE ADVANCED CIVILIZATIONS WILL SIMPLY LOOK BACK AND SMILE AT THE PRESENT DAY UNFORTUNATE AND INNOCENT IGNORANCE. The majority of  the world demands to just flow with whatever they want to freely and bypass thinking critically. We allow that, accept that still in 2018. It’s cultural and social normality yet the most deluded of processes. There is no hint that education systems or the media will sway towards a norm of people questioning their free will choices, to step back and notice glaring statistics such as country majority affiliations mentioned or the findings offered via genetic and neurobiological research stating clearly how we are influenced beyond our awarenes by a brain that creates mind to survive and do whatever it needs to do. Simple observations need only to be activated and the collapse of religion as we know it would happen rapidly… And it is kindergarten basic observation intelligence required to grasp the points I’ve put forward.
THE MAJORITY OF THE WORLD ARE STILL VERY MUCH INCREDIBLY NAIVE IN THAT SENSE. IT’S NOTHING TO DO WITH ARROGANCE THOUGH… It’s part of the paradox that humans just get swept away with, the norms of the time, more of an innocent ignorance, not yet in a position to comprehend anything different. The default position the majority of the worlds people take is that ‘we know best’ a self justification process and that in itself stops people from actually thinking critically. The brain creates mind to keep coherent patterns within itself from genes passed down by parents, then through to childhood influence, circumstance and experience onwards, scultping around the potentials and susceptibilities those genes provide. These automated, unconscious processes do not care about rationality and logic along the way, in favour instead of making sure that the stumbled upon and ongoing identity detail coherence remains in tact. The process embedding into trillions of neuronal connections, forming and sustaining movement patterns, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, gelling together efficiently, creating a copy / paste system, so when repeating or similar scenarios crop up in life we can react accordingly to ensure comfort and safety within split second actions and thoughts. This unconscious process may even stumble across reason on occasion if required, but it will also continue as irrational as it needs to at the same time, creating the eventual erratic paradox that is free will / non-free will human.
To summarise, free will becomes a convenient and appropriate highly efficient automated system of repetitive copy / paste neuronal brain patterns carving out mind like flowing rivers on a map, having only tiny opportunity of ‘other’ choice in order to assist the survival / reproduction process, having to deal with hundreds of things each day. I did not choose to not kill or rape someone today, it’s automated within me not to, something I do not have to worry about within everyday living. However, if in a desperate situation such as in war, I know I have the capability to kill as part of the defence of me and my family and friends. It will be a choice at that given time if it were to happen but again as part of the automation that’s already sculpted beneath the surface, as an evaluation of the dire consequences compared to the benefits has already been stamped into place via natural empathic and fight /flight /freeze genes and from their relevant hormones released to ensure specific behavior patterns. On a daily basis I do not go around physically harming the people I disagree with, a process that I don’t think about, just another pattern that naturally flows. We would simply not survive if our brain created a mind which had a default system of stop and think about everything. Survival in the wild, brain to mind we inherited from our distant ancestors. Genes and neurons from those who had to react in a quick fire life or death anarchic environment thousands of years ago. Laws, government and education were not present in those times, we inherited that evolved fight or flight system and it’s still very much part of our default brain to mind present day, glazed over though with modern day narratives to replace the natural instinct of basic survival defence and attack. This overpowering raw process makes sure that we only consciously glimpse at ourselves in any given specific moment to make a decision or to clarify thoughts but just surface glimpses they are for necessary actions, reactions in that given moment guided by foundations already laid. To be aware of the scaffold built up to form that action / reaction cannot be observed by the owner of  it. Thoughts and actions therefore have nothing really to do with peace, love and progress in a grand scheme of things of which ironically many people profess they are about as part of that paradoxical and ironic process. Especially for those with a religious label and affiliation. Why?
Scenario: The sweet and caring Muslim mother who is also a nurse, liked and respected by many that means no harm would at the same time not want their polite and educated, well meaning offspring to marry into a sweet and caring, educated, well respected Jewish family as a norm for example. Qualities of nature in both families that can be appreciated globally, yet the appropriate for each group means they express a VIOLENCE AND HATE that is seperation from and rejection of the other. Very little chance these parents could even contemplate accepting any such relationship with the other for their child! Distancing within this context should not be part of our world present day, yet this form of hatred and violence still very much exists in this manner, sugar coated and the norm worldwide, hidden, sly conflict by otherwise ‘intelligent, responsible and good, everyday people’ 
Too many assume the position of correct opinion / belief system and therefore everyone else must be wrong… Disguised with calm tones often, as peoples have to now live and work among each other, however, brush under the carpet contradictions, cherry picking, hush hush, rarely discussed, go about minding their own business kind of way within the safe convenience knowing they have a majority community backing in background thought bubbles for emotional support which unfortunately ensures the reinforcement of this naivety and innocent ignorance. This makes it one of the worst forms of hatred and violence expressions around and the very people doing it will not be able to notice that due to the default self justification brain to mind process. We are now deeply rooted into a global economy, easy to communicate and travel worldwide, needing to be one team more and more, yet to educate the masses with basic kindergarten observations to alleviate the madness of seperation and rejection within this context is a long, long way from happening. Religion which had community building qualities in times past is not so suited for a modern world that wants to progress, it becomes a huge stumbling block. The groups and barriers formed and sustained with the peoples segregating accordingly is one of the major root causes for the complicated and tense global politics that exist.
A process of adapting education systems and the media worldwide must be of paramount importance to help the innocently ignorant become more and more aware of how brain creates mind, to understand how genes influence, to grasp how neurons and hormones cultivate mind patterns, how each area of the brain influences specific thought and action and why, to ultimately help people understand how memes are formed and sustained. In the meantime, it would be foolish to stop people flowing with their subjective comfort zone realities. Free speech a must, empathy toward people who do not mean any harm, however, swept away with their subjective reality a must too but important to promote structured, continual debates and conversation also. This mix will help reason find a way through, this will encourage the masses to embrace thinking critically more often and from there to appreciate facts and evidence as fundamental toward progress over proud faith based ideas.
Why is this process not going to improve any time soon though? Because the political leaders across the world are still very much part of that innocent ignorance too, defending and supporting their own subjective religious realities… The continual activation of that default self justification through them, increasing the chances of influencing the masses their way through their governance and the follow on leader being of similar mold or meme, flowing with same / similar contexts even if opposing views due to the masses being a certain way inclined that will of course vote them in if they fit with their memes. An ongoing cycle that reinforces and renews continually. To those who understand what I’m trying to put across, please keep sharing these blogs and others from other writers as often as possible… Only this way we can keep raising and expanding awareness for now. It seems to be one of the few ways forward . 🙂
Panayiotis Stavrou
[Video source: The RSA You Tube channel]