For those interested in such matters, I just put up a new post on The Three Illusions site.
One obvious answer is that we wake up from dreams but we don’t wake up from reality. But does the dreamed person in our dreams ever wake up from the dream? Or does their ‘reality’ just end for them? One minute they are living inside their reality and the next it just stops. We wake up from that dream. As far as we’re concerned the dream is over. But what does the dream person experience?
Long before you’re consciously aware of making a decision, your mind has already made it. If that’s the case, do people actually make decisions? Or is every choice — even the choice to prepare for future choices — an unthinking, mechanistic procedure over which an illusory self-awareness is laid? Those questions are raised by a study conducted by Max Planck Institute neuroscientists and published Sunday in Nature Neuroscience. Test subjects chose whether to push a button with their right or left hand; seven seconds before they experienced making the choice, their brain activity already predicted their final decisions.
You may say “who cares?” Well you should. It’s incredibly important to understand. It’s easily as important as understanding that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way around. It will change your life. At least, that’s been my experience and the experience of lots of people I know.
So why do we feel as though we are having a single stream of conscious experiences? Perhaps it was useful for our past survival to have a false model of ourselves, to attribute our body’s actions to an inner self, and to see the world in terms of spiritual forces and non-physical agents, when there are no such things. Perhaps it is possible to give up these illusions by practising watching the mind.
He is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), University of Melbourne. Outside academic circles, Singer is best known for his book Animal Liberation, widely regarded as the touchstone of the animal liberation movement.
I invited him onto the show to talk about the recent news from Spain that they will soon probably extend basic legal rights to all non-human hominids, an idea that has been driven by an organization that Peter co-founded, The Great Ape Project. We also talk about the basic ethics of utilitarianism and how the best thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating meat.