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Old 08-07-2019, 10:23 PM
monstro is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 20,794
I think people severely underestimate the role of emotions in decision-making.

I think the reason I'm so passionate about this topic is because I know what it feels like to not have the sensation of free will. When I was in the worst phase of my depression several years ago, I experienced catatonia. I would be walking down the street on my way to work and suddenly I would freeze. My feet would instantly feel glued to the sidewalk. It was as if I had no "will" to move.

Not only was I always conscious during these spells, but I was hyperconscious of both the world around me and my inner world. My mindspace would always fill with all these swirling, opposing, loud thoughts.



"We will be late to work if you don't move."


"The cars are honking at us because we are standing in the middle of the intersection. So let's at least get back on the curb."


"It's hot. Can we at least walk over into the shade."


"This is weird. We should at least call for help."


And while all of this would be occurring, there was nothing but numbness. Zero emotions. Not even fear. Even when people were yelling at me.

My hypothesis is that I would freeze up like this whenever my brain stopped being able to associate thoughts with emotions. Without any coercive push (fear of being late or fear of getting run over by cars), my brain couldn't land on any decision. Cuz all the decisions were equal. Standing in the middle of the street seemed just as reasonable as anything else I could come up with.

I have no idea what would occurr in my brain to "unstick" me. All I know is that one moment I wouldn't be stuck and then the next moment, I would be moving in the direction of my office. I never did anything consciously to get myself out of the "no will" moment. It would just happen.

So I think this experience is what helped me to see that (at least for me) I ain't doing any contemplative, deep, fact-based thinking when I make decisions. My feet move not because I consciously will them to move, not because I've weighed the pros and cons of them moving beforehand, but because of impulses coming from my brain that I'm not aware of. If I need emotion to help me decide whether to do something as basic as getting out of the middle of rush hour traffic, then I need emotion to help me make all other decisions. And since I don't consciously decide what my affective state is or whether one particular emotion is associated with one particular thought, then I can't say I authored my decisions free from external constraint, independent of initial conditions (like my brain's executive functioning ability or affective state). All I can say is that I made a decision and maybe it was because of X, Y, or Z.

I don't know why I need to tack on anything more to that statement than that. And I don't know why others feel compelled to tack on anything else either.