Welcome to Day 19 of #30PostsHathSept. [PLEASE READ all my other challenge posts HERE.] This is a post filled with unanswerable questions, as I ponder the concept of who we are, ending with a reference to Dr. Who as it begins Season 9 tonight on BBC America.
100 milliseconds. The blink of an eye.
Depending upon your reading speed, the first two sentences required approximately 1500 – 3000 milliseconds. Within that short time period, a judgment is determined. A decision. A planned action.
Because all it really takes to formulate an impression is that blink of an eye. We like to think we are independent thinkers and doers. But a considerable amount of our behavior goes on behind the scenes, in our subconscious.
Some researchers are examining whether we have free will at all. Interesting experiments have been done trying to elicit the concept of free will – that is, the innate ability within us to freely and consciously choose a specific course of action. Some of the types of variables internal to the person making an action that are thought to underscore that action may include responsibility, critical analysis, guilt, fear, and interest level.
Thought experiment: Imagine yourself in any situation in which the outcome is an action on your part. How precisely did you arrive at that decision?
When an fMRI was performed on study participants while they were simultaneously requested to make a specific conscious decision, the fMRI findings actually revealed that the conscious decision delayed the brain changes for many seconds. The conclusion was that the conscious decision was secondary to the actual action.
How much of our daily activity is conscious and how much is unconscious. We breathe, circulate blood through a pumping heart, as well as perform a variety of functions we consciously need not consider on a minute-by-minute basis. But how much more of our daily functioning is done subconsciously? For example, how many of you can deny driving on occasion only to arrive at a designated location without a clear sense of the experience getting there?
The real question about free will is one for philosophers, at least until we better understand the functioning of our brains.
For today, I primarily want to ponder first impressions. First impressions seem to fall in line with what we think of as free will. But is it really free? If studies have shown impressions to occur in the blink of an eye, how much of that impression is conscious?
People extensively prepare for job interviews, presentations, dates, and so forth, but if impressions are made so quickly, what possibly can transpire between two people that can communicate to such a depth?
We make first impressions everyday. We see a person’s clothing, regional accent, gender, height, weight, race, ethnicity, and the presence or absence of a disability. We make judgments of intelligence, wealth, personality, and sometimes well before we even interact. Our brains are processing information at great speeds, but how much do we tease apart and actually think through thoroughly?
Recently, I went to a hairstylist who suggested I consider coloring my hair to remove the gray. First I was taken aback that she thought I was old enough to need it. I had not thought much about it prior to that day, but ultimately decided to try a temporary wash to match my usual color. The result was not what I expected. The issue was not with the hair itself, but with me. I missed my white streaks of hair, even though I rarely noticed them. The new version did not look like me. It did not feel like me. I was happy that the new color lasted only six washes.
Throughout our lives we play many roles and have many faces. At each stage of life, there is an adjustment of identity both internally and externally. There were times when I was younger that I looked upon the hands of an older person, and remarked to myself how thin and how frail they appeared. Despite believing myself to be fair and fully conscious of every decision I make, I likely at times have made judgments – hopefully not unfairly – over something as minute as aged skin.
Now, with the same ageing skin, and white-streaked hair, I wonder how others see me. Is my attitude much like a parent who sees their child grow each day, becoming comfortable with the almost invisible transitions, only to find the visiting grandparents shocked at how much the child has grown. But I never noticed that I (or my child) became older, I would say.
Do people notice differences only in the absence of regular contact? Is this absence a contributor to unfamiliarity? Is unfamiliarity the key in prejudice? If so, how can we explain studies that find decisions made before the conscious mind engages? How much if any of prejudice is pre-conscious? And if prejudice is at least in part pre-conscious, what factors can alter pre-conscious to thus eliminate prejudice? What life experiences may lead to a positive and loving view towards others who may differ, and what exactly may lay the groundwork for prejudice and hate. How much of innate personality may play a key role in protecting someone from building prejudices?
I certainly am not claiming to be an expert of brain science nor social science. But the more we learn of the brain, the more questions crop up of who we are, and how we function as social beings.
What makes people in as brief as 100 milliseconds decide they may somehow know another person’s personality, work ethic, intelligence, and so many critical factors? That’s barely enough time to make eye contact or shake hands. Are more senses at play than vision or hearing? What role does this age of virtual communications play in reducing or even positively affecting these first impressions?
Some other researchers have proposed that we do indeed have free will. Called free won’t for lack of a better name, it is the inhibitory brain response we have to halt our actions and judgments until conscious control takes hold. That’s a far more positive outlook to free will, but more research is obviously needed.
As the burgeoning field of neuroscience progresses, the idea of free will undoubtedly become clearer. At present, barring a brain injury or psychopathology, we are responsible for our actions. We already know children, with their still developing brains, are less responsible for their actions than an adult. That’s a very good thing, but are we responsible for our unconscious thinking as well? And how to influence that?
I have many more questions than answers today. None other than the show Dr. Who inspired me. Below for your enjoyment is the last few minutes of the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) as he transitions to the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi). In the first segment, Clara sees the 11th Doctor, with whom she has traveled for a great while, regenerate into a much older and less familiar doctor. Listen to the 11th Doctor’s wonderful parting speech, then watch the second segment and see Clara’s struggle with accepting the 12th Doctor as her doctor. These segments are both touching and revealing of first impressions and the ongoing changes within all of us.
After all…It’s what’s INSIDE that matters most.
REGENERATION 11th Doctor to 12th Doctor:
CLARA’S ACCEPTANCE of the 12th Doctor:
[You can enjoy all the daily posts from the #30PostsHathSept bloggers HERE]