Barry Evans' article ("Westworld vs. Realworld," July 27) on the "boondoggle" of free will was a pleasant surprise. I was happy to learn that there is someone around who agrees with me.
Benjamin Libet's discovery of the half-second it takes for your brain to build a conscious thought completely undermines the notion of free will. Whatever you're thinking about right now has been in the pipeline for a half-second already. How do you have any conscious control over that which is producing your consciousness?
Beyond the issue of free will, the picture gets even more complicated when you consider that consciousness itself is an illusion. What you see is not what's out there. "Out there" there are no such things as color, sound, texture or smells. You brain creates all of them (collectively called qualia) and nobody knows yet how the brain does it.
Optical illusions nicely illustrate this business of seeing what's not really there but only on a small scale; it really applies to the whole of consciousness.
What you "see" is an internal model of reality. At about 40 frames per second (20 to 90 depending on the urgency) your brain shows you an internal movie of what it guessed things would be like in half a second. Since it took about a half-second for the picture to work its way through the pipeline, what pops up in your awareness coincides with the impinging reality. Any difference between the prediction and newly arriving signals sets off alarm bells.
And just to really confuse things, your perception of "now" as an instant in time is actually an interval of time (about 1/10 of a second in duration as I recall) during which events are rearranged in your memory to make logical sense — like the conviction that you saw that baseball coming and then decided to duck (you actually ducked before you were consciously aware of the ball).
Douglas George, Eureka