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It's Not Your Fault

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I just wanted to add some comments related to John Griffin's interesting letter last week about guilt, insanity and the brain ("Mailbox," April 7).

Neuroscientist Benjamin Libet discovered that it takes about half a second for your brain to generate a conscious thought. By the time you experience a thought it's already been in the pipeline for half a second. This finding upset a lot of people, Libet included, and it's said to be the most referenced discovery in the field.

It's upsetting because it means we have no control over our own thoughts. Whatever you're thinking right now was built up over the last half second by your inner robot, that 100 billion-cell biological wonder-machine sitting between your ears. Your consciousness is the end result of that half-second-long process and the robot that built it is, well, just that, a robot. It cranks out motions, emotions and thoughts all day long and does so down there on the molecular level, far below any conscious activity.

It's not just a question of whether or not the insane person is in control of his thoughts and actions. Now, post Libet, it's a question of whether or not any of us are. And apparently, according to the science anyway, we're not.

This is a bit of a downer, I know, but before you start getting too depressed about it, let me add that there's a plus side to the story; a couple of pluses in fact: a) you don't have to ever again feel guilty about anything you think or do, and b) you don't have to hate anybody else for doing what they do. It's not their fault that they're so awful. We can all blame it on our inner robots.

So ease up folks, don't be so hard on the miscreants or yourselves. Nobody's in control here. That's the bottom line and from this perspective it's not so surprising that the world is so thoroughly screwed up.

Douglas George, Eureka


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