Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Own Refutal

The nature of my manifesto was, perhaps not obviously, based on undeniable facts of biology. I won't go into that any further but an interest in that very same field, Biology, may be my reasoning's undoing. Allow me to briefly teach a little biology.

While I am by no means an expert (so don't point out any technical errors) as I understand it science has fathomed the workings of the nervous system down to the atomic level. This alone is amazing, yet its profound effects are perhaps even more amazing. To demonstrate how this affects my manifesto I shall have to explain the difference between a reflex and a response.

Imagine putting your hand on a hot surface...obviously your reflex is to to pull your hand away. You don't even need to think about this, it will happen unconsciously. Other examples of reflexes are blinking, when something comes near your eyes or flinching at danger. A response on the other hand is a conscious and deliberate act, over which you have full control. How does this difference affect my manifesto? To answer that we shall have to look at the atoms that make up your nervous system. To do this I will first of all look at reflexes.

Simply a sense organ (in the case of the hot surface it is your skin) detects a stimulus and sends a nerve impulse to your spinal cord which then interprets the message and sends a response down another nerve to the appropriate muscle, or effector, causing your hand to recoil. 

On a more complex level it is understood that nerve cells contain atoms that can be excited by the additional energy supplied by the heat. This starts a chain reaction, pushing (I think) sodium ions in and out of nerve cells. Each one causing a destabilisation in the next cell which causes the ejection of yet more sodium ions. Eventually this electrical impulse reaches the spine where it causes another reaction which I, to be fair, do not understand. The fact that I do not understand it doesn't affect its happening though. Nor does it mean it is not understood by someone, somewhere. The point is this definite cause results in a definite effect. An electrical impulse is sent, by similar means, along another neurone which then reaches a muscle, or other effector. Even the contraction of the muscle is understood on an atomic, never mind cellular, level which I personally find breathtaking. 

So your unconscious action is explained on the smallest of scales. Your arm moved because your muscles contracted. Your muscles contracted because of intermolecular forces which were triggered by electrical imbalances brought about by the arrival of a nerve impulse in the muscle. The impulse travelled, via the movement of ions, along a nerve. The impulse was initiated in the spine by the interplay of atoms and ions, over which you exerted no control, but which were caused by an external stimulus.

Let us now consider a supposedly conscious act. I believe that typing this I am in complete control of my fingers...they move to where I instruct them. But they move because of muscle contraction, which happens because of nerve impulses which were initiated in my brain. But what triggered this particular chain reaction? It all must have started with a first cause. An initial atom, or ion, gaining or losing energy, causing it to move thus starting a chain reaction. But what caused this atom (or ion) to move in the first place? How is it possible for my brain to exert some kind of deliberate force on an atom? 

The structure of my brain is in an order of size many trillions of times greater than that of an atom or ion. What if I didn't exert conscious control over my actions? What if all my actions are merely reflexes, on a grander scale? What if none of us are more than inevitable responses to the stimuli we encounter? Having come into my home today, was it always inevitable that I would do this now, given the stimuli I encountered? I don't feel like I've explained this well but I hope I've given you something to ponder.

How does affect my manifesto? Well its overriding principle was that humans are free to choose. And yet here I am saying choice may be an illusion. A mathematician once looked at crime statistics and was so shocked by their uniformity across cultures that he said crime was inevitable...maybe their brains left them no choice but to commit those crimes, to make those choices. So there may be no free will, but I am certainly not saying I believe in fate. The interaction of chaotic stimuli is not predetermined but maybe free will is an illusion?

If free will is not real, and that given the complex multitude of  stimuli we encounter daily could be the prime result of all our actions, then all my thoughts are pretty much void. I will end by saying I don't like the idea that my choices are not my own, and that I don't really think my manifesto is wrong. But the reasoning is compelling. Once again, please respond and let me know what you think.


  1. Whilst I could add some fleshing out to your description of nerve impulse propagation, the synaptic junctions in the cord and the interplay of descending tracts from the cortex on spinal reflexes... It would be redundant in this argument.

    I cannot comment on anything posted on the internet as I have noticed that as the thread 'matures', there is an inevitable decay into insult trading. This is the progression of internet forums, a common pathway and end point which develops no matter what the initial topic. To tag onto your darwinian ideologies, this common thread therefore represent a highly evolved superbeing which is how we will all interact as we evolve beyond the limits of our physical bodies. The internet thread of course is like a bacterium, the most successful of all species, which mutates many million times more rapidly than larger creatures. This enables the super-mutant-archetypal-insult-thread to establish itself within days in some cases.

    To protect against this I will withhold further comment to a live, in pub and quite possibly drunken symposium. Nevertheless, keep it coming it is a welcome break from the porn/study internet cycle.

    ...cannot help myself, must... fight... the... ...America is way harder than you. We kick ass and you all suck...