Tuesday, January 29, 2008

will I or won't I?

I've been thinking about my state of mind when I first wake up in the morning. Due to my workload, I set my alarm for 6am every morning. This wouldn't be such a big deal, but I'm unable to get to bed before midnight, and I generally don't fall asleep right away when I am in bed. I know this isn't enough sleep. I said "yes" to too many projects, and this is the price I'm now paying for it. Come March, things should ease up a little bit.

I used to try to work out between six and seven. Now, since my publisher is chewing me out for being late on some chapters, I use that time to write. I write from six until eight. Then I get ready for work. Or at least that's the idea. Some mornings, the alarm goes off, and I hit the snooze button and stay in bed.

I've come to feel that I have no control over whether or not I'm going to get up and work. In fact, the night before, when I'm setting my alarm, I get this feeling that whether I'm going to get up or not is totally random. I've reached a detached state, where I think, "Okay, I'm setting the alarm. I wonder how I'll react to it." (Is this how drug addicts feel? "I'm trying to quit. I wonder if I will? Oh, damn. I'm reaching for another hit!")

It's easy for me to understand the mental mechanism when I stay in bed: the alarm goes off, I'm exhausted, I say, "screw that!" and I roll over and go back to sleep. What fascinates me are the times when I get up and start working. I wish I could say that I master myself. "Yes, you're tired, but you have work to do!" In fact, I do say that, but it seems to have no effect on whether or not I'll actually get up and do the work. It will make me feel more guilty, as I'm lying in bed, drifting back into a slumber, but it won't necessarily guilt me out of bed.

No. On the days that I get up, I just ... get up. I'll be lying there, mulling over the possibilities: "I'm so sleepy... I could get up ... or I could sleep more ... or I could ..." And then suddenly, I just bound out of bed. Before I know it, I'm slipping my arms into the sleeves of my bathrobe and padding downstairs. It feels like something that just happens, that just comes over my body. It doesn't feel at all like a decision.

It doesn't always happen. And I haven't figured out anything that will make it more likely to happen (or less likely). It appears to be utterly random.

I'm not worried about myself. I know that if something really important was going on -- a fire in my apartment or a plane I need to catch -- I'd get up. I always do in those situations. But though the writing is important, it's not vital that I do it on any given day. It's just vital that, in general, I keep at it. Which makes the get-up/don't-get-up decision harder to make on any given day, for whatever is making it.

I'm never been much of a believer in free will. But I do believe in the feeling of free will. I think this feeling is based on an illusion, but it's a strong feeling none-the-less. I'm not used to not feeling it.

My guess is that when one needs to make a decision, two opposing modules in the brain duke it out. I'll call them the yes and no modules. They both vie for dominance, and somehow one of them wins. The body makes a move. Or not.

After the fact, the winning module hands over his data to the "I" part of the brain. So I -- the conscious part of me -- feels like it has made a choice. This makes sense from a Darwinian perspective (I think), because if the choice winds up being successful, and I feel like I've made it, I'll be able to "make the same choice" in the future, in similar situations. The "I" module will trump the no module, saying, "I'm not going to listen to you. This worked well last time, so we're doing it again!"

But I guess that, when I'm awakening, the part of my brain that gives ownership of the winning solution to "I" isn't activated yet.

Or that theory may all be bullshit. But it's very odd to feel like a spectator, waiting for something else in me to make a decision!

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