Wednesday, June 09, 2010

What does it feel like to make a choice?

I'm not asking a free-will-vs-determanism question. Whether or not free will exists, we feel like we make choices. So, real or illusory, what does making-a-choice feel like?

Dumb question? Maybe, but I shocked myself today by realizing that I have no idea what choosing feels like. I don't think I've ever felt it. And I'm wondering if that is unique to me or if, in fact, no one feels the act of choosing.

I need to be really clear, or you'll think I'm saying that I don't feel I've ever made choices, which is wrong. Here's what I feel: I feel the NEED to make a choice. Someone is holding out two ice-cream cones, chocolate and vanilla, and saying that I can only have one. I am keenly aware of a need to choose.

If the guy with the cones says, "You have five seconds or you get noting!" the need increases. And as he counts ... "five, four, three, two, one" ... I feel myself getting closer and closer to the point where I am GOING to make a choice. And then I feel the MOMENT arriving.

I may even go through some internal debate: "Well, I like both flavors, but if I pick vanilla, will people think I'm boring? On the other hand, I just had a chocolate cone yesterday. I don't want to fall into a rut..."

THEN SOMETHING HAPPENS. Something that maybe I experience in the moment (or maybe not), but that I have no memory of afterwards.

I say, "Vanilla!"

Afterwards, I remember the need to make a choice, and, since I'm eating a vanilla cone, I know that I made one. I even remember my reasoning. So it seems totally obvious to say, "I just made a choice." I know why; I know when; I know the result. But I don't remember THE MOMENT.

It's like walking up to a light switch with the intention of flipping it on and then, a moment later, being in a lighted room and being SURE you are the cause of the room being lit -- without actually remembering the moment of flipping the switch.

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