Samantha frowned. “The Argument?”
“That’s what we called it.”
“So, what was it?”
“Remember how I said science had scrubbed the world of purposes? For some reason, whenever science encounters intention or purpose in the world, it snuffs it out. The world as described by science is arbitrary and random. There’s innumerable causes for everything, but no reasons for anything.” …He leaned back, holding her gaze. “You do realize that every thought, every experience, every element of your consciousness is a product of various neural processes? We know this because of cases of brain damage. All I have to do is press a coat hanger past your eye, wriggle it around a little, and you’d be utterly changed.”
* * *
The brain uses sensory inputs to generate a continuously-updated representation of the world. There are various ways of tricking the brain into seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, drugs, direct manipulation of the neurons. Does our susceptibility to induced hallucinations persuade us that our brains are always hallucinating, that our representations of the world are an illusion, that we imagine the world we see and hear?
The brain also generates a continuously-updated representation of its own activity. When I think that I’m making a decision, I might only be tuning in to a slightly-delayed internal representation of synaptic firings that have already taken place in my brain, outside of my conscious awareness. If that’s the case, then do I regard decision-making as an illusion, even if it’s my own brain that’s firing the synapses? If I came to the conscious realization that all of my decisions have already been made by my brain outside of my conscious awareness, would my brain then start making different “decisions” or stop making them altogether? If, conversely, I lost my self-consciousness, so that my conscious internal representation of my brain’s ongoing activities were removed, would my brain start making different decisions or stop making them altogether?
Suppose goals, plans, and intentions are all illusions, because everything we do or think is caused. Would awareness that our future orientation is an illusion cause us to change our goals, plans, and intentions — which, after all, are only illusions anyway? Conversely, if we are stripped of the illusion of making goals, plans, and intentions, would we think or act differently?
Suppose, by tweaking our brains in the appropriate places, we could be made to hate what we love, to lust after what we fear. Would we conclude that all of our untweaked emotional responses are illusory?
If we realized that our appetites were hardwired by evolution, would we conclude that our inhibitions have no evolutionary purpose and no hardwiring and thus could be disregarded completely? Would we arrive at this conclusion even if we had already become persuaded that deciding not to satisfy a desire to fuck or kill someone isn’t really a conscious decision at all, but is actually caused by our brains’ unconscious activity?
I would answer “no” to each of these questions; the characters in Neuropath evidently answer “yes.”