At the moment of decision we all feel we are acting freely, selecting at will from an infinity of choices.
– Richard Restak, The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own
We may prefer to believe we’re acting freely, making our own decisions, determining every little thing we do—but believing doesn’t make it so. And anyone intimately familiar with the Enneagram knows that much of what we do involves little conscious choice. We tend to run on autopilot most of the time—maybe all of the time.
The generally-accepted theory is that we make a conscious decision to do something, and that conscious decision directs our brain to signal our body to perform whatever action we’ve decided to take.
It seems obvious on the face of it. But then along came Benjamin Libet whose experiments proved that our brains know we’re going to do something before we’re consciously aware of our intention to do it.
In The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own, Richard Restak describes the results of Libet’s research:
An inexplicable but plainly measurable burst amount of activity occurs in your brain prior to your conscious desire to act. An outside observer monitoring electrical fluctuations in your brain can anticipate your action about a third of a second before you are aware that you have decided to act. Continue reading
Over the past few months, I’ve regained my appreciation for keeping a journal. My practice had run aground last year, all notebooks consigned to a dresser drawer. Then on a whim I decided to reread The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own written by neurologist Richard Restak. This is a very accessible book. Each chapter stands by itself, and the chapters can be read in any sequence. What originally hooked me was the chapter the book is named after—and it deserves a post all its own, which it will get.
In a different chapter titled “Prescriptions for Insight,” Restak begins:
I often wonder what hope there can be for troubled people who can’t obtain professional help. It seems unfair that individually and collectively we’ve become increasingly dependent on psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers—professions that a century ago didn’t exist, at least in their present forms.
He goes on to consider and then discard the notion that the emotional disturbances we experience today were rarer in less-complicated times.
One has only to read the Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, or Dickens to see that people have been trying for centuries to cope with uncomfortable feelings, distressing thoughts, and uncontrollable impulses.
And then he suggests several methods people can use to help themselves. One suggestion, from a psychiatrist friend, is keeping a journal. Continue reading