According to a television programme that I saw last week, we don’t have as much control over our actions as we think. In fact it appears that the notion of ‘free will’ could just be a myth – our bodies simply react to trillions of competing stimuli in an automated process over which we have no conscious control. This could explain quite a lot.
presenter, who was a Doctor (so it must be true), showed us an experiment in
which a patient was connected to various laboratory machines and instructed to
move their limbs while electromagnetic beams were aimed at their head. By
changing the electromagnetic settings, the Doctor could make the patient move
the ‘wrong’ limb – although, weirdly, the patient always thought that the
unintended movement was their own idea, thus maintaining the misconception that
we are responsible for our own actions.
for horseracing are huge. For a start, no one can possibly blame me if
Starchitect doesn’t win the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury this weekend. My choice
of selection has basically been preordained by a sequence of events which are
entirely outwith my own control.
Moreover, we can’t blame the jockey, the trainer
or the horse either – they’re all just creatures responding to a complex matrix
of external forces. Although it should be noted that Starchitect is a
particularly handsome creature and this may well turn out to be one of the
forces that discriminates in his favour.
programme this week, I heard an anthropologist discussing a similar theme.
Simon McBurney spends his time asking people to point to the place where their
‘consciousness’ comes from. As you’d expect, most adults in western
civilisation point to their brain. Some people might point to their heart,
which is a nice sentiment, especially with Valentines Day just around the
corner. But in the isolated wilds of the Amazon Rain Forest, McBurney found a
tribe of people who pointed at the jungle surrounding them. Their belief is that
their consciousness comes, not just from the self, but from their environment –
which links us back to the hypothesis of the Doctor on TV.
I’m not sure why
I didn’t see this before. I am quite certain that if you asked a hundred
thousand Irishmen where their consciousness comes from, they’d point East
towards Cheltenham. Like a murmuration of starlings swooping in the Autumn
dusk, or a hive of bees swarming in the Spring, droves of punters migrate
across the Irish Channel each year in March – apparently coordinated by the
unseen hand of fate. Few know how they managed to get to Cheltenham; even fewer
know how they got back.
Most of the
Irish contingent will be hardwired to bet on any horse trained by Willie
Mullins. They’ll probably go home having backed a high proportion of winners.
Unfortunately, I’m pre-programmed to support horses at longer prices (it’s a
medical condition known as ‘greed’) – and will consequently come away much
poorer. But at least I know, now, that it isn’t my fault.