I went to a talk given by the philosopher Julian Baggini the other day, on the subject of free will. I like to think I went of my own accord.
At the start of his talk he referenced a well known piece of research in which the subjects were wired up to an apparatus that recorded brain activity. They were then asked to press a button at any time they liked. The apparatus always detected when they were about to press the button, seconds before they became consciously aware of their intention.
This, it seems, has led some people to believe that the conscious mind is controlled by our subconscious. Baggini, if I understood him correctly, thought not, and so do I.
It is easy for someone to imagine that they understand their actions and impulses, when in fact they don't, and as Baggini demonstrated, humans are prone to imagining things without good reason. But I like to think that as a poet I have a good relationship with the submerged part of my mind. I like to think I can make it work for me.
After the talk I had an interesting conversation with the person sitting next to me. During the conversation I remembered the reason why I am convinced that our subconscious, whatever else it might do, works for our conscious mind.
Years ago, during my working life, I had to create a database. I had never done so before, and it was at a time when there were relatively few other people with experience I could turn to for advice, so I worked away at it by reading help files, and a lot of trial and error.
Usually, by the end of the day, I had come across something that stumped me, and for which the help files seemed enigmatic. At that point I usually gave up and did something else for the rest of the day. The strange thing was, when I went home and took the dog for a walk, thinking of nothing else but keeping an eye on the dog, and enjoying my natural surroundings, often the answer to my problem suddenly appeared in my thoughts, fully solved.
A lot of people I have spoken to seem somewhat doubtful as to the existence of the subconscious mind. But from where else did the answer to my problem come. I was certainly unaware of thinking about it consciously, so it can only have come from the subconscious, given that I long ago stopped believing in divine entities working on our behalf.
The other point about this is that my subconscious must have been working away on behalf of my conscious mind, as the problem was part of my conscious experience of every day life.
The question that comes to mind is can artists, poets, and other people engaged in matters that require a certain amount of original thought, have an extra degree of control over their hidden mind. I believe they can and do. Like it did in the previous example, intractable problems that have resisted my conscious effort, often appear magically from the somewhere else of my thinking process.
I have come to think that I am able to help invoke this process, but of course, I cannot easily prove this. To this end, when I need a bit of help I make a plain, clear statement to myself of what my problem is, then cease to think any more about it, because it seems to me the conscious mind can only get in the way of the mysterious work of the subconscious.
I would like to understand how this is true, but for the moment accept that it works for me, and leave it at that. Perhaps one day it will occur to me subconsciously, who knows?