"It seems to me , Piglet," said Pooh, "that I've just had a thought about honey, but Owl tells me that my brain had already thought about that ages before it popped up, if you see what I mean."
"No. I don't really see that at all, Pooh", said Piglet.
"Well, apparently it's really quite simple; but not so simple to explain, you see, which is why we're going along here." Pooh waved a paw along the familiar track that wound in front of them through Hundred Acre Wood.
"Going along here, Pooh?"
"Yes. To Rabbit's."
"Oh, because he's got some honey?"
"Well, partly, but also partly because he might be able tell us what Owl means."
"Oh, I see!" said Piglet, and then he kept quiet whilst they walked along and Pooh hummed quietly, in a ¨trying to find a rhyme" sort of way.
Half an hour later, whilst the friends were licking their paws and Rabbit was staring rather crossly into his empty honey jar, Pooh remembered the other reason that he and Piglet had come visiting Rabbit and said, "Rabbit?"
And Rabbit said "Yes", and didn't sound very friendly.
"Well Rabbit, you know that I am bear of very little brain?"
"Yes I do , Pooh, as a matter of fact." said Rabbit.
"Well Rabbit, can you explain to me and Piglet how my little brain thought about your honey before I did, this morning?"
After a thoughtful pause Rabbit said "Oh, I see. You've been talking to Owl, have you?"
"Not really, Rabbit. It's more that Owl has been talking to me ." said Pooh.
"Well, anyway, it's really quite simple, Pooh." Rabbit sounded rather happier again now because if there's one thing Rabbit likes to do it's 'explain things'. "You see," he continued, "what you think about gets thought secretly in your brain first, and then a few seconds later some of that thinking sort of slips out into your mind and that's when you see it and think 'Ah! Pooh thinks that!'"
"There we are! Just as I thought!" said Pooh rubbing his tummy. "I told you it was quite simple, Piglet. Now let's go home. All that thinking has made me quite snoozey." He rubbed his eyes with the back of his paws.
"But, Rabbit," enquired Piglet, "Supposing I wonder to myself "Who shall I visit?" and then my brain decides that I'll visit Eyore before I even know I 'm thinking about Eyore, how do I , Piglet, ever get to choose who I am going to visit?"
"Well, you don't choose, do you Piglet," said Pooh with a yawn. " I do. And I don't think we should visit Eyore because he doesn't have a comfy chair."
"Well," interrupted Rabbit "Apparently it's not really like that at all, Pooh. You don't choose either. According to Owl it's your brain that makes the choice all on its own, and you just find out about it later."
"Oh, I see." said Pooh, who didn't really see at all, but just knew that he wanted to be home soon.
"But, Rabbit," squeaked Piglet excitedly, "If Owl is right, none of us is actually deciding anything, are we? We're not choosing what to eat, or where to go, or who we like, or anything at all, Rabbit. It's all going on in our brains, and we're just pretending that we choose things like visiting Eyore or not eating thistles, or whatever it is. Isn't that right Rabbit?"
Rabbit looked baffled, but Piglet hadn't finished. "If that is the case I can see that this raises not only questions concerning the nature of choice and free-will, but also challenges ubiquitous and tenuously-held concepts of selfhood. Issues of personal and criminal responsibility might need to be re-assessed, and it could well be that in future we will all be able to access a guilt-free perspective on our own thoughts and behaviour, whilst replacing our punishment based system of justice with something less judgmental and yet, hopefully, infinitely more humane and pragmatic."
"Oh good!" said Rabbit, his face suddenly brightening. "Here comes Christopher Robin." and he hurried out, and down the path to meet him.
©Steve Smith - November 2013
" Brain Scans Can Reveal Your Decisions 7 Seconds Before You "Decide"
"In a kind of spooky experiment, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences reveal that our decisions are made seconds before we become aware of them.
In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand.
Using a MRI Scanner, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on to discover they could predict which hand the participants would use up to seven seconds BEFORE they were consciously aware of the decision."
Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008