Free will vs. free won’t

Written by Kathy McKenzie

Dr Jeffrey Schwartz is a neurophysiologist who has done extensive research into how the mind influences the brain.  His research is into having awareness about awareness, known as meta-cognition.  For most of us we don’t stop to think about our thinking but it is this very action that will enhance our ability to engage in the act of willful reframing.  The act of willful reframing completely changes the way the brain responds to external stimulus such as negative upsetting images.  We can increase our cognition and decrease our emotion.  The limbic system links us to the emotional part of our brain and can link us to fear, based on past experiences and memory.  If we develop the capacity to create a neural circuit breaker when we are about to respond in an emotionally inappropriate way, we are in effect willfully reframing.  You reappraise the situation or reframe it and you completely change the way the brain responds, you get activation of the frontal cerebral cortex.

The frontal cortex is uniquely human and is what stands us apart from other animals.

The mental act of focusing intention tends to hold in place brain circuits associated with whatever we are focused on.  That is, what we pay attention to we get more of.  Focusing attention on your mental experience maintains the brain state arising in association with that experience.  Whatever holds a persons attention will influence what is happening in the brain.

Schwartz has done research into attention density – that is, keeping high resolution attention to high value states rather than low value states.  They did extensive research showing people erotic films and demonstrated that some people were able to activate their Anterior Singular Gyrus which takes effort to activate but when activated means someone can control whether they get aroused.  Others respond with the RAS and become aroused.   The brain puts out the call and the mind decides whether to listen.

Libet did an experiment that looked at free will vs free won’t.  His research is famous and looks at the relationship between brain activity and voluntary movement.  It showed that it takes half a second between a brain signal and a voluntary response.  After .3 of a second there is the desire to move but it is the mind that decides in the final .2 of a second whether or not it will.  This moment in time is what he refers to as VETO POWER.  The desire does not determine that you have to move – the mind decides whether to listen – You have to activate the frontal cortex.  We have no control in the short term over the messages the brain sends out.  We only have veto power about what we act on.

Learning to dissociate and utilising visualization activates the frontal cortex and allows us to be impartial spectators in the game of life.

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