• Question: How can we be sure that you are all not figments of my imagination or a dream????

    Asked by mazzy to Enda, Jean, Kate, Kev, Tim on 19 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Tim Downing

      Tim Downing answered on 19 Nov 2012:

      Hi Mazzy,

      That is quite a philosophical question. How can we be sure that we decide to take our actions and that they are not pre-determined? And is this question solvable at all? There are some that argue against understanding free will, saying that we may not be able to figure it out as a result of quantum determinism, where our observed actions are derived from a more complex mixture of events.

      For example, we can visualise what parts of our brains are active before we complete an action. If we can lots of people to repeat this, we can predict what parts of the brain will light up. Then we can time how long it takes from this lighting up to the point at which we do the action. It appears that many of our decisions are taken at the subconcious level, before our conscious mind does the action. So if you do the action “look up” your brain has already decided to do this action. So do we really have free will if our subconcious is making all our decisions?

      There was an interesting article on the idea of using super-soldiers’ subconsciousness to do actions faster recently, very interesting:
      I think the best science commentator on these kinds of questions is Michael Shermer, he has written more about these questions just last August at:


    • Photo: Jean Bourke

      Jean Bourke answered on 20 Nov 2012:

      Perhaps you can’t 😉

    • Photo: Enda O'Connell

      Enda O'Connell answered on 21 Nov 2012:

      I’m sure that I’m not a figment of your imagination, because I know I’m real, but I can’t be sure that you are not a figment of my imagination.

      If we can agree to trust each other that we are both real, then we’re off to a good start!