Virtual Agency

More from Chapter 1, ‘Who is the Controller of Controlled Processes?’ in ‘The New Unconscious’, written by Daniel Wegner.


“The creation of our sense of agency is critically important for a variety of personal and social processes, even if this perceived agent is not a cause of action. The experience of conscious will is fundamentally important because it provides a marker of our authorship – what might be called an authorship emotion. In the words of T.H. Huxley, “Volition … is an emotion indicative of physical changes, not a cause of such changes.” Each surge of will we sense in the operation of controlled processes provides a bodily reminder of what we think we have done. In this sense, the function of will is to identify our actions with a feeling, allowing us to sense in a very basic way what we are likely to have done, and to distinguish such things from those caused by events in the world or by other people or agents. Like the somatic marker function of emotion, the experience of conscious will anchors our actions to us in a way that transcends rational thought.”


It seems that we may need a theory-of-mind, not just to understand what others are thinking, but to actually understand what we ourselves are thinking. The cognitive processes of our brain may be perceived in the same way as we perceive the world around us and our bodies. Our model of the world may contain a model of what we are thinking.   

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