Noesis is the journal of the Mega Society, an organization similar to Mensa which attempts to select members at the one-per-million level (though it is highly doubtful that accurate discrimination is possible at that level and the membership of Mega has voted not to claim to actually discriminate at the one-per-million level). Dr. Ronald K. Hoeflin is the founder of the Mega Society and the author of the Mega Test and several other high-range IQ tests, which are similar to my Langdon Adult Intelligence Test, published in Omni in 1979 and taken by over 25,000 people. Dr. Hoeflin’s Mega and Titan tests were also published in Omni. This article appeared in Noesis №122, August 1996.
In “Ron Hoeflin on Kevin Langdon and Free Will,” in Noesis №118, Ron wrote:
In Noesis №115, page 9, Kevin Langdon concedes that there may be free will, but “the possibility of freedom resides in the attention.” But it remains unclear to me why attention itself exists if it cannot be put to use to accomplish anything.
Ron is asking a good question here. If attention did not serve a useful function, the complex circuitry which supports it would not have arisen in the brains of animals.
Many expedient actions are carried out by animals reflexively or through other instinctive (hard-wired) activity, which takes no attention. Brain-dead people have reflexes, blood circulation, etc. Other actions involve only a mechanical, rote attention (one stroke in brushing one’s teeth, taking one step, myriads of tiny habits); such actions involve some attention but no intention. Still others involve a weighing process in which motivating forces meet and are felt together, resulting in an intention. But this is still not free will. One is moved by forces; the vector sum of the forces is the intention.
The attention is lazy; it’s in the habit of wandering. In order to reason about something, organize all the factors involved, and reach a conclusion, a force must oppose the tendency to free associate. When thought becomes habitual it is no longer properly called thought, but only associating; this, also, is not free will. It takes an active effort to maintain concentration. In addition to intellectual thought, there is a kind of active “thought” involved in the functioning of the emotions, movement, and sensation, although Western psychology has no words for it.
Consciousness is passive; thought is active; will mediates between them. People are confused because their consciousness is active and their thought is passive.
Whenever habitual embroidery of what is perceived is taking place, the energy of consciousness is diverted and one no longer sees the real world. As with thought, this is not properly called consciousness; it is a kind of “waking sleep.” The effort to still the mind and recover the natural mirror-like quality of the calm waters of consciousness is the aim of what the spiritual traditions call meditation. Advanced practitioners of meditative disciplines develop an awareness of the presence of the primordial stillness underneath even the most frenetic external activity and remain open to clear perception of reality. This is the meaning of the Taoist and Zen principle sometimes expressed in English as “Don’t push the river.”
Only through the control of attention by the will do consciousness and thought occupy their rightful places and serve a larger whole.