Tag Archives: Agency

Consciousness Versus Momentum

Like the moment when the brakes lock
And you slide towards the big truck
Pink Floyd

This morning I fell down some stairs.

I was carrying a recycling tub overflowing with plastic bottles,  a small sack of cans mixed with bottles and cans perched  on top. The bag spilled, sending some of its contents cascading down the stairs. Oh, great, I thought, and started to resume walking when I tripped, taking me and the recycling tub tumbling down the stairs, banging into the door at the bottom that leads to the outside world.

I was more shaken up than hurt, though it could have easily been  the reverse.

During the fall, it felt like I had no control. And maybe I didn’t. Time feels weird during such episodes. I was aware of falling, or at last of knowing the fall was imminent.

No, that’s not quite right. Imminent seems to imply a time right before, offering a temporal window, albeit a narrow one, where a decision could be made. I think my awareness was when the fall actually began, the process already in motion. Regardless, where did it go during the whole fall? For being conscious seems to not only imply awareness to me, but some kind of agency as well. Yet, during the fall itself I was aware (or maybe half-aware?) of  the fall but unable to consciously do anything except let the momentum play out.

This does not mean necessarily that I did nothing. We have reflexes and instincts that kick in. Those two things can operate a lot more quickly than our consciousness, which is comparatively slow. In fact, so slow it might be a safety feature of our brain to rely on our training rather than our thinking in cases of potential bodily harm.

Think quick is a nice thought and part of our idiomatic vault when we throw an object to someone, but is thinking really involved in such cases. Or is that another example of reflexes kicking in based on how our bodies have been primed?

It certainly felt like there was nothing consciously that I could do during the fall. I was a passenger in my amusement park ride body. Presumably if it had been a longer fall, that would change. That my brain just needed more time to process things in order to generate a sufficient agency response.

Or would it have just been a longer ride?