As neuroscientist Sam Harris noted, "You no more author the next thing you think than the next thing I say. Thoughts just emerge in consciousness; we are not authoring them. … The idea that we as conscious beings are deeply responsible for the character of our minds simply can't be mapped onto reality."
The contents of consciousness are not thought into being, even though that is how it feels. A thought's arrival is as mysterious and obscure as is its departure.
When's the last time you decided to forget? "I had something to tell you," I confess, "but I forgot what it was."
Then there's the illusional and autobiographical sense of self, what Descartes identified as the res cogitans (a "thinking thing"). What we experience as the self (or thinker) is a virtual, nonphysical agent that the mind-brain nexus creates to make sense of the conscious narrative. No brain, never mind; no mind, never self.
Neuroscientists denounced substance dualism and the attendant Cartesian theater long ago.
"Unperceived forces of mind," writes Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner "… create both the thought and the action, leaving the person to infer that the thought is causing the action." Counterintuitive, perhaps, but things are not always as they seem.
Cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga agrees that the sense of self "is a powerful and overwhelming illusion that is almost impossible to shake."
And because illusional agents could never think thoughts into being, how could they possibly be charged with a thought's dismissal? The self is part of the conscious experience, not the architect or curator of cognition.
Gays "can be forgiven through sincere repentance," the LDS Church's Handbook 2 instructs. But why should repentance be required for what Nature endowed? Sexual identification is discovered, not decided.
While condemning the lifestyle, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists that it "reaches out with understanding and respect." What I see in LDS policy, however, bears a striking resemblance to implacable intolerance.
LDS leaders accept gays, but only on their terms. And if gays don't comply, well, their obstreperous and insubordinate nature will be met with disciplinary action and the threat of a diminished eternal inheritance.
I cannot help but recall how the biblical Jesus responded when a foolish community's intolerance cost him his life: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
Kim M. Clark is a practicing optometric physician who resides with his wife Cindy and dog Bailey in Portland, Ore. His interests include neuroscience, philosophy and particle physics.