Keeping religious sentiments aside, here is a question raised on the Buddhism SE that attempts to answer a similar question from the Buddhist point of view.
You see, Buddhism has a concept of anatman or no-self that attempts to explain the conditioned-self as a cause-and-effect phenomena arising through the interaction of the five aggregates (sensations, mental-formations, thoughts, feelings, etc.) and doesn't have a permanent or essential existence of its own. However, I would like to know what does the science or psychology has to say about this?
Does something called
I exists as a soul/essence separate from the physical body? More importantly, does
volition, or more commonly called
will-power exists or it is just an illusion?
A practical Experiment:
I (as soul/mind/any-other-hypothetical) decide to lift my arm right now, and the very next instant my arm lifted in the air. I would like to know what exactly triggered the decision to lift? If it were
I (soul/mind/etc..) that made the decision, then why would electrodes attached to my brain show that the impulse to move the hand came before I was aware of it? The electrodes reading seem to imply that:
- Either the arm has a mind of its own apart from the primary mind (sort of a separate CPU core in a multi-core processor) that took the decision (seems less likely to me). OR
- Some external force (in nature) triggered the decision (seems more likely to me).
I would like to know what is Psychology's take on this?
EDIT: The conventional explanation to this in terms of the
subconscious being the causal factor seems incomplete at best. As mentioned in a comment on @ArnonWeinberg's answer, all it means is that we don't know. Subconscious seems like a hypothetical chaos that we ascribe all phenomena that we are unable to explain scientifically. In the above experiment for instance, what caused the subconscious mind to make that decision at that exact moment?