Conscious Illusion

“Consciousness is an illusion,” I said, loud over the hum and whoosh of the convertible’s movement. It was something to say, something other than the heavy silence between us and the hypnotic rhythm of Mississippi tree farms. Renee’s fingers pressed into the fake plastic of the steering wheel, and her lips tightened together.

I hated the drive to her mother’s. This time was worse than the others. Once trapped in the moving car, Renee had shared her suspicion of Michelle and I, the vague accusations far too close for chance. She believed my denials—for now—but I couldn’t pretend that the conversation was over. I looked out at the monotonous pine forest, the trees passing fwip fwip fwip as regular as huddled telephone poles. It was guaranteed to bore me to sleep unless I did something, said something. Something exciting. Something interesting.

“Seriously, I read it in Scientific American, I think. Our consciousness isn’t in charge of making decisions.”

Renee snorted. The fifth kind, the disbelieving one. The same one she made each time I told her I worked late. The regular fwips of the pines became irregular, then sped up as she took a turn, then started to accelerate down the two-lane highway. Long afternoon shadows strobed across her tight face. I had to speak louder over the road noise.

“They used some kind of special MRI to watch brains as people made decisions.” Fwip fwip fwip, said the pine trees. “The brains started kicking in up to ten seconds before the subjects said they’d made a decision.” Fwipfwipfwipfwip.

“And this means...” Renee said over the engine’s whine.

“Well, that they decided before they were aware of it. That we make decisions before our consciousness gets into it. Maybe that means that we aren’t really responsible for our decisions, that it’s all biology...” I trailed off as the car hit a hundred, and realized exactly what I’d been saying. “Hon, I...”

Renee’s head turned towards me, eyes bright, staring at me. The trees sped by behind her, individual fwips of passage blurred into an evergreen hum. “Is that your explanation? That’s the only thing it could be?” The car kept speeding up. I was afraid to look at the speedometer.

“What else could it—”

Her voice shrieked above the engine. “Maybe they could see into the future! Maybe they could see what was going to happen, even if they didn’t admit it to themselves!” Her voice lowered; I had to watch her lips to catch the words. “Maybe they knew what was going on the whole damn time, no matter what anyone told them.” She kept staring at me, though I couldn’t meet her eyes. Instead, I looked the trees speeding by behind her, the strip of blue sky overhead, the brown flash of a deer in front of us.

I started to yell, but her hands twisted the steering wheel and feet worked the pedals. The car swerved elegantly around the startled animal, corrected, and continued on towards her mother’s house. Throughout, her eyes never left my face.

“Maybe it is that,” I said, turning back towards the road. I kept my eyes facing towards the road, and hoped the monotony of the pines could put me to sleep.

Ω

Steven M Saus  Steven M Saus's website injects people with radioactive material as his day job, but only to serve the forces of good. He is also an official Social Scientist, and that should scare you more than the radioactivity. His work has appeared in SEED magazine, Adotas.com, Teaching/Learning Matters, Collage - a collection of short fiction by Dayton writers, and 365 Tomorrows. He will also have work appearing in Yellow Mama later this year.

Other works by Steven M Saus