For a long time now, one central rule in the Western-psychology game has been this: Mind-stuff makes body-stuff happen. In the olden days, stories using that rule might have talked about how thoughts of motion, enacted first on a Cartesian stage, transfer the vital energy needed to create movement in flesh. These days stories using that rule might be about how frontal-cortex based decisions to move, enacted first in an information-based simulations taking place in your brain, transfer motor-commands through neurons to your muscles. This is certainly a more refined and sophisticated way of envisioning the relationship between mind and behavior, but it retains the principles of the simple rule (i.e., same rule-system, different flavor text). As such, the more refined version also retains the primary problem of the original story. What problem? That 'thinking about moving' and 'moving' are just not related in that manner. Let's drop all the other kooky agendas of this blog for a minute, and just do some experimental phenomenology. Here is a 'thought' experiment you can try yourself and do with others....
If you are doing this on yourself: Read all the instructions before you begin, but try the experiment before reading the discussion.
Step 1: Lie down, remain still, relax, and keep your body relaxed.
Step 2: Pick an object in the room and try to will it to you with the powers of your mind. If you're having trouble imagining what it feels like to do this, just remember when you were a kid and tried to use 'the force' to make things happen. If you don't remember that, or never did it, just imitate this kid, but with less bodily movement. Imagine the object coming towards you. Focus. Concentrate. Think. Try it seriously for at least 20 or 30 seconds. Try to keep your body as relaxed as possible while really trying.
Step 3: Concentrate on your left forearm and hand. If you can see it without moving your head, look at it and study it. Otherwise, just close your eyes and try to feel as much about your arm as you can. Feel the surface it is pressing against, distinguish each finger, notice your pulse.
Step 4: Now, using the power of your mind, just as you did in step 2, try to will your arm into motion. Imagine your hand and arm lifting off the ground. Focus. Concentrate. Think. Try for at least 20 seconds, but preferably for at least a minute.
Step 5: Lift your hand.
There, that's it.
After this experience, it should be painfully obvious that 'moving your hand' feels very, very different from 'thinking about moving your hand'. Some people might get an ever more dramatic effect. If I can get other people to lay down while I talk them through this process, it creates a state of brief paralysis in more than half of them. If they are sitting, I can usually get temporary paralysis in about a quarter. The duration usually last only a couple of seconds, but sometimes longer. Ironically, people who get paralyzed will probably tell you that they were stuck 'thinking about moving the hand' - they were struggling to stop thinking about it, so that they can actually do it.
Conclusion, thinking about moving doesn't cause moving. This is the same conclusion if you like the old fashion thoughts-animate-flesh dualism or if you prefer the modern neural-simulations-control-action story. That doesn't mean that thoughts and neural simulations don't exist, nor that those processes are unrelated to movement, I'm not arguing anything like that at the moment. However, this simple test of experience does, in my opinion, demonstrate that if the two processes are related, then we need a much better way to talk about the relationship.
That's all for now. If you try it, please let me know what happens, and what you conclude from your own experiencing of the events. Even if you don't try it, let me know if you think I've cheated anywhere in how I set this up.
P.S. For my professorial friends out there... if you really want to have fun, try this as a class activity. It's not nearly as dramatic when people are sitting, but if you have enough students in class, the effect will still be obvious. Just so everyone notices, add a step 0 where you just tell them all to raise their left hands, and then point out how quickly they all did it.