Sunday, April 13, 2008

Do We Have Freewill?

Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet...Image via Wikipedia

Recently the existence of freewill has been questioned by Neuroscientists. Benjamin Libet's experiments showed that people's brain started preparing to take actions before they actually became aware of the action they were going to perform.

Implications of Libet's experiments

Libet's experiments suggest unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiator of volitional acts, therefore, little room remains for the operations of free will. If the brain has already taken steps to initiate an action before we are aware of any desire to perform it, the causal role of consciousness in volition is all but eliminated.

Libet finds room for free will in the interpretation of his results only in the form of 'the power of veto'; conscious acquiescence is required to allow the unconscious buildup of the readiness potential to be actualized as a movement. While consciousness plays no part in the instigationspinal motor neurones by the primary motor cortex, and the margin of error indicated by tests utilizing the oscillator must also be considered). of volitional acts, it retains a part to play in the form of suppressing or withholding from certain acts instigated by the unconscious. Libet noted that everyone has experienced the withholding from performing an unconscious urge. Since the subjective experience of the conscious will to act preceded the action by only 200 milliseconds, this leaves consciousness only 100-150 milliseconds to veto an action (this is because the final 50 milliseconds prior to an act are occupied by the activation of the

Source: Wikipedia

Wired magazine is reporting a recent study confirming Libet's findings in this article

Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them

An interesting quote from the article:

"Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done," said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist.

Figure showing the start of readiness potential

















The entire wired article.

What are the implication of this research to our most cherished notion of human beings as an independent autonomous agents who act out of their free will?

2 comments:

Oleg Kucheryavenko said...

I really enjoyed reading articles that you'd cited, but u made a mistake marking the figure as an illustration of action potential, but it's not that way! It only illustrates local brain activity, recorded with brain scanner and transduced into shown scheme :)

But the future of cognitive neuroscience concerns all the scientists of the world, attracting different means of recording, transducing and analysis of retrieved electrical-encoded information.

Chris Depelteau said...

Intresting to see that the conscious mind acting seperately from the unconscoius and to see that on the scan.
http://coolmristuff.wordpress.com/

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