Neuroscience and Free Will

We have free will. We make our own decisions. We have long taken these basic assumptions for granted. But what does neuroscience make of this? In this excerpt from the BBC Horizon special, “The Secret You,” Marcus Du Sautoy (Oxford University) participates in a brain imaging experiment conducted by John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist based in Berlin. And the results? Well, they force us to rethink things a bit. Goodbye Descartes. Goodbye mind before matter. Goodbye to consciousness and free will, as we traditionally like to think about them. And welcome to the world of neurons, to brain activity that makes your decisions before your conscious self is even aware of them. To delve deeper into all of this, you can watch Haynes give a 90 minute lecture here called “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain.”



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  1. chilangado says . . . | November 23, 2010 / 11:03 am

    I think the speaker is trying to make more of these data than they should with the experiment. If I see a ball flying in the air toward me, whether I catch it or duck away depends on what I decided, or what brain activity was dominant, before the ball arrives.

    I don’t see much relation to “free will.”

  2. Mike says . . . | November 23, 2010 / 11:46 am

    chilangado,
    By the time du Sautoy gets around to consciously making his choice, the researchers will have (consiously) known his choice for as long as six seconds. If, during the six-second interval, du Sautoy continued to believe he had freedom of choice (as seems likely) then this does raise questions about free will.

  3. natasha says . . . | November 23, 2010 / 12:37 pm

    someone before them ,neuroscintest Benjamin libet, make the same experiment

    http://www.consciousentities.com/libet.htm

  4. JJ says . . . | November 23, 2010 / 5:08 pm

    Wow. Talk about overstatement based on commitment to faith in a worldview…

  5. GordonKShort says . . . | November 29, 2010 / 4:58 am

    Hard to see significance without knowing the nature of the decisions. Are they preferential, moral, safety, analytical? And why 6 seconds to push the button?

  6. Bryon says . . . | December 22, 2010 / 12:51 pm

    Has this experiment been done with younger subjects?

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