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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Comments (6)
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  • chilangado says:

    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.”

  • Mike says:

    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.

  • natasha says:

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

  • JJ says:

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

  • GordonKShort says:

    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?

  • Bryon says:

    Has this exper­i­ment been done with younger sub­jects?

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