Monday, April 14, 2008

Brain Reading...

This wired article reports on an experiment in which researchers were able to predict the decisions of the subjects up to seven seconds in advance of the subjects' actions. The scientists and the article's author make several philosophically dodgy inferences about free will, but the result is interesting in itself....

43 comments:

Hector said...

Human beings are creatures of habit, with this in mind many of us will do things out of habit without realizing that we are doing so. Our minds could be telling us that we "like" to do things a certain way and we believe that we are thinking about it when we are really not putting that much thought into it. This does not mean that we do not have free will. Instead, we are actually doing that which is comfortable to us. The article does not contain an example of the questions asked during the experiment, which when we read Hayne's comments about complicated decisions not being able to be implemented into the brain scanners, I would have to know; what is considered complicated in the terms that Haynes is using? Haynes states that real life decisions such as buying a house, accepting a job are too complicated to be tested by the scanners used. Does this then lead us to believe that given a choice of donuts with or without sprinkles, coffee with or without cream and sugar are also too complicated? These would be minor examples of decisions of free will, but free will none the less. The article states that the experiment was not completely accurate, but does not state what the percentage of accuracy is. From what I read in the article I feel that we have not tapped into the brain to discover that we have no free will, but rather that our mind knows that we prefer one thing over the other, not that we are going to make a decision based on a predetermination of the brain.

Hector C. Segura Jr.

Canon Turner said...

I agree with the writer of the article in that these experiments seem to question the notion of free will. The idea that we can monitor our brain patterns to determine future decisions does seem plausible at this point. However, I also agree that other, more complicated decisions would yield very different results and not allow the scientists to predict the subject's actions beforehand. These test results seem to support Holbach's view of hard determinism. He contends that we are determined by causal law, just like everything else in nature. If our decisions are controlled or pre-determined by the functions of our brain, as the results indicate, then there can be no true free will.

Canon Turner

steve poorman said...

These experiments do show that there is defiantly brain activity that occurs before you physically make a decision. However, I don’t see how this means that you don’t have free will. The brain activity could just be the reaction of you of you knowing that you are about to make a decision. The experiment were they knew before whether or not they would react with their right or left hand could easily just be showing favoritism since the hand that they grab with is their dominant hand. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have free will, because you unconsciously grab with your dominant hand because you can. I would argue that we do we have brain activity before we even realize what we are going to do, but none the less doesn’t constitute for lack of free will.

Steve Poorman

Stuart Sutter said...

I think that it is very interesting that scientists can predict future decisions of our brain. If further studied, this new knowledge could result in the notion that we cannot control our own free will. However, I feel that more complex decions that require much more thought have no way of being predicted. The act of what hand to use seems very easy to predict by scientists since we use our left and right side of the brain for the different sides of our body. This would make it seem much easier to be predicted. Until scientists can predict bigger decions made by the brain, the notion that we cannot control our free will should remain untrue.

Stuart Sutter

Anonymous said...

There is little doubt that the physical mind (neurons)work much faster(decisions)than that of the the processing of the action (causal memory).
The question is does this speed negate free will? As the author stated, there has been no trials related 'complex' tasks such as using 3 switches with three colors and so on.
What soe this mean to free will. I believe this is yet another case proving there is no 100% free will.
There are proofs that our minds can be wired to electrical opbjects and make them move, as though these mechanical items were plugged into an outlet. So what you say? To me these types of experiments support free will and the minds' ability to harness the electrical 'firing' within to do what task we need to do....but ultimately our will is what makes us to push switch 'A' colored green rather than switch 'B' collored red. The paterned manipulation over time will allow us to 'manage' our brainwaves such that the SEVEN SECOND RULE will no longer apply.

Bill McDonald

Haley Johnston said...

The brain experiments rule out the possibility of free will being the sole determinant of our actions, but they don’t rule it out from playing some role in our decision making process. These experts are saying that the brain prepares responses to simple tasks before our consciousness would even allow us to make a decision. They also acknowledge that the results are not completely accurate and that they can’t monitor more complex decisions. Because of these uncertainties, I would disagree with Haynes, who says it isn’t plausible for free will to kick in at the last minute and make an impact on these simple decisions. If there are errors and so many decisions that can’t be tracked by the brain scanners, then there must be some other factor, possibly free will, involved in these decisions.

wilyoung said...

I understand the scientists in this study to be saying that brain activity occurs before we physically make a decision. I agree with this partially. Free will is the second before you act. So the brain is working before we act. Yes, but has it made a decision? The brain has only come to the appropriate action. The decision on how to actually act is left to us.

William Young

Shattuck Bell said...

Reading this article made me feel somewhat "uneasy". To think that our mind, separate from our body, is making decisions for us is scary. I do agree with the author when he says that this study cannot make a case for life's larger choices, such as determining which house to buy. Decisions such as these take much longer than 7 seconds to make. The article also notes the possibility of free will to enter at the last moment to allow a person to override their brain's decision. If this is the case, then that means that your consciousness was aware of your brain's decision and decided to intervine. I am a firm believer of free will, but I do not believe that it is a separate entity. To me, free will is just the ability for us to determine our own actions.

Shattuck Bell

Anonymous said...

This article staes, "subconscious activity preceeded and determined conscious choice." This seems to imply that the subsonscious is a separate entity from the brain, the mind and the body. If people do not have free will as this article argues them can we actually hold anyone responsible for their actions? Therefore, could it not be debated that our free will flows from the frontopolar cortex, where high level planning is first launched.
-Mary Elizabeth Kueser-

Anonymous said...

This article leaves a lot of room for possibility. It tells us that certain parts of the brain fire up before we make a decision but it only offers the possibility that this could interfere with our free will. It sounds like they're just trying not to make anyone mad by not giving any absolute facts. The idea that our brains and minds are separate is a crazy idea anyway. If someone tries to slap us in the face we immediately duck or try to keep our face intact. We don't think about it; we just do it. It's the same way when we touch a pot on a hot stove. We pull our hand away the second we realize our hand is burning. It's not intentional; it just happens. Our mind and brain must be intertwined. Certain parts of our brain might fire up before we decide whether to push the left or right button, but even in the womb we begin to show a left or right hand preference. Studies of fetuses have shown that even before they are born children have a left or right dominant hand. So the choice of whether to pick a left or right button can't even begin to cover how we make decisions and if our brains play a role in that choice.
Evan Haile

Anonymous said...

Although the article provides an interesting study concerning free will, I don't believe the facts presented show anything truly definitive about free will. On one hand, the article is very persuasive towards the argument that we really don't possess free will in stating that "the patterns consistently predicted whether test subjects eventually pushed a button with their left or right hand" seven seconds beforehand. On the other hand, the article points out obvious flaws in the study such as the fact that the test was not completely accurate, and could not predict the results of more complicated decisions. This evidence leads me to lean back toward the possibility that free will does exist in people. If free will was in fact nonexistent, the test should have at least been 100 percent accurate in the simple task of determining which button a person would push. The evidence presented in the article is only capable of proving that brain activity occurs before a conscious decision is made. This evidence cannot disprove free will because it is entirely possible that brain activity is a result of the mind preparing to make a decision. Because the article presents valid points which do not rule out the possibility of free will, I believe free will does exist.

Evan Koesler

Anonymous said...

In the article, Haynes says that the activity shifted originally from the frontpolar cortex of the brain. The region associated with higher level thinking. This would imply that the person was actually involved in the thinking process of the decision. If this is true, wouldn't it mean that by using the frontpolor cortex of the brain, a person is in fact consciously in control of the decision? Meaning free will was involved even in this simple choice and the outcome wasn't uncontrollable.
Mary Kate Beseau

CassieHumphreys said...

The article does not rule out the possibility of free will and the possibility of free will as a separate entity from subsconcious. The article leaves the possibility, of free will and the subconscious working dependently with each other at all times and throughout all decisions, out. The suggestion seems plausible for free will to work as an outlet for the subconscious to operate through and execute an individual's preferences. Although this theory does not seem to apply for the test described in the article, it only further suggests that future tests may be developed to clarify choices of the subconscious and choices by the free will and if they are interrelated.

Cassie Humphreys

Anonymous said...

This article is just another example of people trying to take an interesting scientific discovery and sensationalizing it.This in no way indicates the presence or lack of free will. All it shows is that the brain immediately starts working out environmental data subconsciously so that the conscious is able to act more quickly once that data becomes relevant.
The article does not provide evidence for or against free will. It is entirely possible that all of our choices could be determined by examining the sum of past experiences and genetics, but with this study's technology, we are only able to predict action 7 seconds beforehand on a simple decision. It is also possible that we have free will and the subconscious is a tool for speeding reaction time, just like computers pre-load data before they use it.
Both the data and article show nothing conclusive on the subject of free will. No argument for or against free will should be supported by it.

-Ryan Cable

Anonymous said...

The study by John Hayes shows that some of the decisions we make are pre-decided by our brain 7 seconds before our response. However, this article fails to address our brains process with split decisions. Whenever we play sports, we have to be able to think quickly based off of other peoples reactions, and 7 seconds is too long to respond. This article doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of free will because even though our brain goes through a certain process, we still have the option to choose otherwise. I think there is definitely more to discover in order to rule out free will, but this research is on the right path to figuring out what really influences our decisions.

_Drew Yarbrough

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the responses that I read in that this article doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility of free will. With that in mind, this article makes it more difficult for free will supporters to provide evidence that it does exists at any one point of a decision being made...consciously or subconsciously. I also agree, however, with Drew Yarbrough in that free will definitely cannot be completely ruled out because in instances of split decisions being made, seven seconds seems much too long to be considered a "split decision."
Whether this experiment proves of disproves any possibilities of free will, it is rather interesting to find out that we are making decisions without knowing.

-Patric Murphy

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Haynes is saying that the brain expirements provide sufficient evidence for humans not having free will. However, the brain experiments that were conducted do not provide sufficient evidence. The experiments conducted do show that there is brain activity before the person presses the button with either the right or the left hand. But how can someone say that the brain makes the decision for you if the brain activity might actually be the person's thinking and decision making process. The article does show that this expirement is done with a very simple task. So, for a more difficult task, ie. buying a house as shown in the article, it takes more time to think and more decisions to be made, which probably creates more brain activity.

Aaron Marshall
P.S. Accidentally forgot to sign my name, that is why it is up twice.

Christopher Maxwell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
justus chisum said...

This study proves to be quite intriguing with the discovery of our brains decision making acting much faster than our consciousness even realizes. I do not believe this proves the absence of free will by any means. I think the brains subconscious decisions are very instinctive and based on previous experiences, therefore our ‘self” is what makes the decision whether we realize at that instant or not. Like Haynes said “It's not like you're a machine. Your brain activity is the physiological substance in which your personality and wishes and desires operate.” So therefore I feel the decision is based on previous decisions and in that sense makes it a decision of free will, no matter the time delay it takes for you’re to realize it.

justus chisum

justus chisum said...

This study proves to be quite intriguing with the discovery of our brains decision making acting much faster than our consciousness even realizes. I do not believe this proves the absence of free will by any means. I think the brains subconscious decisions are very instinctive and based on previous experiences, therefore our ‘self” is what makes the decision whether we realize at that instant or not. Like Haynes said “It's not like you're a machine. Your brain activity is the physiological substance in which your personality and wishes and desires operate.” So therefore I feel the decision is based on previous decisions and in that sense makes it a decision of free will, no matter the time delay it takes for you’re to realize it.

justus chisum

Anonymous said...

While I agree with the deduction that the brain starts taking action before a person makes a decision, I do not agree that this action disproves free will. While the brain begins working before a person makes a decision I believe the brain is reacting to past information, working its way to the most logical choice. It is in the split second before a decision is made that a person can consciously analyze the brains choice and chose to agree or disagree. This article also fails to offer a solution for the decision making that occurs in the instance of a car accident where decisions are made purely on instinct.

Mark Hopkins

James Wyett-Finney said...

I don't think these experiments actually show anything about freewill. They do not seem to disprove it, because it could be freewill that causes the change in the brain. With further study it may prove or disprove freewill, but doesn't seem to yet. It is all very plausible, but neither stance seems to be fully correct just from this study. Holbach would definitely love this study, he'd say it proves him 100% correct.

Anonymous said...

While this article is very interesting, I don’t think it really proves anything. It does however raise some very intriguing questions about our brains and free will. What really is free will and do we have it? I think for a person to make a choice and do an action the brain has to process something. Since brain processing takes place we don’t have free will. Some may argue that they have a free will choice right before the action takes place. However, in changing the decision the brain made they had to use their brain, thus there is no free will.
-Jason Huff

Anonymous said...

I’m really not that surprised by the results of the experiment. Everyday we all make many decisions. We decide what to wear, what to eat, and what to do. Is every decision we make based on free will? I guess the obvious answer is, “Of course it is! I chose to put on my favorite shirt. I chose to have Lucky Charms for breakfast. I chose to go to work.” But I think that when you look at each decision more carefully you will find that certain pre-existing factors played strong roles in determining what you ultimately decided to do. You might choose to wear a certain shirt because it has long sleeves and it is chilly outside. In this case it seems that the weather played a large role in determining what clothes you are going to wear. But was it still free will that made you choose that particular shirt? You may have several shirts that would be appropriate to wear on a chilly day, why choose this one? Free will? Well on this particular day you have class with that cute girl/guy in your philosophy class. Without consciously thinking about it you want to impress that girl/guy, and you are likely choosing to wear that shirt for that very reason. Why do you want to impress them? Well, frankly, it is because we have evolved as a species with a desire to procreate. There are all sorts of sexual cues we give each other all the time, one of them happens to be the way we present ourselves in comparison to other potential mates. Some may think that I’m reading too far into the clothing we wear in relation to sexual cues, but ask yourselves, why do women wear makeup?

There are technological limitations at this point in time to what we can know about the brain in regards for what it does or doesn’t control. Currently it seems that science is pointing away from free will. I’m not sure where this research will ultimately lead us to. Will this mean that people are not responsible for their actions? Surely not. I think that a more comprehensive model is needed to explain this sort of thing, so to say that free will has been ruled completely out by this experiment is premature, as the author of the article noted. On the other hand this line of research should be continued so we can better understand ourselves and why we do certain things.

-Mike Warren

Kyle Kyker said...

I don't know. It's difficult to say anything conclusively. Our musicles are controlled by the nervous system and that is controlled by the brain, so it is understandable that the brain is active before our "mind" realises it, but we can never truely state that it IS the mind. I believe more evidence must be found for a conclusive result to be made, but it is still interesting.

-Kyle Kyker

Anonymous said...

We can use science to see what is happening to the body as we make certain judgements. we also can say that our thoughts are pre- determined. I do things every day that I don't think about, these are things I do out of habit. I also believe that things happen for a reason, but the choices I make are my choices and not the persons next to me. We can never know if its truly pre-determined. We can use science to see what happens to the brain when we make desicions, because the brain controls the body. Since I am in control of my body it is my own free will. So that is what the science of the brain is seeing.

Scott Teinert.

Anonymous said...

While this study does show that they can pinpoint connections between decisions before our awareness of them, they are not completely accurate in showing the proof that this directly causes the decision. While your mind may, in fact, show what they think is connected to choosing the left, but is it not still possible for you to choose the right? As a student in class said even though you brain signals what your mind will become aware before the actual awareness, are you not still presented with the option to choose? I still think that free will does exist and that we do choose out of that free will that belongs to each person with differences in each of us. While the author does admit that are some flaws or absence of explanation in some areas, it still seems to be a conviction dominantly against free will. The author seems to think the proof against free will's existence is rooted in the brain and how it can make our decisions. For me, seeing as how this study is only showing maybe a prediction of what could happen rather than what makes it happen what is what I think we are really looking for.

Crystal Cook

Anonymous said...

The article points out very intriguing points about the brain activity before making any kind of decision. I think when a new situation occurs we do have the free will to act on it. We form these habits that requires very little thinking, but when a new kind of situation occurs we have to make a decision purely based on what we know and instinct. I do also agree with other bloggers comments on the car crash example. I don't think the 7 second scenario can cover for an experience such as that.


Robert Finn

Anonymous said...

The idea of free will is something that everybody has thought about. The fact that our brains show activity before we even physically perform an act does raise concern about the idea of free will. In my opinion, the idea of free will is one that is too extreme to question on the basis of physical proof only. The scanners showed brain activity for the motor activity before the participant chose to push the button. This is definitely proof that there is brain activity before you actually physically act but decisions in life are sometimes a lot more complicated than pushing a button and choosing between right and left. For example, choosing where you want to live, who to marry, what major to have; all of these involve much more complicated thought processes, feelings, and emotions. To question free will on simple questions such as pushing a button seems extreme to me. Yes, there is proof that brain activity comes before consciousness in certain cases but not in general and with actual important life questions. I believe that we definitely have free will and choose what to do with our lives. I agree with this article to the extent that certain physical aspects of choosing can be predetermined but I do not agree with applying this theory to life in general.

Perla Calderon

Luis Romero said...

I think that these tests support Holbach's theory. They clearly show that there is some correlation between the brain and the decision making process. They explain how before we are conscious of our decision the outcomes of our decisions are already made up for us. Such things like prior experiences have already set the tone for what choices we think we are making. Therefore how can anyone say they have free will? This experiment doesn’t completely rule out free will it just makes a very strong case against it.

Luis Romero

Anonymous said...

I feel that his article may hold some truth. However, even if our brain fires 7 seconds prior to us performing the action free will could still remain. The choice of pushing the button is the action of free will. But the actual physical action is entirely different. I think that we still have free will regardless of this experiment. Even though the physical action may not be associated with the concept of free will, we still in some way chose to perform it. The free will could also represent that period of seven seconds that our brain acts on. We can say that someone can possibly predict something that we are going to do prior to seven seconds by monitoring our brain, but it doesn’t hinder our choice of performing the action. Unless the computer could monitor the process in which we determine to perform an action, that is the exact time we come up with it, the whole bases on which we perform it is a free will action.
-Phillip Merritt

Anonymous said...

These experiments in my opinion can only be seen as advancements in technology and nothing more. Sure these tests show that specific patterns in the region of the brain that is connected with planning, but were these plans not ours in the first place? Just because scientists are able to predict certain decisions we have ahead of time, does not justify that we do or do not have free will. Furthermore, this experiment is only based on performing a simple action (pushing a button). If this experiment could prove to be accurate one-hundred percent of the time and was able to predict more complicated decisions, then it may be considered plausible to think that we do not have free will. As it stands the evidence that the scientists provide is not enough to justify and/or back the ideas for or against free will. I would have to disagree with Mark Hallett’s idea in that he “doubts that free will exists as a separate, independent force.” William James defends this very argument with his Buridan’s ass example. This example is similar in that it is a simple action taking place with two identical possible outcomes. This experiment has the button being pressed by either the left or right hand, and the Buridan’s example, of an ass choosing between two hay stacks. This logic of choice does not help to determine free will but it does not rule it out to be entirely impossible. The experiment just simply shows that there is a choice being made and just because scientists can now predict this choice does not mean that it was not your choice to begin with.
-Stefan Simpson

Anonymous said...

This experiment does not prove that we do not have free will. What it does demonstrate is that human make a decision in our mind before we are aware of the decision consciously. Since when does free will mean that we cannot use the logic and lesson learned from past experiences to help us make a decision? The way people make it sound is that to have free will we must be stupid illogical beings that every second decides at random what they are going to do next. Besides the fact that experimenters could not tell 8 seconds before the patient could, is the fact that the patients brain made a decision somewhere in that time to use the left or right hand. When you can scan a persons brain and tell them something more complicated than which hand to use, something that takes much more deliberation, then you can declare that their might be some evidence that a person is without free will.
-Robert Kinard

Travis Horn said...

I feel that this article goes too far into the question of mind over body. After reading this I said to myself, “this sounds a little too farfetched.” I believe this article goes against nature. Brain activity before an action implies just that. It is like turning on a computer. You have to turn it on before it will do anything. Seeing “involuntary” action in the brain does not suggest a loss of free will.

Travis Horn

Amber Parks/Phil 2300/TTH 11-12:20 said...

This article does nothing more than confirm the complexity of the human mind, while at the same time disproving the assetion that human beings could've evolved from a primate. There had to be a very skilled designer. Guess who that is? I digress. So-called scientific advancements are limited by the imperfect realm of understanding of mankind, even those considered to be experts in their field. "Real-life decisions…aren't decisions that we can implement very well in our brain scanners," said Haynes. The purpose of this article is to call into question the notion of free will. In my opinion, the assertions made by these neuroscientists are incorrect. These brain scans do not prove the nonexistence of free will. There is so much missing from the equation that mankind cannot begin to conceive and God will not allow to be revealed because of who He is. Holbach believes our existence is dictated by "Mother Earth" and our power of choice deceives us into thinking we have free will. This doesn't answer the question for me. Although Hume is heading in the right direction, he casts God in a "dictator" sort of light. He is our Creator and He is omniscient, but He does not control our actions. Part of the problem with this idea is that humans cannot comprehend the thought of some entity outside themselves knowing more about them than they do. William James seemed to take the "most correct" approach to this topic in respect to the other philosophers. He developed a point of view that accounts for both the spiritual and scientific aspects of this topic of free will. In our quest for understanding maybe should redirect our questions to the one who made us the complex creatures we are, instead of depending on the restricted knowledge of "the esteemed learned ones".

Anonymous said...

This particular experiment does seem to prove in hard determinism as Hobac argues...the problem is, as other bloggers have stated, how do we know the nature of the "brains activity". Is the "brain activity" just some sort of uncontrolled, random, subconscious deterministic chemical reaction or is this "brain activity" mixed in with peoples subconscious desires and wishes?

Another comment, Hume argued that the free-will debate was just a verbal dispute and that we as humans could never really come to a consensus particularly because we cannot view causation. Would this experiment show that we can view causation? Regardless, we come back to the original problem stated in the first paragraph. What is the nature of the "brain activity"?

David Stapp

Eric Flood said...

I agree with the article, in that some of our brain activity can indeed be predicted. But that's not to say we rule out the question of free will. Some thought processes will always require some thinking that won't be instantaneously, i.e. Moral Dilemmas. That type of thing will always rely on long term thinking, which I believe is not predictable.

Emily Pierson said...

I don't think this article proves or disproves anything about free will. The 7 seconds it takes btwn our brain activity and our acutual decision could just be reaction time. Maybe we have already made the decision but it took those 7 seconds for our brain to send out the signals to the rest of our body so we can react. Either way, it is still our brains making the decision and we control our brains, hence we control the decision. Until someone can find hard proof that someone or something else controls my brain and brain activities for me, i will still believe that we have free will.

Anonymous said...

While the article provides some interesting arguments, I believe it has several flaws, the prime one being the lack of ability to come to a concrete conclusion on the brain. The study of showing brain activity, the conclusion of the predictability of which means we lack free will, is inherently flawed in the sense that we still lack a complete understanding of the brain.

-Daren Loney

Anonymous said...

I think that since they found brain actiivity before the actual action than that proves that we dont have free will. It proves holbachs theory on instincts I believe. But I dont think that it disproves it completely but it certainly makes it questionable. What kind of "brain activity" is it? What does that mean exactly?

COLE BRIDGES

jwaida said...

I believe it's hard to agree with with the article. Pyschologist prove that if the brain is condition enough to believe and do certain things we could control our brain to do anything. This effects the non-free will that people argue against. I believe to a certain degree you can have free will but the consenquences may not all be the best turn out, depending what you want to do.

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