Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Is Free Will?

In an article, “Neuroscience vs Philosophy: Taking Aim At Free Will,” Kerri Smith focuses on the interplay between philosophy and neuroscience and how the two of them relate to, shape, and discuss the concept of free will. One of the main arguments of the piece revolved around the experiments done by John Dylan-Hynes, in which he hooked a number of people up to a fMRI machine and recorded their brain activity when they felt the urge to push a button while being shown a random sequence of letters; he found that there is activity in the brain up to seven seconds before there is a conscious decision being made to actually press the button.
            The article also mentioned an experiment done by Benjamin Libet who hooked a series of people up to an EEG, showed them a clock face, and asked them to record when they felt the urge to move their finger. Libet also recorded that there was activity in the brain before a conscious decision was recorded. Although, he only recorded brain action several hundred milliseconds before the conscious decision.
            Haynes used his experiment’s results to come to the conclusion that humans do not actually have free will, and that our conscious decisions are actually only an after-thought of cranial activity. In other words, our actions are predetermined by our brain’s impulses, some of which can be active up to seven seconds before a conscious decision is actually made. However, there are some problems with this theory as mentioned in the article. One is that the recorded brain activity could simply the brain gearing up to make the decision; gathering information, compiling data, and so forth. Other counter arguments pointed to possible distractions within the experiments themselves. For instance, “Critics said that the clock was distracting, and the report of the conscious decision was too subjective. (2).”         

            One of the main questions that I brought up while I was reading this article – and the snippet of our book reading that went along with it – was, ‘Does this even matter?’ Granted, I’m a monist. (for those who don’t know, a monist is someone who believes that the mind, brain, and body are all one and the same – there are no differences between them; no soul –) And, as a monist I believe that we are our brains – as much as it doesn’t feel like it. – All of our thoughts, all our actions, everything that makes us who we are, are actually complex interactions between the billions of neurons in our brain. (Fun fact: there are actually more neurons in our brain than stars in the sky.) This means that, for me, it doesn’t matter how much delay there is in the pre-supplementary motor system before an action is taken, it’s still our actions; our decisions.  

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