Monday, April 21, 2008

I decided to post this...

Or did I? The idea of free will has been badly undermined by brain science. We could have been deceiving ourselves all along.
You often make up your mind and then wait to find out what you decided.

Already several seconds before we consciously make a decision its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain. This is shown in a study by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, in collaboration with the Charité University Hospital and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin. The researchers from the group of Professor John-Dylan Haynes used a brain scanner to investigate what happens in the human brain just before a decision is made. "Many processes in the brain occur automatically and without involvement of our consciousness. This prevents our mind from being overloaded by simple routine tasks. But when it comes to decisions we tend to assume they are made by our conscious mind. This is questioned by our current findings." (Nature Neuroscience, April 13th 2008)

Do we just have the illusion of free will? Probably. Does our mind fool the conscious part of the brain into believing it is in charge when it is not? [More]
The evidence from the study is more than a little unsettling. The predictive lead time could be as much as 7 seconds.
In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. They were free to make this decision whenever they wanted, but had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. The aim of the experiment was to find out what happens in the brain in the period just before the person felt the decision was made. The researchers found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take already seven seconds before they consciously made their decision. Normally researchers look at what happens when the decision is made, but not atwhat happens several seconds before. The fact that decisions can be predicted so long before they are made is a astonishing finding. [More]
We have known for some time the rational brain's first job is to justify what our emotional (old) brain decides on a whim (or in a "blink"). But revelations like this force us to revalue the Spock perspective as equally flawed as Bones'. It could be that we need faster, smarter computers to simply make up for our much more slowly evolving brains.

I find I am more willing to honor instinctive decisions to very complicated problems (complex negotiations, whether to trust someone, which kind of scone to buy at Panera, etc.) than previously. While there are any number of other reasons for this (early-onset senility, indifference, laziness, desperate needs for approval, etc.) I nonetheless have found my life to be more at ease, and my reaction times greatly decreased.

Plus I have noted most of all so many of the decisions I thought were life changers weren't.

Still ya gotta wonder, "Where do my choices come from?"

1 comment:

Ol James said...

"Where do my choices come from?"
Could it be the knee-jerk reaction??