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An amazing debate continues to rage in the scientific community. Do we, or do we not, have free will? Experiments indicate that our brains become active and we start the process of moving our bodies before we make the decision to move, which troubling fact has led many researchers to conclude that our apparent free will is an illusion. To quote a recent article in Scientific American:

“Our decisions are predetermined unconsciously a long time before our consciousness kicks in,” [John-Dylan] Haynes [of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin] commented to New Scientist, while adding that “it seems that the brain is making the decision before the person.” Others share his opinion. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has written: “So it is with all of our … choices: not one of them results from a free and conscious decision on our part. There is no freedom of choice, no free will.” Neuroscientist Sam Harris has concluded from these findings that we are “biochemical puppets”: “If we were to detect [people’s] conscious choices on a brain scanner seconds before they were aware of them … this would directly challenge their status as conscious agents in control of their inner lives.”

In 2010 I wrote about this problem in The Fun of Dying, where I showed how what afterlife researchers are learning readily explains these results. But mainstream scientific researchers still have little understanding of the nature of our minds, so they continue to do these experiments. And they continue to find their results troubling. The author of the article cited above essentially says what you or I would say: But I really do deliberate! I think things through! I make rational decisions. So of course I have free will:

Every one of us takes actions every day that we have consciously planned for ourselves. It is possible that the neural activity that carries out this planning has no effect on what we do or that it just concocts stories after the fact to explain to ourselves and others what we did. But that would make little evolutionary sense. The brain makes up only 2 percent of the human body’s weight but consumes 20 percent of its energy. There would be strong evolutionary pressure against neural processes that enable intricate conscious thought yet are irrelevant to our behavior. The brain circuits responsible for my imagining that this is the best way to write this essay are likely causing it to turn out this way.

Read more of this Roberta Grimes blog article.


Roberta Grimes

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