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Free Will an Illusion?

slo1
Posts: 4,318
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6/12/2014 8:06:22 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
http://www.sciencedaily.com...

Our ability to make choices -- and sometimes mistakes -- might arise from random fluctuations in the brain's background electrical noise, according to a recent study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

"How do we behave independently of cause and effect?" said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. "This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions."
The brain has a normal level of "background noise," Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. In the new study, decisions could be predicted based on the pattern of brain activity immediately before a decision was made.

Bengson sat volunteers in front of a screen and told them to fix their attention on the center, while using electroencephalography, or EEG, to record their brains' electrical activity. The volunteers were instructed to make a decision to look either to the left or to the right when a cue symbol appeared on screen, and then to report their decision.
The cue to look left or right appeared at random intervals, so the volunteers could not consciously or unconsciously prepare for it.

The brain has a normal level of "background noise," Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. The researchers found that the pattern of activity in the second or so before the cue symbol appeared -- before the volunteers could know they were going to make a decision -- could predict the likely outcome of the decision.
"The state of the brain right before presentation of the cue determines whether you will attend to the left or to the right," Bengson said.

The experiment builds on a famous 1970s experiment by Benjamin Libet, a psychologist at UCSF who was later affiliated with the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience.
Libet also measured brain electrical activity immediately before a volunteer made a decision to press a switch in response to a visual signal. He found brain activity immediately before the volunteer reported deciding to press the switch.


......see link for full story
Samreay
Posts: 28
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6/12/2014 9:49:53 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
To me, I don't even think free will is a coherent concept. Either my decisions are deterministic, or they are (at least partially) random. Where does free will come into it?

But yes, that study strengthened the conclusion that our thoughts are simply chemical processes, as they were able to detect the chemical precursors starting their reactions that would give a certain decision before the person in question was even consciously aware of their decision.
Such
Posts: 1,110
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6/13/2014 1:56:37 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/12/2014 8:09:06 PM, slo1 wrote:
Pretty interesting. Not certain what to conclude from the study.

Well... see, my issue with the suggestions that it's making is that the actual decisions the researcher expected the test subjects to make appeared arbitrary.

In other words, the actual decision that the subjects made didn't seem to depend on anything in particular in relation to the images on the screen, so it makes sense that the decision they made, since it was ultimately arbitrary, depended on the general state of the mind or consciousness that the people had just before making that arbitrary decision.

Wouldn't a study like this be far better conducted based on a decision that is actually meaningful to the test subject?
slo1
Posts: 4,318
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6/13/2014 2:32:22 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/13/2014 1:56:37 PM, Such wrote:
At 6/12/2014 8:09:06 PM, slo1 wrote:
Pretty interesting. Not certain what to conclude from the study.

Well... see, my issue with the suggestions that it's making is that the actual decisions the researcher expected the test subjects to make appeared arbitrary.

In other words, the actual decision that the subjects made didn't seem to depend on anything in particular in relation to the images on the screen, so it makes sense that the decision they made, since it was ultimately arbitrary, depended on the general state of the mind or consciousness that the people had just before making that arbitrary decision.

Wouldn't a study like this be far better conducted based on a decision that is actually meaningful to the test subject?

I think you are on to something. Did people really have a preference to right or left or did they just arbitrarily decide and allow (unconsciously) the background noise to choose because it was not a meaningful decision.

How does that relate to decisions when on is considering other information? IE: What is the best mutual fund to pick for my investment. I study the options, returns, what they invest in, and make a decision on the most likely to offer the best return.

That type of decision making does not seem to fit well with this experiment. It may be very relevant when I am trying to decide whether to order a burger or chicken sandwich, but nothing more complex.
Sidewalker
Posts: 3,713
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6/16/2014 6:26:55 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/12/2014 9:49:53 PM, Samreay wrote:
To me, I don't even think free will is a coherent concept. Either my decisions are deterministic, or they are (at least partially) random.

That"s a false dichotomy; another option is the self-evident experiential reality that we are conscious, morally responsible, causal agents.

Where does free will come into it?

It comes into it when you recognize that we are conscious beings, and accept the obvious fact that consciousness has causal influence due to its content, not solely because of the physical aspects of its neural correlates. A conscious state includes a desire or intention, it includes the ability to envision a future state and establish a strategy for attaining that state. That makes it more than a purely physical state, it is a conscious state with reference to a future possibility, and no such reference is part of any purely physical state. Such conscious states can have causal effect to bring about further states for the sake of values and purposes, and intents, values, and purposes are not reducible to the purely physical state of your argument.

But yes, that study strengthened the conclusion that our thoughts are simply chemical processes,

By definition, the phrase "strengthened the conclusion" implies that you could have chosen otherwise, it implies the ability to select among alternatives.

as they were able to detect the chemical precursors starting their reactions that would give a certain decision before the person in question was even consciously aware of their decision.

The evidence does not show that a decision has been made before people are aware of having made it, and it does not support the conclusion that free will is an illusion. These experiments only find discernible patterns of neural activity that precede decisions, but if we assume that conscious decisions have neural correlates, then we should expect to find early signs of those correlates "ramping up" to the moment of consciousness. It would be miraculous if the brain did nothing at all until the moment when people became aware of a decision to act.
"It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive." " C. W. Leadbeater
Iredia
Posts: 1,608
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6/17/2014 9:13:40 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Free-will is not an illusion. You have the ability to choose the way you live by the day. The onslaught of mainstream science on facts like free-will is amazing.
Porn babes be distracting me. Dudes be stealing me stuff. I'm all about the cash from now. I'm not playing Jesus anymore.
Sidewalker
Posts: 3,713
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6/17/2014 10:15:58 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/13/2014 2:32:22 PM, slo1 wrote:
At 6/13/2014 1:56:37 PM, Such wrote:
At 6/12/2014 8:09:06 PM, slo1 wrote:
Pretty interesting. Not certain what to conclude from the study.

Well... see, my issue with the suggestions that it's making is that the actual decisions the researcher expected the test subjects to make appeared arbitrary.

In other words, the actual decision that the subjects made didn't seem to depend on anything in particular in relation to the images on the screen, so it makes sense that the decision they made, since it was ultimately arbitrary, depended on the general state of the mind or consciousness that the people had just before making that arbitrary decision.

Wouldn't a study like this be far better conducted based on a decision that is actually meaningful to the test subject?

I think you are on to something. Did people really have a preference to right or left or did they just arbitrarily decide and allow (unconsciously) the background noise to choose because it was not a meaningful decision.

How does that relate to decisions when on is considering other information? IE: What is the best mutual fund to pick for my investment. I study the options, returns, what they invest in, and make a decision on the most likely to offer the best return.

That type of decision making does not seem to fit well with this experiment. It may be very relevant when I am trying to decide whether to order a burger or chicken sandwich, but nothing more complex.

These experiments didn't even address anything nearly as complex as deciding to order a burger. All of the experiments involved carrying out some small, simple motor activity, the ones in the article involved eye movement, looking left or right in response to a cue, Libet"s experiments involved pressing a button and flexing a finger or wrist, all of these were small and reflexive actions where the brain activity takes place primarily in the secondary motor cortex. These experiments all involve quick, repetitive decisions and the early neural activity measured in these experiments most likely represent nothing more than the preparations for movement that precede conscious awareness, which is exactly what we should expect with such simple, repetitive decisions.

Free will is a matter of imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one"s reasons for choosing them, planning one"s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires. These experiments do nothing to even touch upon the issues of the deliberation and complex decision making involved in free will.
"It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive." " C. W. Leadbeater
slo1
Posts: 4,318
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6/18/2014 7:08:06 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/17/2014 10:15:58 PM, Sidewalker wrote:
At 6/13/2014 2:32:22 PM, slo1 wrote:
At 6/13/2014 1:56:37 PM, Such wrote:
At 6/12/2014 8:09:06 PM, slo1 wrote:
Pretty interesting. Not certain what to conclude from the study.

Well... see, my issue with the suggestions that it's making is that the actual decisions the researcher expected the test subjects to make appeared arbitrary.

In other words, the actual decision that the subjects made didn't seem to depend on anything in particular in relation to the images on the screen, so it makes sense that the decision they made, since it was ultimately arbitrary, depended on the general state of the mind or consciousness that the people had just before making that arbitrary decision.

Wouldn't a study like this be far better conducted based on a decision that is actually meaningful to the test subject?

I think you are on to something. Did people really have a preference to right or left or did they just arbitrarily decide and allow (unconsciously) the background noise to choose because it was not a meaningful decision.

How does that relate to decisions when on is considering other information? IE: What is the best mutual fund to pick for my investment. I study the options, returns, what they invest in, and make a decision on the most likely to offer the best return.

That type of decision making does not seem to fit well with this experiment. It may be very relevant when I am trying to decide whether to order a burger or chicken sandwich, but nothing more complex.

These experiments didn't even address anything nearly as complex as deciding to order a burger. All of the experiments involved carrying out some small, simple motor activity, the ones in the article involved eye movement, looking left or right in response to a cue, Libet"s experiments involved pressing a button and flexing a finger or wrist, all of these were small and reflexive actions where the brain activity takes place primarily in the secondary motor cortex. These experiments all involve quick, repetitive decisions and the early neural activity measured in these experiments most likely represent nothing more than the preparations for movement that precede conscious awareness, which is exactly what we should expect with such simple, repetitive decisions.

Free will is a matter of imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one"s reasons for choosing them, planning one"s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires. These experiments do nothing to even touch upon the issues of the deliberation and complex decision making involved in free will.

I understand what you are saying. However you can't deny that from the individual's view point he would overwhelming feel that he made the choice even though it does not appear that way.

That may be the larger issue. If it feels like free will, it does not mean it is free will. The individual is not in a position to be able to self report when and when not a choice of their own volition was made.
rross
Posts: 2,772
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6/25/2014 10:05:35 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/12/2014 8:06:22 PM, slo1 wrote:
http://www.sciencedaily.com...

Our ability to make choices -- and sometimes mistakes -- might arise from random fluctuations in the brain's background electrical noise, according to a recent study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

"How do we behave independently of cause and effect?" said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. "This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions."
The brain has a normal level of "background noise," Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. In the new study, decisions could be predicted based on the pattern of brain activity immediately before a decision was made.

Bengson sat volunteers in front of a screen and told them to fix their attention on the center, while using electroencephalography, or EEG, to record their brains' electrical activity. The volunteers were instructed to make a decision to look either to the left or to the right when a cue symbol appeared on screen, and then to report their decision.
The cue to look left or right appeared at random intervals, so the volunteers could not consciously or unconsciously prepare for it.

The brain has a normal level of "background noise," Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. The researchers found that the pattern of activity in the second or so before the cue symbol appeared -- before the volunteers could know they were going to make a decision -- could predict the likely outcome of the decision.
"The state of the brain right before presentation of the cue determines whether you will attend to the left or to the right," Bengson said.

The experiment builds on a famous 1970s experiment by Benjamin Libet, a psychologist at UCSF who was later affiliated with the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience.
Libet also measured brain electrical activity immediately before a volunteer made a decision to press a switch in response to a visual signal. He found brain activity immediately before the volunteer reported deciding to press the switch.


......see link for full story

I've been reading quite a lot of these kinds of studies lately. And yes, I think that we have a lot less conscious control over our actions than people typically think. And that often people are more observers of their actions and then make up plausible, retrospective stories about conscious decision-making. However, it seems fairly conclusive that our conscious mind is capable of controlling our actions in some ways still, for example, in relation to conscious planning of future actions etc.

Whether or not this conscious control counts as free will is more a philosophical question.
v3nesl
Posts: 4,465
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6/26/2014 9:54:43 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 6/13/2014 1:56:37 PM, Such wrote:
At 6/12/2014 8:09:06 PM, slo1 wrote:
Pretty interesting. Not certain what to conclude from the study.

Well... see, my issue with the suggestions that it's making is that the actual decisions the researcher expected the test subjects to make appeared arbitrary.

In other words, the actual decision that the subjects made didn't seem to depend on anything in particular in relation to the images on the screen, so it makes sense that the decision they made, since it was ultimately arbitrary, depended on the general state of the mind or consciousness that the people had just before making that arbitrary decision.


That's an excellent point!
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