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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"How Free Is Your Will?"

Something a bit different (though the part at the end relates to economic choices). Does this actually say anything about free will?:

How Free Is Your Will? , by Daniela Schiller and David Carmel, Scientific American: ...Scientists from UCLA and Harvard -- Itzhak Fried, Roy Mukamel and Gabriel Kreiman -- have taken an audacious step ... challenging conventional notions of free will. ...
Fried and his colleagues implanted electrodes in twelve patients, recording from a total of 1019 neurons. They adopted an experimental procedure that Benjamin Libet, a pioneer of research on free will at the University of California, San Francisco, developed almost thirty years ago: They had their patients look at a hand sweeping around a clock-face, asked them to press a button whenever they wanted to, and then had them indicate where the hand had been pointing when they decided to press the button. This provides a precise time for an action (the push) as well as the decision to act. With these data the experimenters can then look for neurons whose activity correlated with the will to act. ...
[A]bout a quarter of these neurons began to change their activity before the time patients declared as the moment they felt the urge to press the button. The change began as long as a second and a half before the decision..., this activity was robust enough that the researchers could predict with over 80 percent accuracy not only whether a movement had occurred, but when the decision to make it happened. ...
Even with the above caveats,... these findings are mind-boggling. They indicate that some activity in our brains may significantly precede our awareness of wanting to move. Libet suggested that free will works by vetoing: volition (the will to act) arises in neurons before conscious experience does, but conscious will can override it and prevent unwanted movements.
Other interpretations might require that we reconstruct our idea of free will. Rather than a linear process in which decision leads to action, our behavior may be the bottom-line result of many simultaneous processes: We are constantly faced with a multitude of options for what to do right now – switch the channel? Take a sip from our drink? Get up and go to the bathroom? But our set of options is not unlimited (i.e., the set of options we just mentioned is unlikely to include “launch a ballistic missile”). Deciding what to do and when to do it may be the result of a process in which all the currently-available options are assessed and weighted. Rather than free will being the ability to do anything at all, it might be an act of selection from the present range of options. And the decision might be made before you are even aware of it. ...

    Posted by on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 04:05 PM in Economics, Science | Permalink  Comments (31)


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