Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

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Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by bskeptic » Fri Jan 15, 2016 2:29 am

Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms involved in decision-making

January 4, 2016 ... aking.html

Our choices seem to be freer than previously thought. Using computer-based brain experiments, researchers from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin studied the decision-making processes involved in voluntary movements. The question was: Is it possible for people to cancel a movement once the brain has started preparing it? The conclusion the researchers reached was: Yes, up to a certain point—the 'point of no return'. The results of this study have been published in the journal PNAS.

The background to this new set of experiments lies in the debate regarding conscious will and determinism in human decision-making, which has attracted researchers, psychologists, philosophers and the general public, and which has been ongoing since at least the 1980s. Back then, the American researcher Benjamin Libet studied the nature of cerebral processes of study participants during conscious decision-making. He demonstrated that conscious decisions were initiated by unconscious brain processes, and that a wave of brain activity referred to as a 'readiness potential' could be recorded even before the subject had made a conscious decision.

How can the unconscious brain processes possibly know in advance what decision a person is going to make at a time when they are not yet sure themselves? Until now, the existence of such preparatory brain processes has been regarded as evidence of 'determinism', according to which free will is nothing but an illusion, meaning our decisions are initiated by unconscious brain processes, and not by our 'conscious self'. In conjunction with Prof. Dr. Benjamin Blankertz and Matthias Schultze-Kraft from Technische Universität Berlin, a team of researchers from Charité's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, led by Prof. Dr. John-Dylan Haynes, has now taken a fresh look at this issue. Using state-of-the-art measurement techniques, the researchers tested whether people are able to stop planned movements once the readiness potential for a movement has been triggered.

"The aim of our research was to find out whether the presence of early brain waves means that further decision-making is automatic and not under conscious control, or whether the person can still cancel the decision, i.e. use a 'veto'," explains Prof. Haynes. As part of this study, researchers asked study participants to enter into a 'duel' with a computer, and then monitored their brain waves throughout the duration of the game using electroencephalography (EEG). A specially-trained computer was then tasked with using these EEG data to predict when a subject would move, the aim being to out-maneuver the player. This was achieved by manipulating the game in favor of the computer as soon as brain wave measurements indicated that the player was about to move.

If subjects are able to evade being predicted based on their own brain processes this would be evidence that control over their actions can be retained for much longer than previously thought, which is exactly what the researchers were able to demonstrate. "A person's decisions are not at the mercy of unconscious and early brain waves. They are able to actively intervene in the decision-making process and interrupt a movement," says Prof. Haynes. "Previously people have used the preparatory brain signals to argue against free will. Our study now shows that the freedom is much less limited than previously thought. However, there is a 'point of no return' in the decision-making process, after which cancellation of movement is no longer possible." Further studies are planned in which the researchers will investigate more complex decision-making processes.

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by bskeptic » Fri Jan 15, 2016 2:29 am

Quoting Marcel Brass from an interview:

"First of all, I do not really think that neuroscience will solve the old philosophical problem whether free will exists or not. And I’m not even sure whether any science will solve this problem.

But neuroscience can inform us about the basis of our experience of free will. So our subjective experience of will and how it is related to our behavior. And certainly the experiment of Benjamin Libet was very influencing in getting this research going."

LUKE: Those studies about the effects of belief in free will on people’s behavior are really interesting to me as well.

I’ve read that some researchers or some philosophers think that this indicates maybe we should not… Let’s say science discovers a lot of things that really place heavy, serious doubt on the existence of free will, and some people like Saul Smilansky will argue that the scientists and philosophers who are investigating free will shouldn’t tell the public this.

That they just shouldn’t let the cat out of the bag because society will crumble, and people will have less self-efficacy, and they will be less motivated to act morally and less motivated to act at all. [laughs]

It’s a very interesting debate to have. I don’t even know how you go about arguing those kinds of things, but it sounds like you’re interested in investigating those issues as well.

MARCEL: In a way, our data support that, and also the social-psychological data support this basic idea. I have to admit that I would question that you can withhold the information in a way, I think that’s not really the way to solve this problem.

But of course you have to be a little bit careful about the conclusions you draw from your data. And in my opinion there is not much evidence that free will doesn’t exist. There is also not much evidence that it does exist.

Of course these data seem to indicate that one should be a little bit careful about coming up with statements about free will.

But on the other hand, I also have to say that I think you can’t really completely question belief in free will and people. I mean, even people that would argue that free will doesn’t exist. I think in everyday life, they don’t really implement this knowledge, because you can’t, in a way.

You have to believe that your intentions are effective. If you wouldn’t believe that, yeah, I think yeah… suicide would be the only solution, in a way.

LUKE: [laughs]

MARCEL: So in this sense, you might be able to modulate these intentions about free will or belief in free will. But I think everybody in fact behaves as if free will exists.

If you lose this experience or conviction, then you are really in trouble, and we see specific pathologies where this is the case, in depression, or other pathologies where people have the impression that they can’t influence the world.

If they can’t control the environment, they have serious psychological problems. Because our belief that we can control our environment is extremely crucial for our health.

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by iskander » Fri Jan 15, 2016 5:30 am

'Must. must be done'. The film M beginning at 1 hour 42 minute is the explanation of a serial child killer for his actions.
M | 1931, thriller, full film, high quality

Of course, religious freewill does not mean the same thing as in the film , M.
Or does it?

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Jan 16, 2016 2:14 am

One problem with Libet's experiments is that they are basically studying the process by which one makes a random meaningless choice. (E.G. which button to press.)
This may be peripheral to what we normally mean by responsible decision making.

Andrew Criddle

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by Peter Kirby » Sat Jan 16, 2016 4:12 am

My point of departure might be the broad-ranging ontological conclusions reached (the "existence" of a non-deterministic free will, the "existence" of a soul, and so on... that's what I mean by ontological conclusions, depending on whether someone is actually making them of course).

Given the fact that we have a consciousness and at a minimum the so-called "illusion" of free will, as well as the fact that this is (a) presumably broadly true of the human population and (b) also must be considered energy-consuming in a caloric sense and (c) is strange to consider a mere 'vestige' that has outlived its usefulness, I'd venture that our consciousness enhances biological fitness. In other words, I would guess that evolution didn't lead animals towards consciousness if the exact same results could be achieved without it, with unconscious non-so-called-free-will-experiencing neural networks. Consciousness and what we call free will must have a purpose.

(Incidentally, I suspect our very complex computer systems may not have a consciousness precisely because we have not figured out yet how to design one, physically, relying on a 'brute force' engineering approach of atomized logic gates operating over random access memory to achieve relatively trivial and delimited levels of influence over its own actions, but I'm not sure that will stay true forever.)

That purpose seems to be identified by these researchers -- to be the brain's "CEO," rubber-stamping suggested actions, occasionally throwing in a veto, and plotting long-range moves.

It's a good thing that progress is being made, as we may learn more about how the brain is doing all that. We might even make some progress regarding which forms of life have consciousness relatively similar to our own, which might breathe a little life into old debates over ethics in the treatment of other species.

(As a happy carnivore myself, I am a little unhappy with my guess that we find it is much older than Homo sapiens and is widespread in the mammals and possibly elsewhere, possibly evolving more than once.)
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by DCHindley » Sat Jan 16, 2016 8:13 am

Years ago as a Psychology undergrad, I was hoping to come to a conclusion about "conscious" decision making. At the time, I was still a Christian and believed in "free-will" in order to justify the whole idea that we consciously choose to be "saved".

Unfortunately for my beliefs, I came to conclude that the decision making process was entirely deterministic, but realized that the incredible quantum level complexity of the interaction of deterministic causes operating from multiple lobes of the brain created the perception of consciousness. Consciousness is the calculus of large numbers of deterministic causes.

That doesn't mean that we as individuals don't make decisions, but that there are multiple "right" answers offered by different parts of our brains, and depending upon the wiring of our individual brains, some seem to make better final selections among these than others.

Those whose brains manage to select answers that advance their situation in life become Albert Einsteins, and those who don't remain day laborers all their lives.

The authors of the referenced study seem to be at pains to justify the idea that there is some sort of entity separated from the effects of deterministic causes that "makes" decisions.


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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by dveler2255 » Thu Mar 03, 2016 3:52 am

the lord said whosoever will this is a free choice to choose. Once I offer something to someone and they refuse this is free choice. The Lord gives us the same choice when it comes to salvation.


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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by Adam » Fri Apr 08, 2016 9:24 pm

I'm quite willing to believe we humans do not have free will.
As long as I can still believe that I do.
Realize that to stand against what is fore-ordained assures failure.

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by outhouse » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:32 pm

dveler2255 wrote:the lord said


No deity has ever written a word anywhere at any time.

But some author probably unknown, made that unsubstantiated claim.

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Re: Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms...

Post by outhouse » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:35 pm

bskeptic wrote:Do we have free will? .
I do not trust anyone who says we do not.

One can jump through philosophical weasel words all day long, to promote either side. But I am captain of my ship.

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