Science Questions

Can science tell us if free will exists?

Tue, 10th Nov 2015

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Steve Rampley asked:

Do you figure there Is there any scientific way to prove or disprove "free will?"



Ginny Smith went to the world of neuroscience to answer Steve's question....Crossroads

Ginny - The first thing to say is "what exactly is freewill?". We all have this feeling that we are agents, that we make our own decisions, but what do we really mean by that? What do we even mean when we say ‘we’? I guess we mean our brains because that’s kind of where us comes from, but it all starts getting quite philosophical. To take you back to the neuroscience side of things, there's a very famous experiment by a guy called Libet who asked people when they were in an EEG machine to move their finger whenever they felt like it and remember what time it was. They were looking at a clock when they decided they were going to make that movement. But he was also looking at what was going on inside their brain. He found that there was a 200-millisecond delay between the urge to move and when they actually made the movement. But 550 milliseconds before the urge, before they’ve even decided, he could see a specific pattern of brainwaves that predicted they were going to make a decision. So that suggests that actually our deciding to move comes after our brains have already done something that’s going to make us move. So, he was saying that this suggests that freewill is actually a complete illusion and we don’t actually have it.

Kat - So, what is controlling us?

Ginny - So, we’re not 100 percent sure. What we think is that…

Kat - Is it the parasites?

Ginny - It could be the parasites. But basically, our neurons start to fire when enough input has built up. So for example, if you went outside and it’s a sunny day, you're getting input from the sun that’s going through your eyes to your brain and it may be that you decide to put your sunglasses on when that input has built up enough to make your neurons fire then your freewill kind of comes after the effect and creates this idea that you thought you were going to put your sunglasses on. We know that our neurons aren’t quiet. All the time, stuff is going on in our brain. Even when we’re relaxing, we’ve got this default mode network where things are firing, stuffs going on, and it could just be that our decisions when that kind of random firing has built up enough and freewill is an illusion.


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Re - Can you prove or disprove free will

First of all, let's get something straight. Science is not about proving or disproving anything. See
The science of physics is not about "proving" anything by Alan Guth. The video clip for it as at

Regarding your question .... I used to think I knew the answer to that one but now I'm not sure. I used to think that since we're basically organic machines which operate according to the laws of physics that we have no free will because the laws of physics has already determined what will happen or if nature is not deterministic then our judgment is completely random by which I mean that outcomes of the situations we are put into will be based partially or wholly on our mental makeup and memory but still determined in that sense.

I have to take a shower. I think better in there so I might have more to add later. Lol!! PmbPhy, Wed, 16th Sep 2015

It all depends on your definition of free will, and this seems to be rather a subjective concept.

Is it possible to rebel against social convention? Yes, obviously.

Is it possible to overcome the primal instinct to protect yourself from harm? Likewise.

Is it possible to do anything that contravenes the laws of physics? No, by definition (we would look at the result and rewrite the laws).

Is it possible to think or describe anything that contravenes the laws of physics? Most people do from time to time, even those of us that are paid and trusted not to: si exemples requiris, circumspice. alancalverd, Thu, 17th Sep 2015

I think you made this post of your own free will proving you have free will. Thebox, Thu, 17th Sep 2015

An interesting study was done a few years ago - people where asked to choose when to move their hand. They measured the brain waves, and detected the intention to move was preceded by several hundred milliseconds by cerebral activity called the readiness potential, implying your brain has made the decision to move before you are even aware of making the decision.

This would imply free will is a mere illusion, but there has also been work done showing that not believing in free will tends to make people more unpleasant in general so best to ignore it!

Libet B
(1999). Do we have free will?
Journal of Consciousness
Studies 6,47–57 Georgia, Thu, 17th Sep 2015

I am of the opinion that free will allows us to break basic laws of physics to some degree.

Newton's laws tell us that an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. In a way, that applies to me. I am currently at rest sitting in front of my computer, but if you came along an pushed me out of my chair, I would fall to the ground. Action, reaction.

However, I can decide to get up and walk across the room at will. I don't need an outside force to move me. I am self-determining, and have free will. I can make the atoms and molecules in my body do what I want them to do. No, I cannot fly, and there are certain laws of physics which I must obey, but I don't blindly react to my environment like a piece of inert matter either. In fact, I can spend my whole day applying forces to objects, moving them wherever I like at random.

Not only that, free will is not predictable. Science is. Gauge symmetry and the invariance principle are examples of how science makes concrete predictions concerning how things behave when subjected to a stimulus of some sort. Push a ball with a force, and it rolls. Push another identical ball with the same force, and it will roll the same way. However, two people faced with exactly the same stimuli can have completely different reactions to them. Push one person, and he may fall down. Push another one, and he might punch you in the face.

Here's another example: Gas disperses, but human beings have the ability to put it in a bottle. Sure, we cause greater entropy in the environment when we do, but still, gas doesn't collect itself into more concentrated forms left on its own in the atmosphere. It takes a human being "breaking" the laws of physics (or at the very least "manipulating" the laws of physics) to do that. Craig W. Thomson, Thu, 17th Sep 2015

Free will is a cognitive act; therefore it depends on consciousness to unify the mind about metaphysical freedom: Humans are born free; they have innate ability to own free will and consciousness.

To prove that free will don't exist from a neuroscience perspective require evidences that metaphysical freedom is incompatible with the unity of the mind. tkadm30, Tue, 22nd Dec 2015

What is this? alancalverd, Tue, 22nd Dec 2015

What is this?

Consciousness, according to the Vedantic view, is the guarantee that all living organisms are conscious entities and that the metaphysical experience of reality is a cognitive act (intrinsic awareness is the purpose of consciousness). Hence, the conscious mind have freedom of thought and can use free will to obtain metaphysical knowledge.  tkadm30, Tue, 22nd Dec 2015

It occurs to me that we should first define the "free" when speaking of our will.

It is my opinion that we all have a will. Whether that will is entirely dependent upon the sovereignty of our conscious decision making is another question. It remains true nevertheless that we are free to make decisions but those decisions are determined by a collection of external experiences registered within our memories. Some of those memories are of our own choosing but I submit that the majority of them are beyond our sovereign control.

In summation: We have limited control of these influences and are therefore not completely free to choose absent the affect they have on our perception of reality. In many respects, we are prisoner to experience and those experiences are beyond our complete control. Ethos_, Tue, 22nd Dec 2015

It's a inherently flawed concept, since acting without an external or internal cause would be irrational, or random, which is not really what we mean by free will. But more importantly, what does the concept of free will add to our understanding that can't be explained much better in some other way? cheryl j, Wed, 23rd Dec 2015

The concept of free will vs predetermined destiny is a question that only is based on belief and not a hypothesis that can be proved imho.

As far as personal opinion I believe in free will, but to prove free will is as illusory as trying to prove evolution to a creationist, Loved Ben Carlsons comment n Oprah today, how could it not be intelligent design if creatures are able to adapt to their environment. mrsmith2211, Fri, 25th Dec 2015

Guth is wrong.  Experiments prove (proof < prove < probe > probability) hýpotheses into theory when the data match a 95% confidence interval.

The readiness potential determines motor decisions.

Sociopaths lack orbitofrontal cortical grey matter.

There are no illusions, only delusions.

Oprah is a deluded cretin and liar. alysdexia, Sun, 17th Jan 2016

"Quantum brain biology can rescue free will"

The Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR) theory of consciousness assert that quantum vibrations in microtubules may exert conscious agency over our free will. Thus, quantum coherence in microtubules may explain the non-computable phenomenon of free will, were consciousness is by itself a non-local experience of reality. 
tkadm30, Sun, 17th Jan 2016

Freewill is realized through the act of choosing between alternatives. The act of choosing is a product of ignorance. If you had complete knowledge you would not choose because you would already know the correct alternative.

All human abilities have a biological basis, even the motivation to realize those abilities is biologically based. The extent to which external factors can impact upon the decision making of individuals is biologically based.

Given our limited abilities to process information, intelligence, we need to choose between alternatives and hence have freewill.

The greater the knowledge the less the need to choose and the greater the responsibility for making bad choices.

Question: why do punish individuals who due to their biological make-up and limited intellectual capacity, make bad choices? Answer: because we choose to ignore the reality of the human condition.

paradigm, Tue, 19th Jan 2016

That's not what choosing means.  Maybe you mean gessing.

That doesn't matter.  Punishment isn't to reform but deter, compense, and intervene mental defects. alysdexia, Wed, 20th Jan 2016

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