Can science tell us if free will exists?

10 November 2015

Question

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

Answer

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

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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