According to a study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, random fluctuations in the brain’s “background electrical noise” might have a say in our decisions. An article on the ucdavis.edu website suggests that this could possibly be labeled “free will“. In other words, it opens the free will door.
Take a look at the article here:
Does ‘free will’ stem from brain noise?
The article is brief, but has some conclusions that simply do no follow from what is explained in the study. It first says this, in order to prep you for the really bad thinking to come:
“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 article then goes on to explain the study in which volunteers are hooked up to an EEG (to record their brain states)and are told to watch the center of a screen. Then, once a cue, set at a random interval, appeared on the screen, the volunteers were asked to make a decision to either look left or right, and show what they decided on. What the researchers found was that a second before the cue appeared on the screen, a pattern appeared on the EEG that allowed them to predict a likely outcome.
You can watch a short clip here:
They then go on to explain how this builds on the experiments of Libet in the 70’s in which brain states before someone made a decision to press a button with their left or right hand helped determine which one they would decide on before they were consciously aware of their own decision.
The new results build on Libet’s finding, because they provide a model for how brain activity could precede decision, Bengson said. Additionally, Libet had to rely on when volunteers said they made their decision. In the new experiment, the random timing means that “we know people aren’t making the decision in advance,” Bengson said.
And that’s all fine, until of course the grand finale when they decide to “jump the shark” with this assessment:
Libet’s experiment raised questions of free will — if our brain is preparing to act before we know we are going to act, how do we make a conscious decision to act? The new work, though, shows how “brain noise” might actually create the opening for free will, Bengson said.
“It inserts a random effect that allows us to be freed from simple cause and effect,” he said.
The first mistake here is in thinking that such states are independent of cause and effect. That such is a truly “random” event, in the sense of not being caused (what I call an acausal event). They seemingly pull this idea from where the sun doesn’t shine as there is nothing in this experiment that even suggests this. The fact that there is “brain noise” that helps determine their assessment of the outcome says absolutely nothing about the noise not being itself caused.
But that’s not the worst part of the assessment. The worst part is in thinking that if the noise truly was from a non-causal process (if we were to grant that non-sequitur), that such could in any way be considered “free will”. Such noise, in fact, would be entirely outside of any “willing” at all. It would just be a spontaneous happening that the person would have absolutely no control over.
Is it possible that an event can really take place without a cause? Sure, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Of course such an event has some major problems to contend with that I go over thoroughly in the book Breaking the Free Will illusion. But if there were these events that didn’t have a cause, and if they truly did have an effect on our decisions, such would be an event that could never be caused by a willer. And worse, it would be detrimental to our coherency and decision making capabilities.
People who think that an event that is outside of causality can ever help grant free will, it seems to me, have never given much thought on what such an event actually implies.
But in reality this study neither shows that the “brain noise” is free from causation, nor does it empirically open the door to free will. If anything, it closes that door a little more than it was. Of course the real closer of the door is the logically incoherent nature of free will when assessed from the only two possible ways events can come about, either causally or acausally. But that’s a whole other story. 😉
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