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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Neuroscience of free will: Does reaching for beer with robotic arm mean free will doesn’t exist?

By Andrew Porterfield
Genetic Literacy Project
Originally published on July 21, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But researchers at CalTech tried something different with him. Instead of hooking up electrodes to the motor cortex, they choose another site in the brain: The posterior parietal cortex is another part of the brain that controls actions like limb movements, but it does so on a far more sophisticated level than the motor cortex. The posterior parietal is involved in the planning of movements, and much of this planning is unconscious. So, when the CalTech team implanted electrodes in Soto’s posterior parietal, they found that they could predict movements before he actually made them. And once the brain signals doing the predicting were known, they could be used to smoothly move his limbs. Essentially, the electrode was helping him unconsciously decide to move his arms, hands and fingers. Which made beer drinking all the easier.

The fact that scientists can chart the brain’s behavior has led many to revisit an old argument over the existence of free will. If we can predict a person’s intentions just by picking up brain signals (and it took a computer two years to predict Sorto’s), then how free are our minds? How many decisions that we make every day are truly under our conscious control? Is there really free will?

The entire article is here.
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