Thursday, February 9, 2012

379: Consciousness and Free Will

The brain is a hot issue in the media like my Saturday newspaper proved again. A page long article with the headline: "spontaneous" decisions are over.

We have an intuitive belief that we have a free will. Some might argue….well, to some extend yes. It is almost the same intuitive belief that we have a mind and a body in a dualistic sense.

However, when asked a philosopher, we get another story. This dualism of mind and body is an idea only uphold by just a few anymore.

That's ok, as long as nobody starts denying that we have a mind. Let philosophers debate ontological questions here.

But our free will. That is another cup of tea.That free will is part of our identity. We shaped our personality by our free choices. Because of our free will we are morally responsible.

And here is a journalist who gets 64 electrodes attached to his skull looking at a computer screen, on which something is moving.

He gets the instruction to stop that movement by a mouse click, whenever he likes. Just spontaneous, unplanned.

What happens? Seconds before he presses the mouse button "spontaneously" there is already activity in the premotoric cortex.

The brain seems to be ahead of my spontaneous decision to press the button. It already made the decision for me?

the belief in a free will has serious consequences as has the opposite: the belief that they decide for you, that circumstances determine your present state and so on.

A research team of the university of Gent, Belgium, convinced one half of the group of test persons, that free will is an illusion

They presented them with the words of Nobel prizewinner Francis Crick:" Your feeling of personal identity and free will is nothing more than the behavior of a large group of braincells and molecules therein."

Whether Crick is right or not, in the heads of the test persons this text had a remarkable effect on the brain activity.

The brain activity in a free choice experiment was considerably less than in heads of those who hadn't read Crick's text and unconcerned believe in their free will.

Especially the unconscious process in the brain that precedes the spontaneous choice activity was 25% less in this group.

The belief or disbelief in a free will affects us, influences how we perform and act, like researchers from the University of MInnesota and University of California discovered.

Test persons had to solve 20 math problems. They could cheat, but were explicitly asked not to do so.
One half of the group was confronted with the text of Francis Crick.

The result was that in that group 60% more cheated than in the group who hadn't read the words of Francis Crick.

This defines our philosophical problem clearly: Is free will an illusion? What is the place of free will in our lives if all our actions are the result of some other cause?

Do our desires and unconscious beliefs make us less free? How do human beings assert their autonomy in a world governed by chance, cause and necessity?

You are free to show up next Thursday to hear how this story continues.

The Discussion

[13:24] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yay, very interesting
[13:24] herman Bergson: Thank you....
[13:24] Bibbe Oh: thank you!
[13:24] Jaelle Faerye: what a cliffhanger, Herman, LOL
[13:24] Mick Nerido: Thanks professor
[13:24] herman Bergson: if you have any questions or remarks...the floor is yours
[13:24] Farv Hallison: Thank you herman
[13:24] Lizzy Pleides: thank you, it was brilliant again
[13:24] Mistyowl Warrhol: Interesting theory.
[13:25] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Im interested in that time-shift thing
[13:25] Mistyowl Warrhol: Do we have the free will to allow outside influence to effect how thinking?
[13:25] herman Bergson: yes Merlin that is a fascinating phenomenon.
[13:25] Mick Nerido: Have to go see u thursday
[13:25] herman Bergson: Ok Mick
[13:25] Farv Hallison: bye Mik
[13:25] Lizzy Pleides: tc mick
[13:26] Jaelle Faerye: Bye Mick
[13:26] Mistyowl Warrhol: TC Mick :-)
[13:26] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Sometimes I think I had predicted something, but then wonder if my memory was false and came after the event
[13:26] herman Bergson: The general idea is that before we are conscious of our desicion the brain is already at work
[13:26] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yes
[13:26] herman Bergson: It came definitely after the event Merlin....
[13:27] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yes :)
[13:27] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Do other people experience this?
[13:27] herman Bergson: the idea is that the brain makes up things....
[13:27] herman Bergson: But I have a problem with this way of thinking...
[13:28] herman Bergson: on the one hand there is the brain....
[13:28] herman Bergson: on the other hand there is consciousness
[13:28] Sybyle Perdide: but.. however you define free will.. the decision, the free will did, must come from somewhere
[13:28] herman Bergson: My point of view is that indeed the brain generates consciousness as a biological process
[13:28] Farv Hallison: I say your mind is different than consciousness....your mind made the desicion any it was displayed later on your Cartesean stage.
[13:29] herman Bergson: Well Farv...that is a little bit what I fear...
[13:29] Mistyowl Warrhol: Some people are more influenced by outside events. Some are not. What about the 40% that did not cheat?
[13:29] herman Bergson: the idea that consciousness is the audience of the brain
[13:30] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): how much time is there between the brain and action?
[13:30] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Richard Dawkins says clearly that he thinks consciousness evolved
[13:30] herman Bergson: half a second certain tests
[13:30] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Sorry, thats obvious
[13:30] herman Bergson: But Misty you got a point....
[13:30] Hokon Cazalet: true, if consciousness is a product of evolution [which it is], then it served some survivial value, somewhere somehow
[13:31] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yes thats it
[13:31] herman Bergson: research shows that when you tell people there is no free will, they become less social and moral
[13:31] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Oh they DO?
[13:31] herman Bergson: yes Merlin...…
[13:31] herman Bergson: therefore I have great difficulty with this brian observations and how it is related to free will
[13:32] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): they let go of their own moral?
[13:32] Mistyowl Warrhol: If ppl have been conditioned to obey what they hear, they lose free will. Ppl who are "free thinkers" will still rely on free will.
[13:32] Jaelle Faerye: that's an interesting thing
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes Beertje....they feel less responseble for their actions...
[13:32] Jaelle Faerye: that moral thing
[13:32] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): I suppose Misty raises a broader issue there
[13:32] Jaelle Faerye: i read somewhere
[13:33] Farv Hallison: what does it mean to rely on free will?
[13:33] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Degrees of free will
[13:33] Jaelle Faerye: that they had an "experiment" going on
[13:33] Jaelle Faerye: with people
[13:33] Lizzy Pleides: doesn't it depend of intelligence and education?
[13:33] Mistyowl Warrhol: If any event is less obvious, we are more likely to let it influence us..
[13:33] herman Bergson: To rely on free will means that you have the feeling, Farv, that you make the decisions, you plot the course
[13:33] Jaelle Faerye: volunteers who were supposed to ask questions and "punish" with a power surge if the answer was wrong
[13:34] Mistyowl Warrhol: Trying to think of the word I am looking for.. duh
[13:34] Sybyle Perdide: but what is me?
[13:34] herman Bergson: The Miller experiment Jaelle....test on authority...
[13:34] Jaelle Faerye: yes
[13:34] Jaelle Faerye: and
[13:35] Jaelle Faerye: letting go of the free will
[13:35] Jaelle Faerye: since it was "required"
[13:35] herman Bergson: yes some obeyed to the extreme
[13:35] Jaelle Faerye: people abdicated their own free will
[13:35] herman Bergson: but I think that that is another story....
[13:35] Mistyowl Warrhol: There are some, who will remain anon, who rebel when told something must be a certain way :-)
[13:35] herman Bergson: it was not about free will this research but on the power of authority
[13:36] Jaelle Faerye: uh huh
[13:36] Jaelle Faerye: but
[13:36] Jaelle Faerye: accepting authority without questioning?
[13:36] herman Bergson: yes...
[13:36] Jaelle Faerye: isn't that somehow a negation of one's free will?
[13:36] Mistyowl Warrhol: Exactly
[13:36] herman Bergson: no...
[13:36] Jaelle Faerye: why?
[13:36] herman Bergson: it is the choice to leave the responsability to th eperson in charge
[13:37] Jaelle Faerye: uh huh
[13:37] Mistyowl Warrhol: yep
[13:37] Sybyle Perdide: noo
[13:37] Jaelle Faerye: i never went to army
[13:37] Sybyle Perdide: not only#
[13:37] herman Bergson: well is army style...:-)
[13:37] herman Bergson: never question your superior!
[13:37] Jaelle Faerye: yup
[13:37] Mistyowl Warrhol: and with some religions
[13:38] herman Bergson: oh yes Misty...
[13:38] herman Bergson: never question Mohammed
[13:38] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): ooh careful!
[13:38] herman Bergson: grins...
[13:38] herman Bergson: yeah Merlin..
[13:38] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): lol
[13:39] Mistyowl Warrhol: LOL but that is not about true religion, but ppl who use religion for power and that is a whole new issue.
[13:40] herman Bergson: Well...I think you will be surprised when we really dig into th efree will issue philosophically...
[13:40] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): I look forward to it
[13:40] Jaelle Faerye: me too
[13:40] Mistyowl Warrhol: There will always be ppl who believe only they are right and want to take free will away.
[13:40] herman Bergson: To be honest is amazing in fact....
[13:41] herman Bergson: Then...may I thank you all again for your participation....
[13:41] Jaelle Faerye: Thank YOU, Herman
[13:41] Sybyle Perdide: merci Herman
[13:41] herman Bergson: unless you still have a question or remark left
[13:41] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yes, thank YOU
[13:41] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): thank you professor
[13:41] Lizzy Pleides: thanks to YOU Herman
[13:41] Mistyowl Warrhol: Nice discussion.. much to think about. ty :-)
[13:41] Bibbe Oh: Food for thought!
[13:41] herman Bergson: Class dismissed.. ^_^
[13:42] Hokon Cazalet: =)
[13:42] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): He he
[13:43] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): Goodnight everybody
[13:43] Lizzy Pleides: nini Beertje
[13:43] herman Bergson: I am sorry Lizzy about my report on what I saw
[13:43] Farv Hallison: goodnight beer
[13:43] Jaelle Faerye: Night Beerje

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