For this essay, I am choosing to recycle and dig deeper into one of my past posts, on freedom of choice or lack thereof. While doing some research for my argumentative essay, I came upon an article by Wired (annotations and bibliography below) that has some interesting information and opinions on what an experiment showing precursor activity to a button press says about free will.
The article itself discusses an experiment co-authored by John Dylan Haynes in which subjects were asked to press a button with either their left or right hand, while being monitored by a functional MRI machine. Depending on the movement in brain activity from one area to another, the MRI scan could provide data to predict what hand the subject would use up to seven seconds before the button was actually pressed. As discussed in the article, it may provide insight into how the decision making process works in the human brain and it does raise a point that deliberation on behalf of humankind’s highly regarded free will may be but a farce.
Don’t become a nihilist quite yet, however, because the ramifications may be, well, nonexistent. Since your personality and your sense of self is contained in your brain (which is why doctors declare patients dead when their brain dies or ceases to function even if they breathe or their heart still beats), simply showing experimentally that the brain can be “read” and predicted is just one step on the path of understanding ourselves a bit better. Anyone who’s played a game knows that you can predict someone else’s actions, so why can’t a machine?
Keim, Brandon. “Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them.” Wired, Conde Nast, 3 June 2017, www.wired.com/2008/04/mind-decision/.