Last night I watched a TV program called “Finding My Mind.”
This is how the program was described in the TV Guide:
This program unravels the mysteries of the brain. For thousands of years philosophers have tried and failed to come up with satisfactory answers to questions such as ‘who am I?’ But recently neuroscientists have made some fascinating and unnerving discoveries. Here, Oxford University professor of mathematics Marcus du Sautoy takes a journey deep into his own brain – a willing guinea pig for some of the most extraordinary experiments known to neuroscience – to discover where ‘free will’ and ‘self’ actually come from.
Marcus du Sautoy is a rather attractive and personable 40-something chap whose quest is, essentially, to find out whether cutting edge neuroscience can help him find his sense of ‘I.’
Over the course of an hour we see him zip from one part of the planet to another chatting to a cross-section of experts in their fields and undertaking an array of experiments and brain scans. And we watch as his basic beliefs and assumptions about things like the ‘soul,’ the ‘self,’ the ‘person’ become unstitched. He’s a courageous kid.
There’s plenty to interest intrepid explorers of nonduality in this doco, but for me one experiment in particular etched itself in pokerwork in the local brain-space. Marcus had his head all trussed up in a cap like the ones hairdressers used to use when ‘highlights’ were fashionable. This one exuded wires rather than hair. He looked like a porcupine. The wires were attached to computers, of course, and he was simply asked to make choices in response to given ‘problems’ by pressing one button or another.
Which he did, with all the confidence of someone who knows their own mind and believes in free-will.
His face. I’ll never forget the look on his face when the scientist told him – and backed it up with the computer print-out – that he had known what choice Marcus would make a full 6 seconds (no, that’s not a typo) before Marcus pressed the button. With 100% accuracy.
Anyone out there who still believes they are an entity with volition and control should see this doco. But be warned – it’s hazardous to the ego. Fatal, actually.
You can watch a video clip at: http://www.sbs.com.au/schedule/SBSONE/2010-07-06/SBS%20Sydney
Update: The link above is no longer live at SBS. However you can view the whole documentary (52:10) here:
this doesn’t proved that there is no volition.
if the brain signals is ahead of 6 seconds from what the body does, it simply means that volition is not in the body, it’s just a vehicle of the volitional expression of consciousness,
iow, volition happens in consciousness and it only takes 6 seconds for the body to execute the choice made by consciousness,
Thanks for your comment! My post was a bit brief. The point of the experiment, as I understood it, was to locate the *entity* claiming to ‘have’ volition. No such ‘ghost in the machine’ can be found by science – thus far. It’s very clear that “volition happens in consciousness” – where else could it happen? From that perspective it’s astonishing that it takes the brain/body so long to act on the ‘choice.’ It’s all very wondrous, eh?
the experiment appeared to have banished freewill because there was a priori assumption that a “ghost in the machine” independent (cartesian dualism) of the body is the chooser. when it was not found, then it was concluded that freewill is also an illusion.
consciousness is self evident and volition does happen. the fact that “force” can be “directed” to pick a cup of tea instead of coffee speaks volume to the reality of freewill.
it’s not that there is no entity that can direct force in an otherwise deterministic one way path, perhaps it’s just illusive.
I know my reply is way after this, but SBS reran the program yesterday and I watched it then found your post.
Our bodies give out signals all the time and parts of our mind interact with them. It is just that our so-called mind is what most people know as the just the conscious part which is really a snapshot of what is really happening. This is how we can set to our unconscious tasks like – get me up at 6:30 tomorrow (and is often 2 mins early when we have surveyed), what is that person’s name again? (and it comes to you minutes or hours later).
See http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/ The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information (Consciously)
See also http://www.dichotomistic.com/mind_readings_chapter%20on%20libet.html where Libet speaks of the experiments with the 1/2 second paradox (delay) and Wundt’s explanation of the theory of preconscious processing: …the results of Libet’s freewill experiment were never as unsettling as they sounded. The very first psychologists — mental chronometers like Wundt — had been quite at home with the idea that consciousness might come gradually and also by discernible stages. Indeed, Wundt’s theory of perception followed by apperception seemed to fit Libet’s work pretty neatly.
We have free will and volition in my mind, it is just that our body knows and sometimes exhibits it long before we process it in our fairly egotistical conscious mind.
Dear Mark – Many thanks for your thoughtful comment and for contributing these links!
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