Free Will Again? Sorry, I Had No Choice!

For some of you who get tripped up on the logic of why choice is impossible, here are some very straightforward studies of free will, the results of which will hopefully stifle some of your righteous indignation. Take a look:

Here's an article about a study at the Max Planck Institute, in which... "Test subjects chose whether to push a button with their right or left hand; seven seconds before they experienced making the choice, their brain activity already predicted their final decisions." Here's a link, in case you don't believe me:


Here's another study, published in Science in 2009. Subjects were undergoing awake brain surgery, and their responses to specific brain regions being stimulated was recorded. The visuals on the webpage ( and this quote explain it so nicely that I don't need to....

"If these present results hold up, they'll certainly suggest some interesting ideas about the organization of the brain - such as that the perception of movement depends upon the neurones encoding the intention to move rather than those involved in producing the actual motor act.

It would also be interesting to find out what happens when you simulataneously stimulate the premotor spot which makes your arm move, and the posterior parietal spot which makes you want to move your arm. Would that make you want to move your arm - and do so? If so, that would suggest that something very similar to that is going on whenever we do anything. What is life, but wanting to move, and moving?"


Or, here's a lovely scenerio, ennacted at the Institute for Cognitive Nueroscience, in London..." the nerve centre – if you will – of British brain research. Prof Haggard is demonstrating "transcranial magnetic stimulation", a technique that uses magnetic coils to affect one's brain, and then to control the body. One of his research assistants, Christina Fuentes, is holding a loop-shaped paddle next to his head, moving it fractionally. "If we get it right, it might cause something." She presses a switch, and the coil activates with a click. Prof Haggard's hand twitches. "It's not me doing that," he assures me, "it's her."

The machinery can't force Prof Haggard to do anything really complicated – "You can't make me sign my name," he says, almost ruefully – but at one point, Christina is able to waggle his index finger slightly, like a schoolmaster. It's very fine control, a part of the brain specifically in command of a part of the body. "There's quite a detailed map of the brain's wiring to the body that you can build," he tells me.



The idea that our bodies can be controlled by an outside force is a pretty astonishing one. "This is absolutely out of my control," insists Prof Haggard, as his muscles continue to move. "I'm not doing it, Christina is. I'm just a machine, and she is operating me."

What does this mean in terms of free will? "We don't have free will, in the spiritual sense. What you're seeing is the last output stage of a machine. There are lots of things that happen before this stage – plans, goals, learning – and those are the reasons we do more interesting things than just waggle fingers. But there's no ghost in the machine."


So do you get it now people? There is no damn ghost in the machine, and a machine is exactly what we are. Programmable, predictable, and responsive to external stimuli. That we perceive ourselves to be in control of our actions is just our own stupidity because we do not understand enough of the actual processes to conclude that ALL of our actions are explainable as responses to preceding stimuli. Get over it! You're a rock! You're a robot! You have no damn control over it! That means no responsibility. That means it's impossible to make mistakes, so do whateva the fuck you wanna do with life. This conclusion is why the deterministic philosophy is so reviled. People want to put blame somewhere, so they insist that each other be responsible for what they've done, that they can point to a scapegoat for their suffering. They want a reason for it all, so they insist on purpose and responsibility, but it's all bollox! It's all shit! Shite! Shimata! We are what we are and that's all we can ever be. Boo-fuckin-hoooo!

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Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 21, 2011 at 11:59pm
I saw the distortion. I like it better than the sculpture!
Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 21, 2011 at 9:14am
Funny I dont know the word for it. My vocab fails me. Where your symbol appears to the left of comment by John D-that picture looks like a cartoon bengal tiger.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 21, 2011 at 8:54am

solipsism so soporific=alliteration yah dummy ass tiger-at least I see a tiger on your escutcheon. Or should I call you chief of word police and a damn poor one at that!

Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 20, 2011 at 10:43pm

Not what I am saying John-give it time and I think you will observe an upsidedowning of present preliminary indications in the field of consciousness. Your santa is so damn inapposite and your solipsism so soporific. Had to go for an alliteration.

I aint gonna posit certainty, on the contrary, and you cant claim to either when in another place and at another time, not so far away you were certain of only one thing, that you are the center of the universe! Hope I haven't awakened your alter ego or sidekick. 

Dont you need some consistency?


Comment by John Camilli on January 20, 2011 at 9:46pm

Sure it's possible, but it's not plausable. There juts arent any examples of what you're talking about. There are lots of examples of what I'm talking about. We can all assume anything we want, indeed we have to make assumptions in the absence of real knowledge, but for what purpose do you assert that reality contains a blend of causal and acausal events? There are no events happenning that seem be utterly without cause. Nothin in need of such an explanation, same as there are no sleigh tracks on our roofs that require an actual theory of Santa.


Hey, I'm not a hater,I like Santa too, man. Anybody who digs milk and cookies and wants to give me presents is alright in my book, but nobody's been making presents appear for me so I don't think there's a Santa Clause. And I don't think choice exists because I can conceive of far simpler explanations. That doesn't make them right but, geez, try coming up with some explanation of how non-existence can become existence. I've read a few attempts of spontaneous generation theories, from the ancient Greek ones, up through modern quantum mechanical theories of supercritical gravitational or electrical fields giving rise to potentiation where none existed before. I assure you, even quantum physicists think of that one as a shaky theory.


You keep saying that's the way it is, but you have no observations or logic to back you up. You just have the feeling that when you want to do something your body responds, so you think you must certainly be causing that because it happens just as you want it to. But if those are just two symptoms of the same process - feeling like you want to do something, and moving to do it - then of course they will appear in correlation, but "correlation does not equal causation," my friend.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 20, 2011 at 7:55pm
Johnsense John, your santa comments would be on point if we had mastered the topic of consciousness. In fact the field is in its infancy. In the absence of a clear understanding free will or a blend including free will is a possibility.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 20, 2011 at 2:11pm
I dont know nutin bout nothin. John Tiger, think I have read two brain books half a lifetime ago. Cant recommend anything. Do recall your panegyric to children. That is allright.
Comment by John Camilli on January 20, 2011 at 1:13pm

I think he meant he read the articles I posted, but I will certainly check out the authors you recommended. I do think I've read some of the first one you mentioned somewhere, but I'll hve to look him up to be sure.


Anyway Glen, perhaps you are right. I can't say it's impossible that something about a human allows us to interrupt the chemical, causal events that signal the onset of a "decision," but it could also be that the toothfairy is doing the interrupting. It could be Santa Clause or a Djinn even! I can't prove that they don't exist, but where is there any evidence for them?


I have gotten carried away to assert that free will absolutely does not exist. I can't back that up with any evidence, but what these experiments show is that we already have a good explanation for consciousness that does not require the introduction of characters like Santa and faeries and free will. If you poke someone in one spot of their brain, they want to move their arm. If you poke them in another spot, they move their arm without feeling the desire to. If you combine the two, the person both wants to move their arm and does. They feel like it was them who motivated the movement by their desire to move, which is what it feels like most of the time that we do anything, so why is that not a good enough explanation? Why does it have to be more complicated? Why do we have to introduce the idea of free will, which then requires the explanation of WHERE, WHEN and HOW is the human body interrupting the sequence of electrical signals that we can observe as telltale precursors to "choice?"

Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 19, 2011 at 11:32pm

I read em John-interesting but not conclusive. First it hardly seems like the research is exhaustive.

Is it possible that the unconscious decision is overriden by the conscious, aware thinker, ever? I know I have changed my mind. Is the change always at an unconscious level?

Furthermore it may not prove mechanism. Perhaps the unconscious you simply knows you.

Also might not it be the case that the unconscious decision maker is reacting to the thoughts, emotions and experiences which influence our being in the identical way that is on the surface. Maybe there is an internal mirror.

Based on the skepticism you have expressed in other areas I do not see why you are convinced. Interesting idea filled with philosophical ramifications but very premature in my opinion or at least the opinion of mechanical me.                                                              By the way I am not a believer in dualism although as I indicated elsewhere I have read that the perception of dualism is innate and independent of religious inculcation.

Comment by John Camilli on January 18, 2011 at 11:47pm

Hey man, I can't help it. I can only do what I'm programmed to, including laugh at myself for saying that, because at many levels it is still ingrained in me that I am responsible for myself too. It seems ludicrous even to say that I have no control over reality, so I suppose I should be more understanding of the majority who refuse to accept the idea as well. And what an ugly idea, isn't it? To think that even my consternation, just now, and the motions of my fingers, and the words they create, are all out of my control. I should not even call them "my" fingers, should I? They are the Universe's fingers.


And yet, it is beautiful at the same. Liberating, to let go of shame and embarassment and sorrow and regret and shyness and disappointment and guilt. Such ideas evaporate in the perspective I now have of reality. Along with pride and anger and jealousy, or at least they should, I feel. Knowledge of the mechanism should lift the veil of mystery and break the spell of magic, but it does not always. It is as if there are moments of lucidity; of serenity. But the rest of the time I am trapped here, as a human. A fearing, fretting, scheming, dreaming human, until I die and become something else, or many other things.


It is a bullet train on no tracks - reality. It careens where its momentum willl take it, while I, just a passenger, sit helplessly a-fright, peering out tiny windows into the dark, trying to see if that is heaven we are headed for, or a brick wall. And if it is a brick wall I, like a crash test dummy, will be strapped into the machine again, and sent careening anew. It is little wonder that so many are wont to believe in a God; a conductor to this mad train.



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