According to a brief report in World Science entitled Brain may prepare decisions in advance, human beings may not have free will because the brain makes decisions about 10 minutes before the person making decisions is consciously aware that the decision has been made.
Certain patterns of brain activity predict people’s decisions up to 10 seconds before the people are aware of them, according to new research that casts fresh doubt on whether we have free will.
The ancient debate over free will centers on whether it’s an illusion to believe our thoughts and decisions are independent, since our brains really consist of atoms bouncing around according to their own rules.
The new study suggests the questioning may be justified.
Researchers tracked brain activity while people viewed a stream of letters on screen, and then pressed a button. Each participant was asked to decide freely which of two buttons to press and when to press it.
Scanning the brains with a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, the investigators used a statistical method known as pattern recognition to examine brain activity associated with each choice. Activity in two brain regions, called the prefrontal and parietal cortex, predicted which button the person would press, they found. These areas have previously been linked to self-reflection, selection amongst choices and executive control.
This activity occurred up to 10 seconds before subjects were consciously aware of having made a decision, according to the researchers. The findings, they added, suggest high-level control areas start to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters conscious awareness.
The first comment that comes to mind (or, at least, appears to come to my mind although the question apparently was decided in my prefrontal and parietal cortex regions of the brain about 10 seconds before I realized that I had a comment) is that the scientists only concluded this because their prefontal and parietal cortex regions of the brain told them to do so. That would naturally leave no reason for me to believe that they actually said anything meaningful -- or, at least, my prefontal and parietal cortex regions of the brain made me decide that they had nothing meaningful to say.
More seriously, I don't see where this changes a thing in the debate about free will from those who believe that human beings are free moral agents who can actually exercise free will in making decisions. All this study does is demonstrate, in part, how the brain operates in arriving at decisions. Christians don't hold to the view that the mind is totally independent of the brain. The brain is not the mind, but the two interact with each other. Problems with the brain can certainly affect the thinking process, but it does not mean that the thinking of the mind is totally a physical activity. The mere discovery by these scientists that the prefontal and parietal cortex regions of the brain are involved in the thinking process does not mean that thinking is the result exclusively of atoms and electrical impulses bouncing around in the brain.
At least, that's what my prefontal and parietal cortex regions of the brain tell me to say.