Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Once again...I choose Hopsicles!

I just found out that Benjamin Libet, one of the most famous neuroscience researchers to investigate the question of free will, died last month. Sad. He was a free will stud. His most famous research study basically found a gap in time between our conscious awareness to perform an act and the brain activity associated with it. The brain activity comes first. For many, that research meant that free will is an illusion. But the guy who did the research disagreed. According to him:

(H)is experiments showed that if his subjects were told not to move a finger, or to stop moving it, their conscious will would maintain complete control - "could veto it and block performance of the act," as he described it.

Besides, recent research might suggest that fruit flies have free will. If they got it, you gotta think we got it. The study, from May 2007, involved placing fruit flies in containers with no stimuli to which to respond. The fruit flies, though, made left and right turns that, statistically, were not random. The flies’ behavior, then, was neither the result of their biological nature, nor responding to their environment. One of the researchers claimed:

We show free will ‘can’ exist, but we do not ‘prove’ it does…Our results eliminate two alternative explanations of this spontaneous turning behavior that would run counter to free will, namely randomness and pure determinism.

I guess it should be noted that this is the nature of all science. You don't 'prove' anything. You simply eliminate alternative (testable) explanations.


Tom O said...

So if I get the experiment correctly, the fly did not act statistically random (indicating possible asymetrical "handedness") which I'm guessing is a common trait in all complex organisms; or that we have the same "mechanism" (their word and probably more accurate than their conclusions were)that, being self aware we call free will. Please don't tell me that they are drawing the conclusion: non-random=free will.
If it proves that flies have the same mechanism we do, I'd say that points more in a direction that non of us have free will. Show me what makes us different than flies, not the same.

Dennis said...

Hi Tom! No, they're not saying non-random = free will. They state their case explicitly: Elimination of hypotheses - eliminate randomness and eliminate determinism. What else have you got to explain the behavior if it isn't random, and isn't determined by nature/nurture? To be clear, nobody in his/her right mind would say this proves free will. But it's better than anything that suggests otherwise.