The Illusion of Free Will

Have you ever had to make a tough choice about whether you should go on diet today, or join your friends for a late night dose of McDonald’s? Mmm… That Double Cheeseburger does seem incredibly appetizing though. Yum! Needless to say, I find myself on most occasions picking the latter option – hating myself with each bite of that delicious double-patty goodness.

There have been amazing breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience when it comes to understanding what really motivates people to do something. However, the weakness of will, like taking another bite of that amazingly delicious DOUBLE cheeseburger when you don’t really want to, is still a very powerful, yet curious phenomenon. This leads into the topic of the importance of the subconscious when it comes to decision-making. We might not know to what degree a sensory input, like smell or sight, can influence our actions.

Some neuroscientists claim that it is possible to predict decisions a person will make up to 7 seconds before they decide to take them. This obviously raises so many questions about free will, and whether we have a lack of thereof.

In a very shocking experiment in 2007, a neuroscientist in Berlin held an experiment consisting of a display of random letters. Participants were flashed random letters and were told to press a button with either their left or right index fingers when they felt the urged to do so. They were also asked to remember the letter that corresponded when they made the decision to press a button. The results, as stated, were shocking.

The first thought that entered our minds was ‘we have to check if this is real.
Haynes, Lead Neuroscientist

It was discovered that the conscious decision to push the button was made a second before the button was actually pushed. However, the fMRIs taken illustrated that the activity in the brain seemingly predicted the decision to act up to seven seconds before the participants even were aware of the choice. In layman terms, their brain had already decided before their conscious was even aware of the choices.

We humans like to believe that we have conscious control over our free will. However, the research implies the opposite. Our brains might be making decisions before we’re even aware of it. They argue that consciousness might actually just be a chemical after-thought – an illusion. Many are still not convinced, though. I mean, who would like to admit that their decisions aren’t truly their own? Obviously, more studies have to be taken in line with this one. But if the findings point toward results similar to these, would you really accept that your decisions aren’t you own? Whatever the case, these findings are truly, truly disturbing.

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