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Brain scans can reveal your decisions before you actually decide

29 June 2010

Here’s an interesting experiment about making decisions, though it involves fairly simple decisions, with only two alternatives.

clipped from
In a kind of spooky experiment, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences reveal that our decisions are made seconds before we become aware of them.
The only condition was that they had to remember when they made the decision to either use their right hand or left hand.
Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use BEFORE they were consciously aware of the decision.
In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand.
Marcus Du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford)
is really disturbed here and brings up the subject of free will. Does this mean we really do NOT have free will?
blog it

An interesting experiment, though I doubt that it has much to say about “free will”. What it shows is that the brain is analogous to a computer — well, it is a kind of computer, wetware, as some call it — and like any computer, when it does calculations it takes some time before the results are displayed on the screen.

What it could suggest, though, is that the mind, or consciousness, is not completely identical with the brain, and that the mind “uses” the brain in a way analogous to the way we use computers. These analogies can sometimes be fun to play with. In Christian theology we sometimes speak of the resurrection of the dead — that one day when an angel blows the big vuvuzela (see here, for an artistic representation) we will all rise from the dead and get new bodies. One could use a computer metaphor for this, and say that God has us all backed up on tape or DVD or something, somewhere, and one day we will be rebooted with new and improved hardware.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 July 2010 5:24 pm

    Hi Steve,

    It is so cool to read a post on neuroscience and consciousness on your blog! Now you’re moving into my area of interest!



    • 3 July 2010 9:16 pm


      I thought you might find that one interesting!

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