With the latest cutting edge advances in science, neurobiologists can literally read your mind. They can tell you what you are about to think before you think it.
Want proof? The video we posted on Friday provides ample evidence.
And if you’re still not convinced, they’ve provided a plethora of impressive examples on YouTube that might persuade you.
Though the technology is still in its experimental stages, the data they’ve received so far all point in the same direction. The figures imply that your will is not free.
At least that’s what the scientists are saying. In the clip below, Patrick Haggard performs an experiment, that raises a thorny problem. Do you decide what to do and then tell your brain to act or does the brain decide what to do without giving you any choice in the matter?
The problem posed by Haggard at the end of this video is only a problem from a dualistic standpoint (the ghost of Descartes still haunts us). His question really amounts to this: are you a ghost in a machine, or are you just a machine?
From a hylomophic standpoint — that’s my position — the answer is neither. However, we don’t need to tackle hylomorphism today, in order to point out what these scientists aren’t taking into account.
A good friend of mine often reminds me that every rational discussion starts with understanding the terms involved. In the video you just saw, they equate many commonly used words that do not mean the same thing.
For example, “Record the moment when you first felt the conscious will to move,” and, “Strike this key or that key as the urge takes you.”
The feeling or urge to act is not the same as the will, decision, or intention to act. None of these expressions should be equated with consciousness. Yet they speak about these phenomena — the feeling, the willing, and the awareness of these things — as if they were all the same thing.
When you consider the way they conflate all these terms, it’s no wonder they ultimately reduce everything to brain activity. Their penchant for reductionism doesn’t allow them to consider other reasonable alternatives, outside their field of study, that would resolve the issue that they are trying to force.
Let’s begin to unravel the issue by making some important distinctions. A voluntary action involves several distinct moments that lead up to a conscious decision and the execution of that decision:
- One begins with the awareness of available options.
- A moment of deliberation takes place while one considers what to choose.
- A concrete choice is made after all options have been considered.
- There is a decision to act.
- Finally, there is the execution that follows from the decision to act.
When you consider the necessary stages involved in the decision making process, the fact that there’s a “run up to a conscious decision in the brain” makes sense. It would be more surprising if nothing were happening in the brain (unless you are zombie).
Moreover, and here’s the biltrix, brains don’t think, people do. To reduce all conscious activity to the brain, would be like reducing vision to the eye. To be sure, who sees the words on the screen right now, your eyes (by themselves) or you (with your eyes)?
You see the words on the screen because your eyes enable you to see them.
By proper analogy (i.e., this is not just a metaphor), who is thinking about this issue right now, you or your brain? Sure you use your brain when you think, and a neuroscientist can measure your brain activity leading up to a conscious decision. But he shouldn’t reduce all of your conscious activity to your brain, since that would be like reducing your vision to just your eyes, which would be wrong.
Yet that is exactly what all these neuroscientists are saying — that they can reduce you to your brain. This reduction is not only unnecessary, it is unwarranted, because people, not their brains, are the ones who think, and decide, and will to do things. No one denies that the brain has any role to play in the process. That would be like denying that we need eyes in order to see.
To say that you think with your brain does not mean that there is a little ghost, called consciousness, inside your head interpreting data and pulling leavers behind a screen, like the Wizard of Oz. Your brain is a part of you, just like your eyes are a part of you, and the spiritual soul that informs your body is a part of you.
It is the person, flesh and bones, and spirit, who thinks, decides and acts. Neurobiologists only study a part, not the whole of the person. By studying the brain, they can reveal amazing things about how a person thinks. But brain is just a part of the whole — the part they study.
They are wrong to reduce the whole of the person to just that part, and conclude that the illusion of consciousness and free will is nothing but involuntary neuron firings in the brain.
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