Put your thinking helmet on! We’re about to explore what’s in your head.
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? This video supplies the evidence.
If you’re still not convinced, here are 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 some scientists are saying.
In the clip below, Patrick Haggard’s mad experiment creates a thorny dilemma. 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). In a nutshell, the question is just this: are you a ghost in a machine, or are you just a machine?
There’s another way to frame the question so that the answer is neither. To do this we need to check the terms they are using. 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’ve conflated 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).
Now, 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 — a little of Wizard of Oz — called consciousness, inside your head interpreting data and pulling leavers behind a screen. 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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Coincidentally, or not:), I have been reading Edith Stein’s (St. Teresia Benedicta’) “The Science of the Cross.” Hopefully, I do justice to what she wrote. Just a couple of days ago I was reading the part about our connection to the spiritual world and the residence of God in the human soul. While we can sense the spiritual world, think about it, feel it, God reigns in the innermost part of each person that cannot be manipulated by even spiritual movements. This is good primarily because the spiritual world has both those who are for us and those who are against us. From that untouchable place, He sends messages to us that eventually reach our thoughts, will, and intuitions, but His love is not confined within the spiritual awareness of the person. That is why even those who do not believe in Truth often relay messages of Truth. Edith, with John of the Cross, talks about the senses (the outer part of a person), the spiritual (the intellect, the will, the heart), and the soul (the innermost part of the person). I guess that would mean the brain (as with the rest of the body) connects to the spiritual which connects to the soul, all of which are sort of pathways or instruments from external to internal and vice versa. He calls us to find Him in the deepest and highest parts of ourselves. I guess that means our brain is a beautiful instrument, an instrument that connects, that branches, that reflects, that helps us meet our Lord, face to face, heart to heart, mind to mind. Lord, let my brain be an instrument of your peace, love, grace! Thank you for the philosophy! Love it! God bless…
I’ve read St Edith Stein’s work (St. Teresia Benedicta). Her thought is so incredibly deep and rich, there are parts I could meditate for days. I can tell by your synopsis here that you are getting a lot out of it. Thanks for your reflection! God bless!
The video is a parlor trick. If the guy had told her which number to press the button on the brain waves would have changed. Not by much, but would have changed. The notion that our decision to move is instantaneous and not at all anticipated by our brains despite having to decide to make the choice to move in a hyped environment is hogwash. From the moment she put on the helmet her brain was trying to anticipate the future and what should need to be done. When instructions were given her brain was already practicing the motions her hand would make. In fact she began to press the button about 2000 millisenconds before she actually did. Our brain’s ability to pre-emptively plan for action prior to decisions is exactly why our brains are successful at survival.
On the plains of Africa, our brains did not wait for us to decide to run when a tiger was suspected near by, our brains geared up to be ready if that was needed. This made us successful and that success prevents or obfuscates the fact that we are thinking ahead most of the time… just not consciously.
You’re certainly right. Science may not have figured out exactly how the brain works, but we know way more about it than we did 50, 20, 10, 5 years ago. There is no denying that brain activity preempts our activity. Conversely, it cannot be denied that our activity prompts impulses, which in turn, affect our brain. And since we are not even slightly aware of our brain’s status most of the time, much less even thinking about our brain, it stands to reason that we don’t exercise a whole lot of influence over the process, let alone know what the process is, ordinarily.
What this video illustrates is some correlation between impulse and decision, but it does not illustrate the exact causal connection, nor could it ever do so. You put it well — a parlor trick.
We are far more than our various parts, James, which is exactly as God intended. Otherwise, we’d just be along for the ride, like passengers on a roller coaster.
However, it says something about MY brain that, while I was reading this, I was humming “If I Only Had a Brain” to myself on a loop, until my wife wandered by and asked “Why the heck are you humming music from Wizard of Oz??”
So, who thought of the song: me, …or my brain? 😉
You and your brain!