Neuroscience vs Philosophy: Free Will? Or Not…?

This isn’t exactly related to what we were talking about in the last few sessions, but this topic has popped up in my science news, so I thought I’d talk about it.

The question here is: Are we really making subconscious decisions before even being aware of them, and are we unable to change these subconscious decisions.

In a sense, the neuroscientists are all torrent for pointing out that people will have already decided on their reactions to a stimuli immediately after exposure. Scary as it sounds, this violates the concept of free will.

But then again, if we look this issue closer, we find that humans do have the capacity to change their final decisions, given time. Common examples include the everyday reactions to our surroundings. Our subconsciousness will have an immediate response in an instant, and we often use this as our final reaction. However, being humans, given time, humans will instead assess the situation, and depending on his/her culture, come up with an appropriate reaction.

Therefore, I think both sides of the debate would be right, but ultimately this discovery of subconscious decisions should alter the idea of free will not go against it completely, because though instints always come first, given time a human will assess and respond differently.

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3 comments to Neuroscience vs Philosophy: Free Will? Or Not…?

  • David

    I believe there was a similar experiment to the Hayes one, but they showed images, with the chance images would be CSI-style morbid images. They found that people flinched before the CSI images were shown, not after. From this they decided to conclude that everyone is psychic.

    Arcadia, a play from 1990 (I think) discusses free-will vs determinism. It was set in the early 1800s with Newtonian laws coming out. Thomasina, a young girl, asks “what becomes of free will?” and “do you think God is a Newtonian?”

    People feel like the idea of determinism is unfair when it gets to punishment for actions.

    “Those who had read the deterministic message were more likely to cheat on the test. “Perhaps, denying free will simply provides the ultimate excuse to behave as one likes””

  • Charles Goh

    I see… Determinism is an interesting concept, because although no one can prove its existence, in quantum physics there are infinite possibilities of events for time, but the path that we go through in our time depends on what factors are affecting it. This brings us back to the topic of realities. The reason our reactions and paradigms can be so vastly different is because our lives are very different in experience.

    Also, the term Newtonian is vague. By Newtonian is she referring to people that worship Isaac Newton? Stay in a place called Newton? or learn the laws Newton set?

    If it is the third, then sure, there are times when you can defy the laws of motion. Even the laws of science are not 100% accurate, because we are only at the very beginning of discoveries.

    Thanks for pointing those things out… Clarification of opinions is always welcome 🙂

  • David

    The Newtonian bit was a direct quotation. It means that they believe that each action causes another. Thomasina was stretching it, the question being raised as if there is such a thing as free will if the action-reaction is inescapable. The question I interpret the play wanted to ask is “is everything that happens determined?”, since the story follows a modern time period and this 19th century romanticism period.
    The story unfolds in past and is discussed in modern, but may also be spoken about the modern and happen in the 1800s.

    But as for quantum physics, I watched a film, which I shall bring into school Monday on my usb stick. The film/clip is about wave-particle duality, single slit and double slit experiments with electrons. The interesting bit is where it says that – theoretically – when you don’t watch the electron, it goes through one slit, goes through the other, goes through both and interferes with itelf.

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