More evidence that our rational self isn’t really the self that’s in charge: as described in a piece by Robert Lee Hotz in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, research suggests that when we “decide” to do something, we’re not really deciding. What we’re really doing is becoming aware of a decision that’s already been made.
In one study, researchers led by John-Dylan Haynes in Berlin monitored “neural currents” in volunteers’ brains (using magnetic resonance imaging) as the volunteers pushed buttons using either their left and right hands. The researchers discovered that they could predict which hand the subjects would use by the neural activity that preceded the button-pushing.
The foundation of this research is the work of
the late Benjamin Libet, who came to similar conclusions.
One way a lot of people respond to these sort of findings is to question whether humans have “free will.” But if you accept the assumption that there is an aspect of the Self that operates more or less independently of the Self with which we generally identify, none of this is the least bit surprising. Of course “Self 2” causes ripples in the brain’s electromagnetic field. They just happen to be ripples beneath the surface of conscious awareness. It doesn’t mean we don’t have “free will.” It may, however, mean that “free will” is a meaningless concept.
In the WSJ piece, Hotz goes on to report other research that suggests that we make better “consumer decisions” (e.g. what car to buy) when we’re distracted.
See? It’s not just about swinging a golf club ;-)