You may think you decided to read this story — but in fact, your brain made the decision long before you knew about it.
In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers using brain scanners could predict people’s decisions seven seconds before the test subjects were even aware of making them.
This schematic shows the brain regions (green) from which the outcome of a participant's decision can be predicted before it is made. Courtesy John-Dylan Haynes.
The decision studied — whether to hit a button with one’s left or right hand — may not be representative of complicated choices that are more integrally tied to our sense of self-direction. Regardless, the findings raise profound questions about the nature of self and autonomy: How free is our will? Is conscious choice just an illusion?
“Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist.
I was listening to an interview with Michael Gazzaniga, the author of the book Human while drawing at work. The discussion first dealt with the uniqueness and similarities between other living creatures, then moved on to how that applies as a logical overlay in bioethics and observational similarities that seem hard-wired into our genome objective to culture or background. The most entertaining thing about the segment was how easily the author condensed complex ideas into simple and relevant terms. He likes to laugh alot too. Haha. Here’s a short description of the book from the publisher’s website:
One of the world’s leading neuroscientists explores how best to understand the human condition by examining the biological, psychological, and highly social nature of our species within the social context of our lives.
What happened along the evolutionary trail that made humans so unique? In his widely accessible style, Michael Gazzaniga looks to a broad range of studies to pinpoint the change that made us thinking, sentient humans, different from our predecessors.
Neuroscience has been fixated on the life of the psychological self for the past fifty years, focusing on the brain systems underlying language, memory, emotion, and perception. What it has not done is consider the stark reality that most of the time we humans are thinking about social processes, comparing ourselves to and estimating the intentions of others. In Human, Gazzaniga explores a number of related issues, including what makes human brains unique, the importance of language and art in defining the human condition, the nature of human consciousness, and even artificial intelligence.