According to research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, human choice is born out of predictable electric impulse in the brain which suggests that human beings do not possess free will but are slaves of determinism. Read the full article here in the Independent Online. JoCN is published by the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute out of Berkley.
Volunteers within the experiment conducted at the University of California, Davis were asked to sit in front of a screen and focus on its central point while their brains' electrical activity was recorded. They were then asked to make a decision to look either left or right when a visual cue appeared on the screen, and then to report their decision.
Based on the brain activity, researchers could determine with reasonable accuracy which way the volunteers would look.
(I shudder to think how much money was spent to discover something that Penn Jillette could have offered for free or at least for the cost of a ticket to his next show, but such is the politics of science.)
According to the experts at UC Davis, based on the random nature of the new study "we know people aren't making the decision in advance."
(I like that…"we know" stuff, don't you? It's so definitive. Just like the great scientific minds of the 19th century "knew" that the atom was the smallest particle in the universe, just like Ptolemy "knew" that the universe revolved around us, we can also "know" that people aren't making decisions in advance.)
Now, the article from the Independent doesn't offer any insight as to how we know that people aren't making the decision in advance and it doesn't reference which specific JoCN article from which this scientific truth was gleaned so we can judge the science for ourselves. We must merely accept through a reporter's description that our learned neuroscientists haven't detected a particular nuanced event in the brain, so it just didn't happen.
Thus another scientific mythos was born…and they call Christians "flat earthers." We can add this newest scientific leap of faith to a colossal list that includes bloodletting and global cooling-global warming-climate change. You'll want to remember the day that the scientific community determined that there's no such thing as real choice and refer back to it when they discover that resistance is futile. Oh, and that you will be assimilated.
Being that I'm an admirer of the Monty Python School of Scientific Discovery…
… I tucked these very technical findings away in my predictable brain to mull over the probability that I'm a robot for a couple of days – you know, just to make sure. Alas, I don't think I am an android, but then again, does the sparrow know he's a bird? These and other thought experiments were brought to you by the fourth grade and were paid for with…? I know. I'm sounding like a PBS public service announcement (speaking of the Borg.)
Of course, the authors of this study most likely aren't suggesting that humans are robots anyway but rather overvalued protozoans, so take it for what it's worth.
Look, we the Protista do find it shocking that there are people out there that would whittle down the human experience to a few random electrical impulses, but the debate over free will vs. determinism has been going on forever. It's just that in modern iterations of the debate, determinism is essential to the proliferation of socialism because when you are born into your station with no way out, you are easier to control. That's why God and communism don't mix.
In 1903, the great progressive Robert Blatchford set out to prove that the structure upon which theism has been built is completely false and that failure is not a result of human culpability but of heredity and environment.
"Before we can propagate our religion of Determinism and Humanism, we must clear the ground of free will, of sin against God, and of the belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible." His review of Haeckel's "The Riddle of the Universe" pronounced that the argument was over and that religion was thereafter obsolete.
Ernst Haeckel was a German biologist who was a forefather of Social Darwinism and the Eugenics movement that inspired noted zealots like Adolph Hitler and Margaret Sanger. Please note that a full hundred years later, the scientific community is still spending millions to empirically demonstrate that the human soul is a fairytale and that we are just highly evolved fungi that are not capable discerning right from wrong.
GK Chesterton responded to Blatchford's repudiation of free will by pointing out that humans would not even be able to say, "Please pass the mustard" because the word please implies choice.
"They are seeking under every shape and form a world where there are no[moral] limitations – that is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes. There is nothing baser than infinity. They say that they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe to be as weak as themselves."
The correct question that scientists should be pondering isn't whether humans can be provoked into acting reflexively. Humans are physical as well as spiritual. We possess instinct and can be encouraged to act on that instinct. More germane is whether humans must behave like animals without any choice in the matter. The UC Davis study as it was reported failed to demonstrate the lack of free will because the problem they presented to their subjects a) was too one-dimensional to measure anything like real choice…it quantified decision making as a moral equivalent of blinking and b) it lacked meaningful consequence. Magnitude often acts as the impetus for a crisis of conscience that requires free will to mediate.
There was a study that was produced in the 1970s by the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He wanted to understand what it was that allowed German soldiers act against human nature and participate in the barbaric acts of the criminally insane. His study showed how easy it is to make ordinary people do evil things. Scientists took two people and put them in separate rooms. The first person was assigned the role of the "Teacher" and the second person was made the "Learner." They could hear but not see each other and it was the "Teacher's" job to navigate the "Learner" through simple tasks. If the "Learner" got something wrong, he was administered an electric shock. Each time he got something wrong, the voltage increased.
The subjects were paid $4 and thought they were participating in a study about learning through negative feedback. But the "Learner" was actually an actor and the point of the study was to see how many people would administer a lethal shock if they were told to do it. 65% of the participants in the study went along with the idea of killing another person to fulfill their part in the experiment.
Quoting from Stanley Milgram who led the study:
"One of the illusions about human behavior is that it stems from personality or character, but social psychology shows us that often human behavior is dominated by the roles that we are asked to play."
This point goes to the reality of socialism and atheism. Whether or not Milgram knew what he was proving, he demonstrated that when we remove God and free will from the human equation, we still look for social cues about who we are called to be. We make a god to fill the void that the absence of God creates and in the case of this social experiment, the manmade god manifested as the infallibility of science to such a degree that only 35% of the participants chose not to administer a lethal electrical shock to another human being.
It's not a wholly objective experiment because the subjects must still, on some level, have understood that the scientists are required to behave in accordance with legal norms. That would skew the number of people that were willing to go along with the shock treatment because they would have naturally presumed that there was a sleight of hand involved. And still, given that science was able to supplant what we know to be natural laws in the minds of 65% of the study's participants, 35% of the people were morally opposed to killing at the behest of the scientific community even though they could imagine that it was just a game.
It wasn't the 65% who went along but the 35% who refused to do what they were told that demonstrate free will in all of its gradations and classifying brain waves as nothing but electrical current disregards the depth and degree of choice that takes place within the human condition.
Ultimately, the UC Davis study seems to me to be a senseless experiment that more echoes the findings of Ivan Pavlov than it proves an absence of free will and beyond that, the next study should be on the number of people who are willing to surrender common sense over the persuasiveness of scientific "because-I-said-so."