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    Thread: Neuroscience and Determinism (video)

    1. #1
      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Neuroscience and Determinism (video)

      I do not usually make threads where I post a video and say discuss so give me a break this time.



      In this experiment a man has his brain scanned while he is making decisions and pressing buttons in accordance with his decision. The neuroscientists were able to tell six seconds in advance what decision he was going to make by observing his brain activity. What are the implications of this experiment and how do they affect our views of consciousness, materialism, and determinism?

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      Well, nuts to free will I suppose!

    3. #3
      Xei
      UnitedKingdom Xei is offline
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      I remember hearing this experiment is contested... that's all the input I care to give atm.

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Yes I can understand why. The idea that a mental state (in this instance making a decision) has a physical basis is fairly controversial to non-materialists.

    5. #5
      Xei
      UnitedKingdom Xei is offline
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      No, it's contested because the experiment is literally thought to be flawed. Scientifically.

    6. #6
      DuB
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      Distinct among snowflakes DuB's Avatar
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      I think you're thinking of the original experiments by Libet. Libet's task was very similar to that in the video, and so both are open to similar criticisms, but I'm more familiar with the criticisms of Libet. In Libet's experiments, subjects watched an electronic clock face with a quickly-moving hand (on the order of a revolution per second or so I think) and randomly chose a series of moments to make a hand movement. Note that in these experiments, the decision was when to make the hand movement, not which hand to move. Following each hand movement, they were to report the position of the clock hand at the exact moment that they formed the conscious intention to move their hand. Libet found that he could predict when people were going to move their hand a fraction of a second before they reported being conscious of their intention to do so from the patterns of their EEG activity--a small but reliable effect.

      The primary methodological criticism has been that it relies on the assumption that the intention to move one's hand pops fully-formed into one's consciousness at a single, discrete moment, and that participants can report the timing of this discrete moment with a fair degree of precision. This seems like a strong assumption. It is not at all clear that becoming conscious of such an intention happens in that categorical fashion; rather, the judgment of exactly when this conscious awareness develops is probably ambiguous at best. This would imply that most subjects are doing little more than guessing about the timing of that moment, which leaves open the possibility that the brain activity and conscious awareness are actually happening at about the same time.

      In my opinion, this criticism is pretty weak. First, it doesn't actually explain why most or all of the subjects reporting becoming aware of their intention after the EEG signature. Even if it's true that subjects were doing not much more than guessing, which I think is likely enough, why should it be the case that they consistently guessed that their intentions were being formed after the EEG signature? If subjects were becoming aware on at least some level of forming their intentions at about the same time as the EEG signature, as some critics would like to say is the case, then we should expect their guesses to be roughly normally distributed around the signature--but the data do not support this.

      Second, even if we were to accept these criticisms as true, it wouldn't exactly represent a comforting rescue of conscious will. It basically amounts to say that people don't really have any notion of when they decide to do things, they just sort of do them. Is that really any better of a conclusion? It seems like no matter which way you look at it, something about conscious will as we intuitively think of it is flawed.
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      He should've trolled the dude and taken the opposite of what he wanted to press. Ruining the scientific process, one thought at a time.

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    8. #8
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      Yea this brings me back to Benjamin Libet's experiment. So telling someone that they are going to have to make a decision in the near future has no baring whatsoever on subconscious preparation of said decision? Would this experiment be more feasible if the subject was initially oblivious to what he has to do? Decision making and the will to act is not an instantaneous activity. Nevertheless the video and experiment is entertaining but it really means nothing more than just, decision making has a subconscious component. wow Earth shattering!

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      DEATH TO FANATICS! StonedApe's Avatar
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      Isn't determinism vs free will a false dichotomy? Unless you define free will as you can do anything at any time and there is no reason for it.

      While often we walk through life driven by unconcsious forces, but if you consciously put yourself into the present moment you can interact with life in an intelligent and spontaneous way. This to me is what free will is and objectivists and scientific types will often get too caught up in rigid definitions and miss this.

      This study sounds wrong to me but I don't know enough about neuroscience to really say why. I guess maybe that he's saying your conscious mind comes in later. Obviously there is a time lapse in consciousness, there is in any feedback loop. But this doesn't negate the self or free will. That is just a part of it. Clearly the conscious mind is not entirely responsible for a descision, but that does not mean that it cannot guide one.

      It just means it isn't random, but that doesn't mean that it isn't or can't be free.

      EDIT: actually the scientist even goes into this when he talks about how it isn't a hostage situation because that implies a duality. I guess I should have watched the whole thing before posting.

      So this just shows that determinism is true, but so does dropping a rock on your foot.
      Last edited by StonedApe; 05-24-2011 at 06:07 PM.
      157 is a prime number. The next prime is 163 and the previous prime is 151, which with 157 form a sexy prime triplet. Taking the arithmetic mean of those primes yields 157, thus it is a balanced prime.

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    10. #10
      Xei
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      I personally agree with that. Even if determinism were true, and in the 20th century our certainty of that was completely shaken, I don't think it entails a lack of free will, or at least, if it does, it is not in the sense that people conflate it with, namely the concept that we don't make choices. One of the strongest arguments is just an appeal to common sense and personal experience; regardless of philosophising, who here can actually say, in any practical sense, that they 'don't have the ability to make choices'?

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      DuB
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      The larger philosophical issue is quite uninteresting IMO. Once you decide what it is you want to call "free will," the answer to the question of whether we have it is usually pretty clear. If you define it in the metaphysical "not bound by physical laws" sense, then most of us would agree that the answer is we obviously don't have it. If you define it in a more liberal "we can engage in a range of possible actions" sense, then the answer is we obviously do have it.

      A large part of the reason that it was initially an interesting question in the first place was simply because it seemed to fly in the face of the concept of a just and benevolent Christian god. St Augustine reasoned that, if all of our actions are ultimately due to physical laws, and God had control over those physical laws and perfect foreknowledge of their consequences, then God's choice of whether to send a soul to heaven or hell on the basis of their actions seemed, well, arbitrary at best. So at the time, and for a long time after, the question of metaphysical free will was definitely a "problem." But in today's world, where most of us are far less concerned with the implications that free will or the lack thereof would have for some all powerful deity, it's not at all clear that we stand to gain that much from pondering the issue. In particular, I think the question of free will as it pertains to moral responsibility is a red herring.
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    12. #12
      DEATH TO FANATICS! StonedApe's Avatar
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      I think it's more than the ability to make choices, but the ability to analytically and intuitively guide oneself with one's consciousness. Saying it's just about making choices makes it a mind thing only but it's a very visceral thing sometimes. It not only can guide what you do but exactly how you do it, and this is where it gets interesting at least to me because this is how you progress. I can watch myself do this with music sometimes and it blows my fucking mind. It's like watching evolution and guiding it.

      The discovery of how to do this takes time and is about the most important thing a person can do. Not saying I have it down, but I think it's basically what being enlightened or awakened is. Being completely tuned in to what is and guiding it as you will, although maybe the guiding part is not necessary for it to be enlightenment.
      Last edited by StonedApe; 05-25-2011 at 02:14 AM.
      157 is a prime number. The next prime is 163 and the previous prime is 151, which with 157 form a sexy prime triplet. Taking the arithmetic mean of those primes yields 157, thus it is a balanced prime.

      Women and rhythm section first - Jaco Pastorious

    13. #13
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      You can't really separate who you are from your brain, and the idea is really kind of silly. I don't think there really are any implications in this, and it really isn't all that surprising. Some people think free will is like a random number generator inside our brain and we only have free will if we can do completely random and arbitrary things. That is just silly though. We have free will and of course our choices will be based on thoughts and experiences our brain is having. What would be shocking is if we made choice that weren't based on thoughts and experiences we had.

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