ghost in the machine

there was a little discussion (starting here) in the recent linkfest comments about whether or not the brain runs on autopilot and what that means for concepts like responsibility and free will and all that.

benjamin libet was the first guy to experimentally document that the subconscious brain seems to decide upon an action before the conscious mind “decides” to do it. his experiment has been successfully repeated many times, most recently using a different methodology (but winding up with the same, or a similar, result — i.e. subconscious decides what to do first). the wikipedia page on the neuroscience of free will has some excellent descriptions of the experiments. from that page:

“One significant finding of modern studies is that a person’s brain seems to commit to certain decisions before the person becomes aware of having made them. Researchers have found delays of about half a second. With contemporary brain scanning technology, scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice…. It may be possible, then, that our intuitions about the role of our conscious ‘intentions’ have led us astray; it may be the case that we have confused correlation with causation by believing that conscious awareness necessarily causes the body’s movement. This possibility is bolstered by findings in neurostimulation, brain damage, but also research into introspection illusions.”


given what we also know about all the cognitive biases that we humans have, along with the heritability of certain traits like religiosity and political persuasion — aspects of ourselves and our lives that we all just feel that we’ve really thought about and independently made up our minds about, even though … heh … the truth is that we’ve prolly just inherited a certain package of genes from our parents — all of these things make me distrust what our conscious minds tell us. the conscious mind, pardon the antropomorphism, wants us to feel that we’re making all the decisions, but that’s probably just a useful adaptation — an illusion of our neocortex, a more recently developed brain structure which has been jerry-rigged on top of more ancient brain structures.

as an hbd-ist, i would guess that probably some individuals have more “free will” than others — some people can probably use their conscious minds as more of a veto on automatic behaviors, for instance, although that that happens at all is by no means certain either. i would also guess that some populations have more “free will” than others, too.

see also: and Neuroscience, free will and determinism: ‘I’m just a machine’ and The human brain: turning our minds to the law and The uncomfortable truth about mind control: Is free will simply a myth?

(note: comments do not require an email. responsibility?)


linkfest – 06/19/11

New study supports Darwin’s hypothesis on competition between species“The researchers found that the frequency and speed of this extinction process — called competitive exclusion — was significantly greater between species that were more closely related.”

Breeding with Neanderthals helped humans go global

Facts Of The Matter – malcolm pollack on free [sic] will.

Ancestry plays vital role in nutrition and disease, study shows“Dietary recommendations made by major health organizations are typically generalized to multiple populations, but are often based on available data from studies that represent one or two human populations. With regard to PUFAs, the American Heart Association currently recommends that Americans increase dietary PUFA levels to 5 to 10 percent of dietary energy. Studies like these suggest that such recommendations may not apply or be healthy for all populations.”

Stature and robusticity during the Neolithic transition: population replacement, not necessarily declining health – @dienekes.

Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim“‘I just didn’t trust Gould,’ he [Ralph L. Holloway] said. ‘I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme. When the 1996 version of “The Mismeasure of Man” came and he never even bothered to mention Michael’s study, I just felt he was a charlatan.'” – from nicholas wade.

Real divorce statistics – @half sigma.

Early French had a taste for beer“New study unveils archaeobotanical evidence of beer brewing in Iron Age France”

Britain Is More Germanic than It Thinks

White adolescent girls may be losing sleep from the pressure to be thin“When results were divided and analyzed by ethnicity, these pressures to be skinny were significantly predictive of sleep duration for white girls, but not for black or Hispanic girls.”

Rule Breaker“The biology of ethics.”

Jews and Big 5 traits – @inductivist.

UK pupils ‘among least likely to overcome tough start’“Among countries, South Korea, Finland, Japan, Turkey and Canada are the most successful in terms of poorer pupils achieving high results. Among regional education systems, Shanghai and Hong Kong top this resilience league table – and are top of the overall rankings. The top five places overall are taken by regional or national school systems in Asia.” – via diversityischaos.

The Social Psychological Narrative — or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway?

Honeybees Might Have Emotions“Honeybees have become the first invertebrates to exhibit pessimism, a benchmark cognitive trait supposedly limited to ‘higher’ animals.”