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: youarenotsosmart.com 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?
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