Is Free Will for Real?

Behavior begins with the brain. Yet, are your actions your own?

Consider the following cartoon in which a man and a dog discuss free will in relation to the biological basis of behavior.

[Image Source:]

This brings me to ponder the question: Does free will exist?

Google defines free will as “the ability to act at one’s own discretion” and “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate.”

In philosophy, the debate regarding free will has three major players: Incompatibilists, Compatibilists, and Determinists. Much like the American political scene, two parties reign supreme, the Incompatibilists, and Determinists, while the Compatibilists are more like Independents. Determinists believe everything, and I mean EVERYTHING from a raindrop to your conscious thought at this very moment, are simply predetermined results stemming from the conception of our universe. Opposingly, In-Compatibilists argue for the existence of free will. The main question asked by philosophers studying free will is: Does determinism control free will?

In 2008, a team of neuroscientists lead by Chun Siong Soon found that our subconscious makes a decision up to 10 seconds before it hits consciousness – 10 seconds before we even have a chance to rationalize whatever it is we must make a decision about. Using an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) the researchers were able to measure brain activity and accurately predict the outcome of a subject’s decision based on these images.

This research backs up previous findings, most notably those of Neuroscientist Benjamin Libet (1983) who was the first to show the existence of subconscious activity as preceding conscious decision.

I would like to leave you with the following questions:

If we have already made a decision subconsciously, is the conscious consideration of the information presented and subsequent decision an act put on by our brains to fool us into believing we have free will?

What if scientists use this information to create new technologies aimed at predicting the human mind; your future behaviors, thoughts, actions, decisions up for manipulation?

What would that mean for freedom? For the future of humanity?

Is control over the human mind actually that far-fetched?




Haynes, J. D. (2011). Beyond Libet: Long-term prediction of free choices from neuroimaging signals. In Characterizing Consciousness: From Cognition to the Clinic? (pp. 161-174). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Libet, B., Gleason, C. A., Wright, E. W. & Pearl, D. K. Brain 106, 623-642 (1983).

Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H.-J. & Haynes, J.-D. Nature Neurosci. 11, 543-545 (2008).



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