I just read an interesting experiment done at the at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. The only condition was that they had to remember when they made the decision to either use their right hand or left hand. Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use BEFORE they were consciously aware of the decision. Apparently this is confirmation of the same type of study by Benjamin Libet in the 1970s using EEG electrodes attached to the brain.
Result? By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 SECONDS before the participant was aware of the decision. “Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist.
I find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me…unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiator of volitional acts, and free will therefore plays no part in their initiation. If unconscious brain processes have already taken steps to initiate an action before consciousness is aware of any desire to perform it, the causal role of consciousness in volition is all but eliminated. As one researcher said, conscious experience takes some time to build up and is much too slow to be responsible for making things happen!