Do a brain scanner. Libet told the subjects

Do we have free will? If so, how much of it do we have? If not, what do we have to lose? These are all questions that that have been asked for centuries. Still, philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists spend countless hours educating themselves on everything surrounding the topic of free will. Though we haven’t come to a scientific conclusion, there certainly is much to be communicated about the issue. Two of the most valued things in western culture (and one might go as far as to say the entire world) are abrahamic religion and the criminal justice system. These things of high importance either assume the capacity for free will in human beings or they outright state that we have it despite there being absolutely no convincing evidence in scientific literature. If it were discovered that free will in human beings is nonexistent, society would fall apart and would then be stuck with some crucial questions before it could go any further: Should we still consider those who are jailed criminals? Is it actually moral to arrest somebody who “commits” a crime? Did we have anything whatsoever to do with “our” greatest achievements? Are we able to justify trust in our religious scripture after finding this immeasurable inaccuracy? The answer to all of these very frightening questions is, of course, “no”. Benjamin Libet was a scientist who focused on human consciousness at the University of California. He once ran an experiment on the brain to test for himself if free will exists using a brain scanner. Libet told the subjects to watch a clock and flex their wrist at the time of their choice, but to record the time at which the decision to flex was made. When comparing the recorded time of the decision and the action itself with the subject’s brain activity, he found troubling results. The brain’s motor cortex was displaying readiness potential about .55 seconds (see fig. 1) before the subjects flexed their hands (Libet, 1999). Knowing that the subjects of this experiment, on average, only made the decision to flex 0.15 seconds before they actually did, reveals something we have hoped not to be the case for a long time: Free will might be an illusion.Fig. 1. Brain scanner results showing readiness potential rising before the awareness of the subject’s choice or action occurredThough I don’t find Libet’s experiment to have completely debunked the idea of free will and it’s existence, I do think it’s the start to a new and intriguing conversation. IQ is strongly correlated with job performance (Richardson and Norgate 2015), meaning that those who have a higher IQ are more likely to perform well on more complex jobs. Which inevitably leaves lower IQ individuals with less options for their occupation and career. And since IQ is highly heritable (Panizzon, et al, 2014), the likelihood of one significantly improving it is slim. What freedom of will is there in that? Self knowledge is the best friend of any and every free man. Without self knowledge and reflection of one’s past, there exists no improvement or even capability to change. Just as ignorance of historical evil leads to repetition of the same evils, ignorance of one’s familial corruptions or abuses, genetic tendencies for disease and destructive habits will lead to an individual repeating the exact same patterns in their own life. Though most people don’t even attempt it, because they think that they already have it, free will is achievable. If one has the desire to achieve free will, they must first learn about their own biology, psychology and neurology. Without knowledge of these things, there is no possible way of understanding why it is that one does what they do. These factors, along with many others, prevent us from fully knowing ourselves. One who doesn’t understand and combat our biological desire to reproduce as much as possible (Taflinger, 1996) will never be free to have a meaningful, lasting relationship. One who doesn’t recognize the psychological reasons behind extreme phobias will never be free to associate with that which they’re afraid of. One who isn’t aware of neurosurgery required to remove a cancerous tumor will never be free to live a healthy life. Thus, the first commandment of Socrates is “know thyself”.


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