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Are our decisions truly our own or might we just be along for the ride?

Posted by on August 11, 2008

mind-photo.JPGIn our infinite generational wisdom I like to think there are a lot of us that have come to the conclusion that all that glitters isn’t gold and most conventional wisdom isn’t all that wise.

We’re told from a very early age that our paths in life are what we choose them to be. Since religion, and thus religious beliefs unfortunately over shadow science and logic throughout much of the world we’re told one of god’s greatest gift to us is free will; The ability of man to choose for himself his next step in life and therefore is also left to blame for all of his hardships, and yet interestingly enough all of man’s accomplishments are somehow more of god’s gifts. How wonderful would it be to be an office manager in this situation, all accomplishments by your staff are assumed to be because of your stewardship, and all of their mistakes are their own fault.

The concept within this “gift” of free will conveniently ignores those without choice born into poverty and misery and the faithful always seem to find the one in a million exception to the rule to claim its validity, in North America Oprah’s life is largely used as one of these examples. But aside from the religious implications, an article in the most recent issue of Scientific American Mind discusses a recent study, that has taken another step closer to proving humans do not possess free will at all.

In an experiment performed at the Bernstein Center for computational Neuroscience in Berlin, a team of researchers observed patterns of brain activity in volunteers who held a button in each hand and were told to push one at their leisure. By observing specific brain patterns, the research team could tell which decision the volunteer was going to make as early as 10 seconds before they “decided” themselves.

Another doctor not involved with the study inferred these findings to suggest though many people strongly believe in the concept of free will it appears the brain is making decisions on its own through its own selection process from preconscious brain activity.

Following this line of thought leads to a number of provocative questions. If we are not making conscious decisions, how does our brain truly decide on specific courses of action? When we “know” we are on the path to a wrong and possibly messy decision why do we still go through with it? The Questions are endless….

Why did she say that when she really didn’t mean it?

Why did he marry the girl he “knew” he really didn’t love?

Why did I call her Janice, when I KNOW her name is Mary?

And most importantly…Why do I keep eating at Taco Bell?

Studies of the brain interest me to no end, because at the moment we are left to make our own assumptions as to why people act the way they do and make the “choices” they do in life. Is it a matter of poor decision making? Or perhaps simply a matter of having acquired the wrong tools and reference resources at a young age to be able to make a decision in their own best interests (This opens a much larger debate in the ring of parenting and peer groups).

As the answers to these many questions present themselves there are many schools of thought that will be hopefully sent spinning. The idea of free will is currently by and large used as a method of blame. “Why did you do that?”, “I told you not to eat the paste”, “Don’t you think before you speak?” Not to mention how the religious right use free will as yet another way to crucify the gay population for actively “choosing” to sin against god.

Without the ability to blame one another for our decisions we are left with the quest for knowledge and the desire to uncover the truth about ourselves and our human minds. Perhaps that may leave some of us with a stronger sense of world community, as we are then one species on a quest for answers, opposed to various races on the quest for domination.

These are just a glimpse of the timeless questions that are on the verge of being answered as we decipher the patterns and acquired decision making abilities we function on. A further look into this subject will likely reveal the puzzle into obsessive or addictive behaviour; none of us truly wish to do ourselves harm but at times there seems to be a power bigger than ourselves pulling us down a path we’d rather not embark on; but I suppose that is the point, perhaps its not a power bigger than ourselves, perhaps it simply IS ourselves.



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