Recent Doubts on Free Will

 

You too, my son, Testosterone?

 
Recent experiments seem to show that the very existence of our free will (and our meaning of life with it) can be questioned. Is that really the case?

In more than one recent experiment, the results showed that we humans are making decisions (if at all) before we are actually aware of them. Our consciousness only records and explain our decisions and does not make them.

For example in certain cases, the brain scanners can prove that the actual decision on a hand move and preparation for that very move starts before it can be made as a conscious decision.

Decision can be predicted before it is made

In other experiments, the participating people were ready to explain their decisions as a conscious one. However, the setup of the circumstances made it impossible to actually make those decisions. People do not just tend to think that they are making conscious decisions, they are also ready to rewrite the past, adjust their own knowledge about their own decisions (retrospectively creating an ideology for them) to have a better fit with the actual events and results.

What neuroscience says about free will

A Simple Task Uncovers a Postdictive Illusion of Choice

Furthermore, under the influence of testosterone shots, males are more likely to make impulsive and wrong decisions in an IQ test. In these tests, quick, impulsive, and intuitive answers are usually wrong – yet more testosterone motivate males to make such decisions.

Testosterone makes men less likely question their impulses

Single dose testosterone administration impairs cognitive reflection in men

It seems that we are just deceiving ourselves thinking that we have free will. If our decisions can be easily “adjusted” with some chemicals, if we don’t make certain decisions at all, and if our subconscious mind is the real boss of our actions, how can we say that we have free will? And if we don’t have free will, if we are just robots, how can we say that our life has any meaning?

Don’t be afraid! Our situation is not so disastrous. The above deductions are just samples of some simplified logic and it mustn’t be applied mechanically to scientific results. The problems with the above simple conclusions regarding our free will are as follows:
• The above results may not be entirely correct (there are always critics and questions regarding any experiment). It may be better to wait until someone confirms the results.
• The above results may be applicable to special cases only. It is a common element in all of the experiments above that they examine quick decisions, artificially reducing the time available for the decision-making process. It is no surprise that consciousness plays smaller roles there.
• The experiments sometimes does not examine, “follow up” the next steps of the individuals: a testosterone-driven man may take a second look at the test, realize his error, and consciously correct it. Everyone deserves a second chance!
• It is not a logical contradiction to make a “free” decision subconsciously. Quick, emotional decisions may also be our own, regardless.
• We must be aware of and calculate with other scientific results too. We already know that many physical processes are predictable, “pre-determined”, controlled by the existing state of the physical system and the laws of nature especially in short term. So it is not a surprise that short-term decisions and processes may not be “free” – exactly the situation in all the experiments above. However, predictability of the physical processes is declining quickly with longer forecasting periods.

Hence, there is no need to panic regarding our free will until someone can make long-term valid forecasts of the behaviour of human beings.

Human bonding and mother instinct

 

As ScienceDaily reported (ScienceDaily) based on a study published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS ) the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, using the brain’s reward system to form human relationships, such as mother and child relationship, in both animal and human models.

The significance of the results according to the authors: Early life bonding in humans has critical long-term implications for health, productivity, and well-being in the society. Nonetheless, neural mechanisms of bonding are typically studied in rodents, and no study,  to this date, has  examined the neurochemistry of human social affiliation. This study utilizes a state-of-the-art technology to demonstrate that human maternal bonding is associated with striatal dopamine function and the recruitment of a cortico–striatal–amygdala brain network that supports affiliation. The simultaneous probing of neurochemical responses and whole-brain network function in mothers watching their infants provides a unique observation into an “affiliating brain.” These results advance the mechanistic understanding of human social bonding and promote basic and clinical research in social neuroscience, development, and psychopathology.

 

On the other  hand, the interpretations of this result (and of similar studies before) regarding the meaning of our lives may not be favourable. This study can be a blow for those who believe that our human relationships and actions are governed by our souls and not by biochemical processes of our body. Moreover, these processes are based on physical laws of nature and were shaped by a multi-billion-year evolution here on the Earth. Consequently, someone may logically draw a conclusion that our human relationships, such as mother-and-child bond,  may not form the basis of the meaning of our individual lives as a mechanical and chemical reaction we have no decision about. Some may even incorrectly jump to the result that our lives are meaningless in general – we are just robots programmed to feel by chemicals.

Even if the above logic is mathematically correct, the conclusion may not be valid. Science demands proof. Many fantastic and well thought through hypothesis have failed in experiments. So even a proper logic does not mean that the conclusions are true and reflect reality.

Moreover, such pessimistic thoughts are partially just resulting from our disappointment and fear that we have no  soul (we are not immortal), and that there are  scientific explanations and background for our existence and behaviour. This disappointment makes us jump to incorrect conclusions because the above logic is not watertight. It’s as if death would retrospectively eliminate our current existence as well, or as if our atoms and chemicals are not part of ourselves. The true problems, illustrated herein by questions are three-fold:

  • Do the facts that we have no soul and we have to die in the future automatically mean that there is no meaning of our life today, and that the current meaning of our lives will automatically cease to exist with our death?
  • Do the facts that our body is made of atoms and elementary particles, and there are laws governing the behaviour of such atoms and molecules, automatically mean that “we” actually do not exist and we don’t have any freedom to make decisions?
  • Will our feelings and affections, which are being produced by physical, biochemical and evolutionary processes, reduce their value and usefulness to  us, our society, or humanity?

You can see that the seemingly logical first conclusions from the result of the above recent research are far from obvious. Later, we may return to this questions and topics in another blog.

 

Oxigen loss – long term consequences

1024px-extinction_intensity-svgWarming oceans may have long-term effects on our own future potential as recent and historical processes show.

 

The current decline in the oxygen level of the oceans resulting from global warming is not just alarming in itself. The subsequent reduction of the biomass in the oceans may also easily result in a significant nutrient gap, and the slow recovery of the nutrition was exactly the factor behind the very slow recovery of the ocean’s biodiversity during the worst known mass extinction 250 million years ago.

Why is it relevant to the meanings of life? Because we can permanently harm our long-term potential to survive and develop. The global warming is not just a temporary problem or something we can remedy in mere few thousands year. We may destroy our capability to reach our aims and fulfil our hopes as a race – the very opposite of the meaning of our life.

Causes behind the slow recovery after the worst mass extinction

Arctic gives clues on worst mass extinction of life

 

Similar processes today

Environmental science: Oceans lose oxygen

 

After posting, related article:

Jurassic drop in ocean oxygen lasted a million years