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.
A 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.
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 motivates males to make such decisions.
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 do 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 the 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 behavior of human beings.
This post is also available in: Hungarian