Your assignment is to prepare and submit a paper on psychology: free will is an illusion. Scientific developments such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have enabled us to study the brain in action. The resultant field of neuroscience is capable of tracking the thought process as it happens in the brain by observing what neurons light up and in which section of the brain. These achievements have made the field of neuroscience the leader in arguing against the concept of free will as we know it.
One of the pioneering free will experiments, and easily the most controversial, was conducted by Benjamin Libet in 1983. Libet attached electroencephalograms (EEGs) on the participants and asked them to watch a timer similar to a clock face with a moving dot on it (specifically a cathode-ray oscilloscope). They were then asked to perform a motor function such as moving a finger, flicking their wrists, or pressing a button, at any time, within a given time frame, any number of times. The setup was intended to measure the onset of cerebral activity (termed the readiness-potential) in relation to the time when the subject actually felt the onset of a conscious intention to act. Subjects were asked to perform the act of flicking their wrists. The experiment reported at least several hundred milliseconds between cerebral activity and the subject’s report of actually making a conscious decision to act (Libet et al, 1983).
Libet’s experiment indicated that there was a short delay between the time the brain made the decision to move, and the time the participant registered as having made a conscious decision to move. The outcome was consistent even when subjects reported that the decision to move had been spontaneous and whimsical. .
It challenged the notion of free will as we know it and initiated studies into the possibility that chemical reactions in our bodies make decisions for us before we even realize it.
In 2008, Stefan Bode and fellow scientists at the Max Planck Institute revisited Libet’s experiment with functional magnetic resonance imaging that allowed them to study the entire brain in action, improving on Libet’s technology that only captured a few areas of the brain. Subjects were asked to watch a stream of changing letters while their hands rested on four buttons, two on their left side and two on their right side.