Does your brain make your decisions before you do?
In recent months, we have received several inquiries about neuroscience research that supposedly undermines the concept of free will. The experiments in question involved brain scans that could predict people’s conscious choices before they were aware of choosing. Based on these studies, some have claimed that the brain does the choosing for us, and what we perceive as our free decisions are really just part of some deterministic chain of events initiated by merely physical causes. Today’s feedback addresses this issue.
Caleb L., from the U.S., wrote:
What are CMI’s stances on the research that Benjamin Libet and John Haynes have conducted? Such as this: [Link deleted per feedback rules.] Obviously we must believe in free will because we are Christians. The implications of their research kind of scares me but I am sure you guys have an explanation. Personally the thing that makes me question it, is that the experiments were done in a controlled environment and the people that were experimented on knew they had to make a decision, paving the way for your subconscious mind to take over. What is CMI’s thoughts on these experiments that were done? The implications of the research would conflict with Adam and Eve’s free choice and thus creation unless the research is debunked.
Thanks for the opportunity to address this, because others have raised the concern as well. Plus, you can find articles on this all over the internet and in atheist blogs.
I do think it is important to affirm that people were created by God as agents who make real choices and have genuine goals. We are not passive cogs in a machine whose decisions are determined by physical processes alone. The Bible indicates that we are body-soul composites, and our souls have an influence on the physical world (see Does the soul violate physics?). Also, rationality and moral accountability seem to require the commonsense notion of free will at some level.
But there’s really nothing to fear from these experiments. You suggested we might need to ‘debunk’ them, but I will argue that there is no need to challenge the research per se, only the interpretations placed on it.
First, here is an overview of the studies. Several experiments, conducted by Libet, Haynes, and others, monitored the brain activity of volunteers while they performed a simple decision-making task. The task involved carefully noting the precise time they believed they made a decision to push a button, and then pushing the button. The researchers found that they could correctly predict the decisions and actions by observing the brain activity that occurred beforehand. According to the more recent studies, the predictions were made based on brain activity that occurred as much as 7–10 seconds prior to the self-reported decision. So the sequence of events was:
A. Brain activity that could predict the result B. Time gap of 7–10 seconds C. Reported Decision D. Time gap of less than 1 second E. Button press
News reports based on this research contained claims like: “You may think you decided to read this story – but in fact, your brain made the decision long before you knew about it.”1 And, in the link you provided, Haynes himself is quoted as saying, “there’s not much space for free will to operate.”2
But such conclusions do not follow from the evidence. Here are seven reasons why these experimental results do not undermine human freedom.
It is possible that there is a lag time between making a decision and becoming aware of it.
The reported decision in step C indicates an awareness of a decision, but awareness is not the same as the decision itself. The events of deciding and becoming aware may well be separated in time. This means that a decision could have been made at some point prior to step C, so some of the brain activity could be downstream from this decision. That is not to say that I think the lag time between a true determination to act and one’s awareness is likely to be 7 or more seconds. For other reasons I’ll touch on, it could be significantly less.
Making a decision may not take place in an instant, but involve a process.
It could certainly be the case that people deliberate or even subconsciously move toward a decision before the point where they eventually act on it. Philosophers distinguish between desiring to act, deciding to act, and exercising active power.3 These steps may take time, which suggests that the brain activity could correlate with the earlier parts of the process. Early brain activity might indeed strongly indicate what we will do, even if the ‘point of no return’ in the decision-making process has not necessarily been reached.
Brain activity is not the same as brain causation.
The headline of the article you referenced begins, “Brain makes decisions … ”. But why think the physical brain is in charge? That conclusion is not due to the experimental results alone, but due to the (naturalistic) assumption that only physical things have causal power, so that all our decisions ultimately must be traced back to some physical cause.
But the Bible indicates that humans have an immaterial component that interacts with the physical world. If the immaterial minds of the volunteers used their brains to control their fingers to push buttons, then it’s not true that the brain initiated some deterministic chain of events. The people freely did it.
The predictive success based on brain scans was not 100%.
The researchers admitted that the predictions didn’t always come true. Some studies said they only did so around 60% of the time, and even the studies with the highest accuracy only claimed they were 80–90% accurate. This definitively proves that a final, irreversible ‘decision’ was not really yet made in step A. It may be that a preliminary decision was made then, but the mind was still deliberating or retained power to change that decision, which undermines the deterministic conclusion.
In a 2007 study by Brass and Haggard, it was found that even after a self-reported ‘decision’, people stillhad the power to change their minds before they performed the act.4
This shows that even the self-reported ‘decision’ (step C) wasn’t the true, final decision at all. Some have humorously called the power to veto one’s own intention ‘free won’t’. So, even if all the supposed decision-making up to this point had been deterministic, the power of free won’t during step D leaves room for an agent’s will, and thus determinism has not been demonstrated. Brass and Haggard identified certain brain activity that is associated with the veto process but, again, brain activity does not equal brain causation.
Lack of freedom in one area wouldn’t prove a total lack of freedom.
Even if these experiments did prove that physical causes alone were responsible for the outcomes, the setting is somewhat artificial and limited, as you mentioned. In more complex, real-life decisions, we could have freedom even if in these experimental circumstances we do not. Atheists like Daniel Dennett have made this very point.5
The argument against free will is self-refuting.
For those who deny free will, how did they come to that conclusion? Through mental deliberation about the implications of these experiments? Well, if there is no free will, then all their mental deliberations were really a consequence of non-rational physical processes. Without freedom, they did not reason; they just reacted—the same way their atoms always would under these conditions. But if non-rational forces alone are responsible for all our thoughts, this would undercut the basis for trusting our own conclusions. Thus, we cannot argue against free will without presupposing it. For more, see the Related Articles section below.
I hope that helps. Thanks for getting in touch.
References and notes
Keim, B., Brain scanners can see your decisions before you make them, 13 April 2008, wired.com/2008/04/mind-decision. Return to text.
Smith, K., Brain makes decisions before you even know it, Nature news online, 11 April 2008, nature.com/news/2008/080411/full/news.2008.751.html. Return to text.
Moreland, J.P. and Craign, W.L., Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2nd edition, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2017, p. 313. Return to text.
Brass, M., and Haggard, P., To Do or Not to Do: The neural signature of self-control, Journal of Neuroscience 27(34):9141–9145, 22 August 2007, jneurosci.org/content/27/34/9141. Return to text.
Hendricks, S., Free Will or Free Won’t? Neuroscience on the choices we can (and can’t) make, bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/free-will-or-free-wont-what-neuroscience-says-about-the-choices-we-can-and-cant-make. Return to text.
Keim, B., Brain scanners can see your decisions before you make them, 13 April 2008, wired.com/2008/04/mind-decision.
Smith, K., Brain makes decisions before you even know it, Nature news online, 11 April 2008, nature.com/news/2008/080411/full/news.2008.751.html.
Moreland, J.P. and Craign, W.L., Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2nd edition, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2017, p. 313.
Brass, M., and Haggard, P., To Do or Not to Do: The neural signature of self-control, Journal of Neuroscience 27(34):9141–9145, 22 August 2007, jneurosci.org/content/27/34/9141.
Hendricks, S., Free Will or Free Won’t? Neuroscience on the choices we can (and can’t) make, bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/free-will-or-free-wont-what-neuroscience-says-about-the-choices-we-can-and-cant-make.
Any experiment or research which is constrained within any system needs to be conducted materialisticly and naturalisticly (although resulting data may not be in support). Suspicion of supernatural interference would make any scientific investigation unworkable or untrustworthy. This may be a reason why Atheists, materialists and pure naturalists object to the possibility of acknowledging the existence of the supernatural realm, fearing contamination & leading to claims of bad-science. Thus the supernatural explanations are ruled out a priori, regardless of the data.
To be consistent within the atheists’ paradigm, the resulting ‘predictable certainty’ from materialism, would also constrain the thought processes (also predictable certainty with no regard for truth) of those conducting the science experiments, thus making the conclusions untrustworthy, a ‘Catch 22’. Christian scientists don’t have this problem. This may be one reason why science historians believe modern science expanded rapidly under a Christian world view while stagnating in ancient China & Greece.
Regarding the research mentioned, scientific methodology requires that scientists not be constrained by atomic determinism, e.g. sophisticated, though ultimately forced chemical reactions governing their ‘thoughts’. True free rational thinking and logic are absolute necessities if we are to trust our conclusions.
The ‘law of causation’ within the scientific method [and] the freedom from the ‘law of causation’ in our rational thoughts, is the greater paradox. Any Atheists using rational thoughts must accept that the ‘law of causation’ but must also apply this to all parts of the universe where science can be applied, except the thinking within the human mind. But this would be conveniently inconsistent.
B L., Australia, 19 January 2018
nicely done resposne, keaton.
what scares ME is that some people actually believe this sort of nonsense to be true! it's like the world is becoming insaner and insaner.
keep up the good work.
Colin M., Australia, 19 January 2018
While this article tries to address the issue of 'free will' from an experimental perspective, there are strong Biblical/Theological reasons for rejecting it. The questioner presumes that the idea of free will is central to the Christian faith for us living post fall. Nothing could be further from the truth. A defence of the wills 'bondage' - post fall - is beyond the scope of a reply. There are many excellent Christian works refuting his commonly held position, which ultimately undermines the Gospel message. Martin Luther's 'Bondage of the Will' comes to mind as a start.
Guy W., United Kingdom, 20 January 2018
Jesus indicates in Luke 6:45 that people download their views into their 'heart' (soul) also the Prov. 23:7 confirms this as well. Your atheist has already formed his conclusions and if he chooses to cross the line of his conscience he is quite capable of programming his brain subconsciously to do the most awful things. The most dramatic demonstration of this is the way Germans embraced the teachings of the Nazis and the German (evolution/eugenic believing) medical profession to cross the line of their own conscience to commit terrible wickedness. That is why it is so immensely important for people when they here the voice of their conscience (conviction in their spirit) that Jesus is truly the Lord who rose from the dead that they repent - REPENT = Gk =Metaneo meaning - Different Think! Where do we do our thinking - in our brain. We are then to renew our mind (Romans 12:20) and that will transform us so we can wash away the 'automaton' like responses of unregenerate man. Consider for a moment - WHY do you think that the god of this world is working SO HARD to cultivate 'political correctness'? The answer is simple - this is his take-over plan for conscience of man. In short we have our freedom to make decisions but overriding the bad ones and the consequences of bad decisions requires cleansing and that God can cleanse with the Blood of His Son Jesus. Jeshua
I. L., Australia, 20 January 2018
Hi CMI, The brain is just a CPU for the mind which exists separate to the host's physical brain. The mind does not die when the body(& brain) does so our journey after death is mind to Judgement! The mind is a non-physical repository of everything that makes us as individual humans. Our brain accesses the information, memories etc from our mind & that's 'us' as we go to our Lord!
Think about it, surely that all makes sense, but will, no doubt be 'rubbished'.
Richard F., United Kingdom, 20 January 2018
I fear this is another example of a topic that CMI should not be addressing.
This topic is a mixture of laboratory science and philosophy. CMI rightly distinguishes between laboratory science and creation science but knowledge in the latter does not bring sufficient knowledge of the former
A further reason is that all seven of the arguments especially the seventh, are misconceived - weak or wrong
We should start with scripture not with science or even with our own view of the world. The bible addresses us as if we can make free choices, but does not say that we can. The bible does however make it 100% clear that God is sovereign over all things, every electron, every synapse that ever fires.
No, this does not make us robots. Robots do not know they are robots.
Keaton Halley responds
I thought it was worth addressing because this is an example of materialistic assumptions running amok in interpretations of the scientific evidence. But we certainly affirm God's sovereignty over all things.
Michael B., United States, 20 January 2018
I find in the Scriptures that much of the act of "free will" isn't so free in that we are in bondage to the inclination of our hearts. Our decisions are heavily biased to either serving self or serving God; this becomes the one true decision we make that all other decisions will flow from.
I guess we could call this "making a decision to decide" which would be a decision made possibly years before other decisions but had already determined which way we would make future decisions.
As example we have Joshua's famous admonishment to "Choose you this day who you will serve"
We see Daniel making this decision to decide in Daniel 1:8 "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself."
And a plea of the Psalmist to God to change our own hearts so that they would be choosing rightly "Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to covetousness." Psalm 119:36
Hopefully we as Christians are being diligent in having our own minds renewed and our own desires put to death being replaced by God's desires so that as we make decisions in life it they would be God honoring decisions and as we continue the battle between flesh and spirit our decisions will be influenced only by the Spirit, not the flesh, and the decision making time would become much shorter to the point that even a materialist will know in advance what choice a Christian will make before he makes it.
Your Brother in Christ,
Ken C., Canada, 20 January 2018
Atheists such as Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne believe that free will is an “illusion”. Indeed, and what more can be conclude if we accept the notion that we are merely a chance product of a mechanistic and mindless universe that just happened to come about by some freak accident?
As William B Provine., Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell University astutely points out in his 1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address entitled, “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life”, "Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent."
These words by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ring true, “Man has set for himself the goal of conquering the world but in the processes loses his soul. That which is called humanism, but what would be more correctly called irreligious anthropocentrism, cannot yield answers to the most essential questions of our life. We have arrived at an intellectual chaos.”
Blake C., United States, 20 January 2018
Just wanted to comment for any other Christians interested in learning more. Have you guys ever read anything by Dr. Callie Joubert? He’s a creationist who has many articles on Answers In Genesis. He helps Christians see that many properties attributed to the brain such as storing memory, deciding, thinking, and so on are just materialist interpretations of evidence and argues from the Bible that the soul is responsible for such attributes. I wish I could post a link to some of his articles, but they’re extremely helpful in understanding these issues. Also, I’d really like to thank CMI for clearing up materialist interpretations here, many Christians are blind to them.
Richard F., United Kingdom, 20 January 2018
When we calculate where the snooker ball will move across the pool table, or when we design an aircraft wing, we are quite happy to do that within materialistic assumptions/laws.
When lab scientists say that their experiments suggest that the brain has a course of action to follow well before we know what it is, we must be ready to accept the science as we do with the pool table.
Yes, the bible speaks of God, His sovereignty, His Spirit indwelling us, and of us as having body, soul and spirit, but we can't just throw out the science like a baby throwing toys out of the pram
(PS - 'soul' is there used to mean cognitive mind and emotions)
I don't throw out evolution because it doesn't talk of God, just as I don't throw out aircraft wing design. I DO throw out evolution because (i) there is nothing to test in it; and it is clearly against the bible (ii) by allowing pain and death in before Adam, and (iii) by going against the Hebrew meaning of 'yom'.
We must not throw out science because we do not like it or we will be like those who threw out Copernicus' heliocentricity. We throw out science (as being wrong) when it goes against the bible
People seem to think that denying free will brings the whole Christian edifice down. That is because they wrongly think we can only be held accountable by God if we had the freedom to do otherwise. Romans 9 suggests otherwise. God can dismiss us simply because, like the clay pot, we are not fit for purpose.
The word 'responsible' is wholly misleading. It suggests we are 'able' to choose our 'response'. Not so - the protestant doctrine of man dead in his trespasses shows we are 'accountable' or 'culpable' even while dead. Both those words are much better word than that mischievous word 'responsible'
Henri D., South Africa, 21 January 2018
So here we go. So-called "science" is preparing the way for the world to finally "prove" that people are not responsible for their actions. It has long been held in some circles that murderers are actually "ill" and should be treated as if they had a disease. It is believed throughout the western world that children are not naughty, they have ADHD and therefore need chemical control of their brains. Sadly, these ideas are supported by some Christians who follow the erroneous parts of some past theologians' logic with slavish dedication because those theologians were men of name, rather than properly studying Scripture according to those theologians' own (and correct) principle of Sola Scriptura. I must confess, this is the first time I hear of this and I agree with your correspondent, it is rather unsettling. Not because I fear it could be true, but because one can be quite certain the propaganda against our faith stemming from this will be severe. And, as a result, a lot of people will be lost. This is the beginning of the process where the so-called "free thinker" as atheists love calling themselves will actively begin to agitate against free thought. It started with Stephen Hawking, of course, who was the first atheist to admit his beliefs meant that all thoughts were mere chemical reactions and therefore not free. But there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel of deathly darkness - the hour of our Lord's return is ever nearer. Praise His name.
Terry W., Canada, 22 January 2018
I pay a lot of attention to how I make decisions myself, especially value judgements, and sometimes it's pretty derpy. It could be interesting to see how this article jibes with my personal observations:
1. It is possible that there is a lag time between making a decision and becoming aware of it.
4. The predictive success based on brain scans was not 100%.
This does appear to be the case, and some of my experience seems to indicate the brain does branch prediction, a feature of human-made microprocessors, and that it doesn't always get it right. I've had some instances of making a decision, taking an action that is inconsistent with it, becoming aware of the decision and the insconsistent action at almost the same instance, which I perceive as, and call, a "brain fart". Their occurrence is often a sign that I haven't gotten enough sleep. It usually happens when I'm operating vehicles (or more often, vehicle simulators, as I studiously avoid operating real vehicles while prone to brain farts) when my reflexes can get ahead of my cognition.
5. In a 2007 study by Brass and Haggard, it was found that even after a self-reported ‘decision’, people still had the power to change their minds before they performed the act.
This has saved me from a few accidents, and usually the next act of free will after this act of free won't is to pull over and have a nap.
6 ...we could have freedom even if in these experimental circumstances we do not.
I, and probably most gamers, usually take greater risks in simulations than we do in real life.
7. ...Thus, we cannot argue against free will without presupposing it.
That's the funniest thing I've read all day.
Keep up the great work, guys!
Ian N., Australia, 22 January 2018
Free-will? Jesus called it slavery. John 8. Man claims freedom but God claims man is a slave. This is the continuance of Satan's temptation to Adam - "You will be like God knowing good and evil." Did Jesus have free will? No. He had a submitted will and he is the example of the perfect man not the rebellious man. His only will was "to do the will of the one who sent him".
There is no question on mans will but please define what you mean by "free".
Keaton Halley responds
The type of freedom I was discussing is what philosophers call libertarian freedom. If we have this type of freedom, that does not mean that it is unlimited or that we have it in everything we do. So, I was not addressing issues regarding enslavement to sin.
N. O., Spain, 22 January 2018
Let me clarify a few things, on a computer, the CPU does the work and the memory holds the program and other kinds of data to perform this work. A computer is perfectly possible to be created without any memory other than required stuff like buffers or places to store temporary variables, but you can perfectly have a computer that is hard-wired to always run the same program. So as to that analogy, with the program/os being the soul and CPU being the brain, a CPU does not need a Memory, therefore, a brain does not need a soul.
A brain contains the "soul" within itself, the "soul" is the programming that is present as chemical memory within the neurons. Even for a computer, the memory and program are indeed physically present in the form of Energy such as magnetism or just stored electric charge. In a brain, it is stored in the form of chemicals within the neurons. The "soul" is divided amongst all the neurons.
The "soul" is a compilation of all the variables stored within the neurons in the form of chemicals that affect the way these work. Every neuron contains a part of the "soul" by containing this self-adjusting biases that change the way individual neurons behave effectively changing the way the brain works on higher perspective.
However, this does not discard intelligent design. Intelligent design is not necessary as neurons are completely modular just like cells, and they're made of cells which by themselves are modular. You only need a working cell to get a working neuron and thus a working brain. Natural selection can easily create this; we have observed how very simple but fully-working viruses are composed of only a couple of molecules and bacterias being more complex, are perfectly possible under natural selection and mutation (evolution).
Keaton Halley responds
I don't think this analogy works, because we can identify many aspects of ourselves that go beyond the physical. For example, descriptions of consciousness require a 1st-person perspective (i.e., “I” am aware of this or that). But physical objects can be fully described using the 3rd person (i.e., “it” looks like a cookie).
Also, we are conscious of sensations, which have a felt "what-it-is-like" quality that philosophers call a quale (pl., qualia). Physical objects like computers and brains may detect things, but they don’t experience these feelings, while we do through our consciousness.
We can also think “of" or “about” things. Philosophers call this of-ness or about-ness “intentionality”. But physical objects, states, and events don’t have intentionality—they aren’t about anything else unless we assign symbolic meaning to them.
These kinds of examples show that something non-physical (i.e., the soul) is what accounts for our consciousness, not the brain by itself.
Daniel P., United States, 23 January 2018
I suspect that those who made this study on time lag between decision and particular observable brain activity could use some long-term and intense visits to pros' magic stores. Because pros in performance magic have little incentive to hand over any of their best-and-most-basic secrets that could show how this study has serious flaws.
Jordan C., United States, 23 January 2018
"Thus, we cannot argue against free will without presupposing it." - Checkmate! Thanks Keaton, that one line made my day! Awesome!
Scott N., United States, 25 January 2018
One thing I believe researchers may be missing is habit or muscle memory. How might this affect the experiments?
Andrew M., Australia, 2 February 2018
I'm sure there is a Tom Cruise movie that disproved this a decade or so ago?
Yvonne H., Australia, 2 February 2018
Do people facing the prospect of torture still have free will? Of course they do!! In this case, they are free to make a decision which is actually contrary to their desire for self preservation but if they are motivated by truth, they will exercise free will and maintain their decision in spite of what it will cost them! These people should use their energies in research which will actually benefit mankind rather than boost their warped egos!
Adrian F., United Kingdom, 2 February 2018
Thank you for that interesting article.
Dr Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist who is a practicing Christian, mentions in her book 'Switch on your Brain' that both, toxic and healthy thoughts are found in our subconsciousness. They sometimes do indeed make us react in certain predictable ways after they have been consolidated over a period of about 63 days.
However, for that to happen we have to decide first to think in certain ways, over a prolonged period of time, either good or bad. It is our choice. 'As a man thinks in his heart so he is.' (Proverbs 23:7)
As Christians we are asked in Romans 12:2 to be transformed (passive) by renewing (active) our minds with God's thoughts.
Dr Leaf describes a 21 day brain detox tool in that book mentioned above. I have been testing it out myself over the last 63 days and can highly recommend it to renew our minds. Science once again confirms what the Bible has been describing ages ago. Praise the Lord for his wonderful word!
Keaton Halley responds
Thanks. I'd like to make a peripheral point, that I would not use Prov. 23:7 to support your case, because in context it is speaking of a stingy person, not every person! But it's certainly true that we can condition ourselves to think or behave in certain ways.
David R., United States, 2 February 2018
Human beings are superior to animals because we have free will. Since we can comprehend free will, but can't define it, the human soul is spiritual. The idea that human beings have a spiritual substance in them that survives our death is just theological speculation to account for the gap between out death and the Second Coming of Jesus. When you ask an American biologist about free will, they say something either irrational (free will is an illusion) or dishonest (free will is an emergent property of the brain). There is no evidence free will is an illusion. Free will is a mystery because it raises the unanswerable question of what the relationship is between our selves and our bodies. But it is a metaphysical mystery, not a scientific mystery. Free will is not a scientific observation.
Roger P., United Kingdom, 2 February 2018
It ought to be obvious to these 'clever' scientists, if they were not blinded by prejudice that no one can talk of what does not exist. If will were only instinct then we could have no concept, we could not think will. As for freedom then we could have no concepts such as liberty, democracy, choice and so on. Our atheist researchers would be animals which work on instinct alone.
Keaton Halley responds
We can talk of some things that don't exist, like leprechauns and fairies, so I think there's more to it than that.
H C., United States, 2 February 2018
The playing field is never level. If our choices decide our salvation, or damnation, we are totally at the mercy of our creator. According to the book of Ephesians, God has made that decision before the foundations of the world. One can run all of the experiments they want, but there is no way to make the field level. Environment, race, sex, mental, and physical abilities, are all totally at the discretion of our creator. All of those things affect any choices that a human can make. The position on this subject that each of us take, are directly related to all of the criteria that I listed above. In my thoughts about our creator, the fact that he makes everyone, and everything different, is his largest attribute. 7.4 billion people on the planet, and no two are alike. We are what we were created to be. Period
Frederic A P., United States, 2 February 2018
Your comments in the article are mostly speculation. However, let me give you some real world backup to what you surmise.
The 7-10 seconds lag time between a decision and the outcome is a function of brain speed versus physical reaction speed. The brain functions at the speed of electronic impulse, the speed of light, while the body reacts much much slower.
Years ago, the military sent me to school to learn to take Morse code, using a typewriter. At first we all tried to "keep up" with the taped code. That was possible for a while because the code was so slow. However, as the speed increased, we began to panic. It soon became impossible to type the letters as fast as they came over the tape. Some students failed out at that point. For most of us, however, the breakthrough came when we learned to relax and let our brain and body each work at their own speed. As each character came across the tape, we learned to let our mind move our fingers, and not try to force it. This became more and more obvious as the code speeds increased. The instructor would start the tape, but no one would start typing for several seconds. After the tape ended we all kept typing for several seconds until all of the letters "stored" in memory were typed out. In this sense, of course our brain "made the decision" before our fingers reacted, but only because of the extreme differences in operating speeds. Even so, sometimes our fingers typed the wrong letter, or missed a letter, because we are not machines.
We all go through the same process when learning to drive. At first everything is very confusing, but as we relax it all comes together, becomes habitual. At any time, though, we can consciously take back control, albeit at a slower speed.
Praise the Lord for our miraculous creation.
Arthur L., Canada, 2 February 2018
"We cannot argue against free will without presupposing it."
How so? One does not need free will to arrive at a conclusion. We are each an open system where we can hear/read/see to acquire new information, and process that information rationally, then arrive at a conclusion based upon it. Our knowledge, past history, and even mood can affect how a conclusion is made, thus two people listening to the same message may arrive at different conclusions without free will.
Which aspect requires free will, and which scientists have argued that they have it, especially in the context of this topic?
Even as I write this, I believe I'm just reacting in a cause-and-effect manner. I saw the e-mail in my inbox, saw that the topic was interesting, read the article, felt compelled to respond, and started typing, all in a rather linear fashion.
Keaton Halley responds
My understanding is that Libet, himself, actually continued to affirm libertarian free will, and there are other neuroscientists who do also. But I don't think it matters so much which scientists agree since this question is more metaphysical. It might be more useful to look to philosophers like Angus Menuge and his work on the "ontological argument from reason".
I think one problem with your view is that it eliminates the distinction between compulsive and non-compulsive actions. For real reasoning to take place (as opposed to operating in accordance with reason as computers can do), you must be an agent who weighs the options and makes a decision based on teleological reasons / final causes, not efficient causes. Otherwise, you are a passive theater through which causal chains automatically and deterministically produce outcomes.
If the series of efficient causes running through you caused you to conclude that free will does not exist, you could not have come to any other conclusion. You didn't truly deliberate by weighing options and then choosing one based on your goals (e.g., to accept the truth) as a free agent. Rather, you arrived at the outcome that was specified in advance by all the prior conditions. You wouldn't 'own' the conclusion because you didn't contribute any active power to reaching it. And I don't see why you'd be really responsible for it, since events before you and beyond your control specified the outcome. Yet, we regularly treat people as though they 'ought' to believe this or that.