Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A break from cupcakes to discuss the
concepts of human autonomy and free will

This totally fascinating article describes new research indicating that our brains make decisions ten seconds before we are aware of having made a choice. We think our decisions are conscious, but our brains know what we're going to do ten seconds before we do! The implications for human autonomy are pretty creepy; as John-Dylan Haynes at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience puts it, "This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

I was thinking that this research sheds some light on the phenomenon of "sleeping on it." Like many people, I find that letting my mind work over a problem while I rest is a bizarrely effective way to come to decisions and solve ordinary problems. And research does suggest that, when we have an important decision to make, it's not always best to deliberate heavily; instead, we often make better decisions when we're slightly distracted.

The stuff I've read on this research, though, doesn't address the obvious problem of what it really means to know something. If my cells "know" something before "I" know something, well, isn't that really the same as me knowing it? I mean, we are our cells, after all, and our cells are us. So, to some degree, it's a matter of consciousness. But I probably need to sleep on it some more.


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