I’ve written in the past about the concept of free will and why it does not exist. We think we are in control of our decisions and our life’s trajectory, but there are billions of factors outside of our control that are actually guiding who we are and what we think. Philosopher Sam Harris explains this in elegant detail in his extraordinary book Free Will. But as far as the neural mechanics of what is biologically happening inside your brain during the decision-making process, researchers have discovered that your unconscious mind determines your conscious mind’s reaction 7 seconds ahead of time.
Alistair Horscroft discusses this discovery in his TED Talk 7 Seconds To Change Your Life (see below). He references the work of John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist whose team made the profound discovery. “Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” Haynes tells WIRED.
“In the seven seconds before Haynes’ test subjects chose to push a button, activity shifted in their frontopolar cortex, a brain region associated with high-level planning,” writes Brandon Keim of WIRED. “Soon afterwards, activity moved to the parietal cortex, a region of sensory integration. Haynes’ team monitored these shifting neural patterns using a functional MRI machine. Taken together, the patterns consistently predicted whether test subjects eventually pushed a button with their left or right hand – a choice that, to them, felt like the outcome of conscious deliberation. For those accustomed to thinking of themselves as having free will, the implications are far more unsettling than learning about the physiological basis of other brain functions.”
WATCH BEGINNING AT THE 7:32 MARK:
Feature image by renowned collage artist Matthieu Borel