Taken together, two specific regions in the frontal and parietal cortex
of the human brain had considerable information that predicted the
outcome of a motor decision the subject had not yet consciously made.
I read through the study, thanks for the reference.
I would like to first re-emphasize the difference between influence and control. The data do show a correlation (predictive power) between regions of metabolic activity and behavioral outcomes. Regions of metabolic activity (from which we can infer neurologic processes), however, are not perfectly predictive. There is not a "causal chain". Not a string of neural dominos falling leading to an outcome. Right or left frontopolar cortex
to a 'region of parietal cortex stretching from the precuneus into posterior cingulate cortex
' on down along a "chain" leading to motor neurons.
But... for the sake of discussion lets even grant that it is a causal chain and see where that leads us....
The study is comparing 'conscious awareness of a decision
' to the earliest measurable predictors of a decision. Even if those predictors are perfectly predictive, that does not account for the decision reached.
This is what I was getting at by Harris' work. He conflates awareness
If you think that you
are your awareness
, then yes. There is some evidence that your decisions are made by someone else (some preconscious person). This is an issue of not knowing "who
" you are, rather than not knowing "what
" you are.
As a point of methodology, we are examining subjects who are asked to make an arbitrary decision. This is not the type of decision one usually cares about in knowing whether or not someone has a "free will".
When one discovers that one can preconsciously walk and chew gum while reading a book, does this send anyone into an existential crisis?
Who is doing the walking? Who is doing the chewing? Who is doing the reading?
I think that what studies such as this demonstrate is that there are some very real reasons to think of conscious activity as an interplay of multiple "agents".
Choose your identity, are you the agent who does the observing of awareness, the agent who walks, the agent who scans random input looking for "meaning", or are to an amalgamation of multiple agents.
The evidence is that each of these agents is not even precisely distinct. (Overlapping nested hierarchies with multiple influences and self-referencing loops.)
So the question before Sam Harris et al. is what is your self-referencing label referring to?