Study suggests free will may be an illusion
Is free will an illusion of the mind?
It could be, according to a new study from Yale University.
The research was inspired by a paper published nearly 20 years ago by Dan Wegner and Thalia Wheatley, which suggested that action, not decision-making, comes first. The perception of available options is something the mind conjures up later.
In the recent study, the scientists took the idea a step further, investigating how memory may be self-manipulated as a means of reconciling actions and intentions, reports the Independent.
Participants were asked to pick one of five white circles shown on a screen before one of them turned red.
The subjects were then asked if they had chosen correctly, incorrectly, or run out of time.
Because the circle that turned red was randomly selected, the odds of a match was around 20 percent.
Participants reported getting the answer right greater than 30 percent of the time, which indicated that their memories of the sequence of light-changing events had been reordered. What was being interpreted as a choice had actually been an unconscious reaction, notes the Sydney Morning Herald.
According to the Scientific American, this finding appeared to be confirmed in a later test where there was a longer delay before the circle turned red; the success rate dropped closer to 20 percent, eliminating concerns about deception.
The team attributes this phenomenon to the brain's limitations or even an attempt by the mind to promote the idea that free will exists.