Make-your-mind-up time


An evil genius has sat me in front of two buttons: one to the left and one to the right.

Unlike the choices we face in the upcoming election, these two are exactly equivalent: neither will do anything, good or bad.

They’ll just get pressed, by me, when I make my mind up.

All I’ve to do is decide which to press.

And press it…

Now the killer.

If the said evil genius happens to be imaging my brain at the time, the brain imagery will illuminate my decision several seconds before I reckon I’ve made it.

To give an idea of scale, reaction time (the time I’d take to drop an unexpectedly hot object, for example) is under a fifth of a second.

So if other decisions – for example whether or not I hit out at someone who looks to be threatening me – are also made subconsciously, then where does that leave freewill?

To be fair, this isn’t the first finding along these lines.

And Benjamin Libet, the author of that first study, came up with a possible way-through for freewill:

it could be our freewill that determines whether we don’t go ahead with a decision made unconsciously, he proposed.

But not everyone agrees…


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