Is there anything like free will and are we the centre of our decisions or maybe are we only well-designed mechanisms that respond to the stimuli according to a preset pattern?.

Some interesting facts about free will are provided by experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet, who investigated the relation between activation of specific brain area and movement of our finger. Initiating movement occurs naturally in the cortex (premotor area of cortex and precentral gyrus). Activation of neuronal network, designed to prepare body to make a movement is called a readiness potential. It was about thirty years ago when Benjamin Libet found that readiness potential is activated 350 ms before we become aware of the will of movement and 550 ms before the beginning the movement itself.

It seems our brain activates all these mechanism before we even know it is what we want.

But where the problem of free will actually comes from? According to Searle, its unique nature consists in the fact that there are two conflicted beliefs fighting in ourselves – both sufficiently strong and essentially correct making it impossible to get rid one of them, and therefore somehow we have become used to tolerate their mutual presence.

First, we believe that every phenomenon and every incident has to have its cause, some prior events that has resulted in current state. Trying to understand the present situation, we are looking for such events, after which that what has happened just had to happened. This way of thinking is actually (more or less conscious) a belief in determinism, conviction that phenomena around us are conditioned and caused by other events.

On the other hand, everyday we experience the presence of our free will. We have the feeling that it’s us who are the reasons of our actions. Our daily experience provides us with thousands of proofs sufficiently strong to let us think that way – after all, we can clearly feel that it is us who make decisions and we can see that we bear their consequences, we also know that making decision doesn’t always mean to take an action…

Therefore, the basis of the problem of free will is the existence of some time slot lying between making decision and turning it into action. Willingness to buy, for example, bread, do not make this product come into our shopping cart.

According to the findings of Libet, first in our brain it comes to activation of readiness potential, 200 ms later we realize that we want to make a move. Subsequently, after 150 ms the signal is transmitted from motor cortex to the muscle and it lasts about 50 ms before the measurement of muscle contraction. It means that we have only 150 ms to stop planned movement and that planning of movement starts subconsciously, and human freedom in deciding on the execution of movement is limited to the possibility of its inhibition.

Unfortunately, in line with the Libet experiments not everyone can do that…

All the best!