That’s So Second Millennium

Episode 017 - Aaron Schurger at SCSC: Fifty Years Without Free Will

July 23, 2018

It's a short one this week. We discuss the talk at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference by Aaron Schurger with the delightfully provocative title "Fifty Years Without Free Will." (Those of you who are similiarly obsessive about grammar will appreciate my deep feeling of conflict about capitalizing the preposition "without"...one is not supposed to capitalize prepositions, yet it looks awful to have a seven letter word not capitalized. It's not capitalized in my notes, but it was in the program.)

Notes I took during the talk, which for this podcast pretty closely follows the drift of our conversation:

Distinction of the "neural decision to move"
Readiness potential with ~1 sec onset time
Libet et al 1983  Brain 106:623-42
    asked subjects to report when they decided to move
    happened ~3/4 sec after readiness potential, only ~1/4 sec before the movement
Taken by many as proof that "there is no free will"
Alternative interpretation: the "readiness potential" is random drift of neuron voltages
    under the weak imperative to move
Need to pay careful attention to experiment setup & analysis of data [Paul's comment today: *always*]
    Problems with only analyzing data time-locked to movement and extracted