Do you make your own choices or does your brain?


Do you choose healthy choices, do you even choose?

Last week I blogged about a polymorphism in a gene that researchers argued that made you consume a larger amount of sugar. I countered the argument saying that despite whatever particular variation of gene you might have that equally or more important is you will power (power of choice). Invoking will power opens up the maybe the most important questions to us humans; do we have free will? I am an agnostic on this question, meaning that I have no evidence for free will (other than my subjective experience – unreliable to say the least), but am open (even hopeful) to new evidence.

Recently, there has been a couple papers that at least shine a small light on this subject (or the related subject self control) (Engbert, Brass ,Roskies, ) with the newest one published in Nature Neuroscience by the team lead by JD Haynes. There is also a NeruoPod podcast (pointed out to me by that I recommend (might make the overall story easier to understand) (the ‘free will’ question is at the start of the Nature podcast). Basically, by scanning the individuals brain the scientist could ‘predict’ what and when (very simple choice: subjects ‘freely’ choose either left or right button whenever they felt like it) the subjects would choose 7 to 10 seconds before the person was conscious of their choice.

“We found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.”

Take a listen to the podcast.

Does this really suggest we have no free will? Well, I will leave this to both philosophers and the neuroscientists that specialize in this sub-field.

Do you think/believe you have free will? What choices are you making today – good or bad?

(podcast link via

2 comments for “Do you make your own choices or does your brain?

  1. JB
    June 10, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I have no free will. I try not to read this, but keep coming back. I am weak…

  2. Ward
    June 12, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    I hope you keep coming back. Maybe over time we can come up with a hack to give us a small amount of free will – now that would get a Nobel prize :)