A new BBC video on free will

The BBC has just begun a video series on free will, and, thanks to reader Tom C., I got a link to part 1 of 3. The BBC’s notes are these:

There are many forces behind our everyday decisions. In a three part series we look at the hidden powers behind the choices we make.

Part one of three looks at the neuroscience behind our understanding of free will.

A series by Melissa Hogenboom and Pierangelo Pirak

Click on the screenshot to watch the 8½-minute clip, which isn’t bad, though it’s a bit confusing in places, as when describing experiments of “readiness potential” in non-choice situations.

Also, the language in places is a bit misleading or confusing as well, as when the Asian researcher (not named) says, “I want to argue that internal virtual-reality of our imagination is where free will is really active. It’s not picking, as in the Libet test, but it’s really an issue of choosing consequential decisions.”

That seems like obfuscation, and doesn’t even include a definition of “free will”, unless you think that decisions that are consequential involve free will by definition, while “minor decisions”, like what to buy at the grocery store, don’t involve “free will”.  That’s not very enlightening, is somewhat tautological, and doesn’t at all comport with what most people think of as free will. The one nod to the importance of the definition in deciding whether we have free will is well articulated by the woman speaking at 7:30.

I see that the second part is up, too, but I’ll deal with that later.

12 thoughts on “A new BBC video on free will

  1. Again to me right now, there is NO dualism like mind/brain or supernatural/natural. These are invented jargonese which sounds good at the time to philosophers like Socrates, Descartes, Kant …call it job security. We have this advanced brain which stores/memorizes all sorts of things since birth … it develops medulla and cerebellum stuff so the cerebrum doesn’t have to dwell on the essentials. Then we can invent/memorize languages, culture, religions, philosophy, the method of science, stuff about free will, etc … until we have all these discussions about interesting ideas. Neuroscience will eventually explain these phenomena and in my opinion, still comes down to a fantastic memory, so concentrate on those studies … how, when and what do we memorize?

  2. In my opinion, this video is just another good example of how confused many psychologists are. It all comes down to them not being able to imagine humans as biological machines. My favorite example from this video is:

    “If you assume there’s only natural things in nature and there’s nothing supernatural, events in the brain, including those events that lead to your conscious deliberations, have to have preceding events that perhaps were not conscious. But that doesn’t mean those events are causal.”

    What does that last sentence even mean? They seem to be surprised that decisions don’t arise instantaneously from conscious thought. It would really be surprising if thinking didn’t take time and that we’re not consciously aware of all the processing that leads to a decision.

    While I obviously haven’t seen the next two parts of this video, I expect them to be more of the same kind of “unveiling of the mystery”.

    1. I can think of one valid meaning for “But that doesn’t mean those events are causal.” – but it’s probably not the one they have in mind.

      (If you describe events at the level of such fine-grained detail that there’s no definition for entropy, you wind up with no arrow of time, hence no causality.)

  3. I’m now watching the physics segment. I had not thought of the connection of relativity to determinism before. The film makes the case for the lack of freewill even stronger by showing that the future already exists, which makes it difficult to see how anyone’s free will could change it. The so called block universe idea.

  4. Peter Tse is the Asian researcher. The names of speakers are in faded white letters at the bottom of the screen, covered by the play progress bar.

  5. Peter Tse is the Asian researcher. The names of speakers are in faded white letters at the bottom of the screen, covered by the play progress bar.

    By the way, I seem to be locked out of commenting from my WordPress account (username “paultorek”). I guess I posted a link and became a “spammer”?

  6. Peter Tse is the Asian researcher. The names of speakers are in faded white letters at the bottom of the screen, covered by the play progress bar.

    By the way, I seem to be locked out of commenting from my WordPress account (username “paultorek”). I guess I posted a link and became a “spammer”?

  7. Peter Tse is the Asian researcher. The names of speakers are in faded white letters at the bottom of the screen, covered by the play progress bar.

    The Libet test is interesting, but not in connection with free will. It’s a peculiarity of the test condition, which tells subject *not* to plan their clicks, but to click “when they feel like it”. Such feelings pretty much have to come from the subconscious. The fact that clicks are generally preceded by unconscious activity just shows that subjects are trying to cooperate with the instructions.

  8. “The strange idea that we are not in control of our minds”

    What BBC personage decided (gets to decide whether) to attach the adjective “strange” to the noun “idea”? The less intellectually curious one is, the more some given phenomenon or idea or place or person seems “strange.”

    On the other hand, it may simply be part of “engaging,” and making “accessible,” and otherwise “infotaining” the viewer. (Re: Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”)

  9. That researcher is Peter Tse. Speaker names are in white at the bottom, often covered by the play progress bar.

    The Libet test is interesting, but not in connection with free will. The result is at least partly attributable the test condition, which tells subject *not* to plan their clicks, but to click “when they feel like it”. Such feelings pretty much have to come from the subconscious. The fact that clicks are generally preceded by unconscious activity just shows that subjects are trying to cooperate with the instructions.

    1. Sorry for duplicate comments. Jerry helped me with a WordPress problem, and he simply approved all of my comment-attempts, to solve it. Thanks!

  10. “It’s not picking, as in the Libet test, but it’s really an issue of choosing consequential decisions.” Please give an example of an inconsequential decision.

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