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Do We Truly have Free Will? The Experiment by Benjamin Libet

Updated on August 12, 2012

Free will, the neuroscience question that we all ask from time to time, is very simply, Do we truly wield it, or are our actions predetermined before we consciously make it happen? Free will in the Wikipedia is, "the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints." This question is not that simple however, in respect to religious institutions from Christian and Muslim faith, to the scientific views of pioneers such as Rene Descartes, Sigmund Freud, and Benjamin Libet. Of these pioneers, Benjamin Libet made a very interesting discovery into how our minds electrodes anticipate our movements and actions before we consider it in the logical present moment of reality. In the 1970s, Libet had been experimenting with sensations of artificial somaticism by measuring how much one region of the brain corresponded with an individual's physical movement.

This particular measurement is more formally known as Bereitschaftspotential, or the potential for an individual to pursue the readiness capabilities in a mindset. In order to fully understand the experiment that has challenged religious institutions views on free will, we must first examine the equipment with which Benjamin Libet used on his subjects. The first aspect of his experiment required a cathode ray oscilloscope, which in respect, measures the frequency and amplitude of the human brain's electrical signals that are emitted. There was a slight change in the oscilloscope, changing it's form into a timer of sorts, which would in theory would travel as a dot instead of graph. This would travel in intervals around a clock that measured multiple intervals of forty-three milliseconds.

Libet measured this change while requiring the subjects wear a electroencephalogram, or an EEG, which used multiple electrodes that were strategically placed around a subject's scalp. This in turn measured cortex activity while the subjects watched the oscilloscope. It is notable to say that the cortex is associated with the cognition of higher purpose in a human, and as the voltage in the EEG study fluctuated, along with an electromyograph or EMG that was placed on the muscle of the forearm, allowed Libet to measure subconscious VS. Conscious activity movement. The simple theory of the experiment was that as a subject watched the dot travel around the oscilloscope, they would press a button to stop it whenever they were first aware of the urge to act.

As he suspected, when the subject first obtained the urge to press and stop the dot, the EEG recordings that had been obtained; showed a five hundred millisecond difference between the time the subject thought it and acted in physical accordance. The experiment displayed a subconscious response before physical action, therefore causing strong controversy between the dilemma of whether free will is truly free or just an illusion guided by many functions at work within the brain. It is in the moment of reaction VS subconscious proponents before the action that has split the religious debate of a soul with the neuroscience of freewill and it's current standard of understandability.


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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      My pleasure. You are a very talented writer.

      I told you the truth. I do not just say stuff to be saying stuff, and I am looking forward to you following me.

      I would appreciate it. Keep up the great work.

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Thank you Kenneth, I truly am grateful for your comment. I just found Benjamin's work so interesting, I had to write about it. Have a great one, thank you again.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      This is an excellent piece of writing. To be totally-honest, it can easily be described as amazing.

      I loved every word. Graphics were superb. This hub was helpful, informative and I found it very interesting.

      Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it.

      You have such a gift for writing. Keep writing no matter what.


      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      It is very true, I think over time the human consciousness will eventually turn out whether it is simply a process or truly part of something deeper.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 6 years ago from West By God

      Be careful with your thoughts because they will manifest.A few Spiritual leaders have said this many times. Want to see who controls us........ look in the mirror.

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Yes I can conclude that the data doesn't offer enough credible evidence, but places larger insight into the neurological aspects of psychology and science.

    • poetvix profile image

      poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      While I do not agree with the conclusions drawn from the data, I do find it highly interesting. I think the brain remains a deep mystery that we may never fully understand but I like that some are using the scientific method to try.

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      It is definitely a wonder just how much our subconscious controls our thoughts and actions behind the scenes. Thank you for the compliment.

    • Cara.R profile image

      Cara.R 6 years ago from New York

      Very interesting hub,

      I had a sleep deprived EEG. I was told to get comfortable and they were looking to see if I had frontal lobe epilepsy. Which I did not.

      However; I thought I was going to be there awhile and get a chance to sleep. Next thing I know the tech told me I was done and I said, but I never slept and he said yes you did.

      It makes you wonder :) I'd like to think I make my own choices to a degree. Your hub is food for thought. Vote Up!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 6 years ago from UK

      Interesting. I’ve only had time to watch one video so far, but will be back! Like you say in your comment above, I have an open mind about this. There is so much we don’t understand, and possibly never will. Fascinating though, thanks for the hub.

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I don't know if it is there or not there, but very simply wanted to show the world an experiment that gives light into the subconscious process before the physical action was taken. I do appreciate your comment though. Thank you.

    • Cagsil profile image

      Cagsil 6 years ago from USA or America

      I don't agree with the philosophical ideology of "Free Will" was given or bestowed upon humankind. The Human Will is free and not controlled by anything except oneself, albeit, that control is on a subconscious level, which the conscious mind has limited awareness of to begin with.