1 0

Free will test of people with "split brain" (aka "alien hand" syndrome).

(This is something that I've linked to a few months ago. But it seems like a very popular topic - understandably so. Also, this was suppose to be a reply to another comment. But the original post for that comment is of a different subject altogether. And instead posting an unrelated topic in that post, I thought it best to create this new post.)

I think some people can't objectively assess the question on whether we have free will because they are limiting "reaction to external stimuli" to actions like breathing, eating, drinking, having sex, moving where you are pushed, rolling down a hill. etc.

I believe that "reaction to external simuli" include everything that our whole body and our brains are capable of doing: talking to someone, signing up to a website, reading a book, choosing which book to read, falling in love with that other person, picking up an umbrella because rain was forecast, working out the hypothenuse of a triangle, determining stock market trends, determining climate trends, etc.

Studies of "Alien hand syndrome" show that, when the connections between the two brains are damaged or was removed for medical purposes (e.g. treat a mental disorder), one side of our bodies will react (e.g. pick-up the pen on the table) to a test independent of the other side - and WITHOUT us being able to describe that reaction.

IF we have free will, how can it be explained that people with split brains, when shown only their left eye a name of an object (I.e. the right eye is covered), and asked which word they see, the person will say "I see nothing". But at that same time, at that same moment in time, in that same test, the person's left hand will move to pick up the object named.

It suggests that the right brain SAW the name of the object and SAW the object on the table - and therefore reacted to the test. The right brain, although separated from the left brain, is A functioning brain ON ITS OWN.

But the person couldn't answer the question "what did you see?" because the left brain didn't see anything (because the right eye was covered). And, because of the split brain, the right brain couldn't pass the information along to the left brain, which controls speech - causing the person to answer "I didn't see anything".

This suggests that our thoughts could be the RESULTS (the BYPRODUCTS) of our reactions to external stimuli. And not the other way around. I.e. our thoughts do not direct our reactions to external stimuli.

Just to clarify something here, in case it's not common knowledge anymore. The left side of our brains control the right side of our bodies. And vice-versa.

Jump to about 1m into this video where CGP Grey explains the test and the results. Or watch the whole thing. It's interesting.

And jump to 3m and 15secs of this video which also explains the test above. Or watch the whole thing. It's interesting.

And a third video talking about the same subject - but with references to Sam Harris' thoughts and ideas:

Weird, huh?

I'll leave you to form your own conclusions to this, of course. But please, do not reply without considering the tests. Deny the tests, if you wish, but accept that act as denial - rather than a product of your critical thinking.

(I'll tag @Loudpaintings to this, because this was a reply to one of his comments elsewhere that was addressed to me.)

SamKerry 7 Mar 2

Enjoy being online again!

Welcome to the community of good people who base their values on evidence and appreciate civil discourse - the social network you will enjoy.

Create your free account

1 comment

Feel free to reply to any comment by clicking the "Reply" button.


It seems that I have no issues at all with any of this information, except the idea that we are still making choices. Would it not seem like our mundane restriction of "choice" based on our vastly influenced stimuli would be an illusion as well?

I am still confused how superdeterminism can be reconciled with choice. To say we have "no" free will but still make choices seems like a paradox to me.

Otherwise, I am fine with everything else. Am I missing something? That is the only part I don't understand. Thanks man!

I'm not entirely sure what "super determinism" actually mean. I had to look it up.

From my little reading of it's page on Wikipedia, and if I understood that page, it states that everything has been determined from the arrow of time created by "the Big Bang".

I'm not a psychologist nor a physicist, so I don't accept that ... yet. Maybe I'll be convinced when more findings on the subject are released.

To reply to your question, and personally, I think choice is the illusion itself. And therefore the statement "we have no free will" is not a paradox for me.

For example: I choose to reply to this discussion right now because I was away all of yesterday and couldn't reply then. Because I read your post only now - even if I knew you replied yesterday. I chose not to reply then because I knew that I will be away the whole day.

I had pizza at the picnic yesterday instead of a meal of steak and baked potatoes because pizza is more convenient. I drove the car down a different route because it was a weekend and this route doesn't have as heavy a traffic as a normal weekday.

I chose to pat that black dog because it was closer to me. After, I chose to walk over to the other dog to give it a pat because I had not said hello to him yet.

See? I see no action I have made that was not predicated by another previous event.

There is always another event that causes new events. New events in our General Relativity-scaled world don't just pop in from nothing.

(I think particles popping in and out of existence with no prior event in the Quantum Mechanics-scaled world do happen. But they're too small to affect our General Relativity-scaled world. But what do I know 😛 - even scientists who have dedicated their lives to the study can't find the common ground between GR and QM.)

I'm not saying that we are "dumb passengers".

Our bodies, our knowledge, our intellect reacts to our environment - gaining more knowledge as we experience the results of those reactions. And our future bodies, knowledge and intellect react according to those new knowledge and experiences.

But again, what do I know. I'm just an internet user.

Can you give examples of choices you've made or thoughts you've had that have no prior cause - whether biased toward or against those choices or thoughts?

EDIT: Hey, thanks for reading my post - they can sometimes (always) be dense.

@SamKerry Well I don't know if I am really making choices or not that are not full dictated by a prior cause. It sure seems like I am making choices, but it might be an illusion.

If this is the case though, can anyone really be responsible for their actions? Wouldn't this destroy any sense or morality, responsibility, and especially punishment?

@Loudpaintings But even the choices of doing good or doing evil are dictated by past experiences.

I'm hitting my limits of psychology - which is zero. But I believe that yes, we're still responsible for our actions because regardless of whether we chose to take in an orphan or rob a corner store, it was us, our bodies, that acted.

Again, I really don't know. I can only ask questions - to myself also.

What about psychopaths whose brains were "not wired correctly" and cannot feel empathy for others - regardless of any care given to them? They are still held responsible when they are caught breaking the law.

I really don't know, mate. But, for me, I believe that choice is illusion. But as one of those videos state, its "ok" - that it doesn't really change anything about us - because we are what we are. E.g. I don't suddenly have the urge to murder people, or to rob a bank, or for that matter, to take in an orphan. And knowing all this (a past experience), I can continue to search for situations which allows me to do what I want to do - if you know what I mean.


I will try to clarify this a little more. This is why I disagree with the video and Sam Harris. I have been corresponding with my former philosophy professor with the same information, so I have quite a lot to say on the matter, but I will start at the beginning topic and move on from there.

Choice - an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

Will - the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.

The key word there is decision. Are you able to make decisions or not?

The word "no" in regards to quantity or value is absolute, meaning 0. It would then follow that if we have NO free will, we have no ability to actually make decisions. Our actual mental faculties are just a misinterpretation of us basically executing a computer script based on all the causes of existence that have preceded us. This would be what superdeterminism is, meaning we have NO free will.

By definition, at least by the definitions above from the dictionary, it is a paradox. If we do not have faculties to decide (will), then how can we make decisions (choice).

I am not disagreeing with the idea that there is no free will. It could indeed be so. However, I am disagreeing with the stance that you can still make decisions in the situation. It is actually impossible, unless you change the definition of choice or will.

Sam Harris and the video are both muddying the definition of free will. If they are saying that all of our decisions are heavily influenced by causes that are out of our control, then that is a very accurate statement. If they are saying there are a lot of subconscious aspects influencing our choices, that we are by definition unaware of, then that is very accurate.

If we say we have NO free will but make choices, that seems irreconcilable. The only way around that is to use a different definition for either/both words, which is where the confusion may be.

I would love to discuss moral responsibility, but I think we need to establish our definitions first. Please let me know if you agree with my current definitions or if there is something we should amend. Thanks!

@Loudpaintings yeah, definitely am interested - but give me a bit of time to get this to sink in. I've hit the limits of my understanding in regards to the meaning of choice and will in the scope of this topic.

I watched all those videos I linked to only recently so they are still fresh in my mind. But they are only primers. I'll dig up more of Harris' talks on the subject and listen to them.

To be truthful, I have no quailfications in any of this apart from Harris' podcast and a couple of other YouTube science education channels. But now, you've got me interested to look at all this more.

Also I have a personal interest in this - not only because it is interesting. I'm a computer programmer by trade and I have a bias towards determinism. I'm not saying the I live as a computer - analysing all options and choosing the best. But everytime I make a choice (good or bad), I can always point at why I made the choice.

Give me a couple of days or so. I'll research on how morality fits into my belief that we have no free will.

E.g. Why is it that I suddenly didn't become a murder nor a care giver after I convinced myself that all my future actions will not made by my own conscious self.

@SamKerry sure thing. But before anything, lets just consider my 2 definitions and go from there before we get into anything deeper because it tends to get convoluted. What is free will and what is choice? The terms are littered throughout arguments, so its important to know what we're talking about. Can't wait to continue our discussion =)

@Loudpaintings Ahhh yeah, I'm fine with that.

Here are your definitions. I've copied them for ease of our discussion. Choice - an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities. Will - the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.

I'm happy with those definitions. But I'd like to challenge them.

In the first video of my post, the test subject replied with "I didn't see anything" when asked "What did you see?" WHILE the test subject's left hand correctly picked up the Rubik's Cube (because that was the word on the card shown only to the test subject's left eye).

The test subject didn't know they had "chosen" to pick up the Rubik's Cube nor did the test subject know that they had read the word "Rubik's Cube" on the card. If the test subject had known it, they wouldn't have replied with "I didn't see anything".

QUESTIONS: Is there an explanation that you can think for how the test subject was oblivious to the fact that they picked-up the Rubik's Cube correctly? Was a conscious choice made without the test subject being conscious of making it? If it was the subject's will to pick up the Rubik's Cube, why were they not aware of it?

Of course, I've got my own unprofessional answers to these questions. But I'm interested to see what you make of it.

Feel free to pose questions like mine back to me - to challenge my views. I'm sure you'll have ideas that I've not thought about. And I don't want to directly lead you to any conclusions. Instead, I want to challenge your views so that you can arrive at whatever conclusion all by yourself.

@SamKerry i actually have no problem with the notion that we actually have no free will.

Your example seems to be evidence that we actually don't actually have free will, which is fine.

My difficulty is somehow trying to say that we have no free will, but we still have choice.

We either have a will within restricted parameters or we don't have any at all.

@Loudpaintings Ahhh...I see where you're getting at now.

I totally missed it because I didn't know that I my posts were suggesting that we have choice. I'm actually stating that we have neither choice nor free will.

As far as my understanding can take me, I believe that our bodies and minds react to our environment based on our past experiences - and therefore, we have no free will in the choices we make.

To phrase it more mildly, and to bring the idea of "choice" back to it being real: "The choices we make are never random and are never without reason. Instead, the choices we make are based on pre-conceived beliefs based on our past experiences."

But to anyone who follows that statement to its full conclusion, they'll arrive at "we have no free will and the freedom of choice is an illusion."

Awesome. So then we can move on from here. If there is absolutely no free will, it removes all moral responsibility. The notion of insanity, or temporary insanity, removes or reduces punishment due to the fact that you were not acting of your own volition. That's why a lot of lawyers go for this.

If a bank robber hopped in your car, put a gun to your head and told you to drive, you would not be liable for a speeding ticket because you were being forced to speed. Technically you could disobey the robber and see what happens, but you would not be liable for any traffic violations you commit under those circumstances.

Now imagine ANY scenario where you have absolutely no choice in the matter. Zero. Regardless if the outcome was good or bad, you would not be responsible for the reward or punishment whatsoever. As a boulder rolls down a hill and crashes into a car, you are as responsible as a boulder is. You are just a part of the universe's natural processes. You don't actually have a will. Your whole thought processes is an illusion. You are just an accumulation of particles being acted upon by everything that has come before it.

This is the consequence of having zero will. Most people don't like this idea, but there really is no getting around it. So Harris and that video try to say we have choices still, but no free will, but I think we have established how fallacious that is.

It is important to note that this is not my belief. What I like to do is analyze systems to see if they are coherent or not. I think as a programmer, you can appreciate that. The video and Harris viewpoint is an attempt to save morality while removing free will, which is irreconcilable. It doesn't logically follow.

Now an alternative is to say that we are HEAVILY influenced by the past, genetics, and external stimuli. However, our consciousness let's us act freely within these parameters. In a nutshell, playing the hand you were dealt. In poker, you get dealt some cards, then you play to the best of your ability based on your circumstance. The problem here is, we don't really know what consciousness is, or really how to define it. So there is no real definitive way to justify it except by our perceived reality.

If these experiments are counter to the notion we have a conscious will, and it's just an illusion, then there is no morality. A murderer is as complicit as a meteor causing a mass extinction.

"You Have No Free Will - But That's Okay" (A different version)

Let me explain why it really is okay, without hopefully contradicting myself. One, you have no choice, and we established that you're not responsible for anything, so don't worry about it lol. Two, you cannot live life without the illusion of free will, even if you tried. We are incapable of experiencing a reality where we do not believe you are making choices. Everything you do feels like you are deciding. Even if you decided to lay in bed for the rest of your life, you would feel like you are choosing it. So technically, it will have zero impact on your reality regardless.

Again, I am just analyzing Harris's system. I think he's wrong here trying to save choice but remove free will. My personal belief is my analogy of playing the hand you are dealt. Not fully free will, but a heavily influenced will. We make choices within restricted parameters. We know for a fact we are influenced, and it sure seems like we make choices, and choices are the only thing that actually gives value to life. "What we do" in life is what life is really.. Knowing our restrictions gives us a better understanding, having a will gives us agency to change our lives based on a better understanding.

But I could be wrong, there is no free will, and we are confused accumulations of particles. I think Harris is incorrect, but he can't fault me for that, because I have no choice in the matter =)

@Loudpaintings Yeah, I like to analyse shit. It's a statement I've made on many comments here as I defend my long-ass ramblings. 😀

I like your alternative meaning for the topic. I can take that as true - as equally as I can consider that "no free will" is also true. It's a contradiction - but only a little. I mean, for me, there are no absolutes. (I don't think any critical thinker would ever argue for an absolute claim.)

And the statement, "our actions, chosen by our consciousness, are heavily influenced by past experience", is heading towards the statement, "we have no free will". It's a better analysis than simply claiming "everything I do is my own choice and has not been dictated by my past". I'm sure the truth is between the extremes.

I agree with your "it's ok". As you stated, nothing actually changes in what we do.

As for morality and responsibility, let me take it one bit a time.


Is it time to consider that, maybe, "morality" as we know it by it's current meaning is obsolete in this discussion?

What I mean is ... morality is usually said to come from "within" the person. That it is an actual "thing" that makes that person do good or do bad. Their conscience??? I don't know.

But with this discussion, I can consider that morality is the whole of our being. From our DNA, our upbringing within our family, then within our social circles, etc. What I mean is that: when they say "our actions are based on our morality" or "our morality dictates our decisions", they actually mean "our actions are heavily influenced by our past experiences".


I have to hold murderers responsible - even when I consider that they had no free will in their actions.

Removing the "WHY" they murdered, doesn't automatically transfer their actions to others. They were murderers regardless of whether they had a "brain snap" or their upbringing taught them that violence solves problems, or that their brains produce dopamine that makes them feel good when they do bad things, etc.

Does the word, "responsibility", need to be constrained? Maybe. What I mean is, the word, responsibility, only goes so far as the person or thing that cause an event to occur.

We can't blame deaths by meteor on an astronomical event that happened millions of years ago that placed the asteroid on the path to hit the Earth today.

And similarly, we can't put the blame of murderers on their absent parents, or on their parents' DNA, or on other failed social systems. They were "responsible" because they caused the deaths. Why they caused them, is irrelevant. For me, anyway.

Understanding why they murdered is not the same as holding them responsible (or irresponsible) for the murders.

You mentioned that "what we do in life is life". I agree with that in regards to the personal meaning of "life" - as in what I do is my life.

As for the general meaning of "life" - as in "what is the meaning of life?", I believe that it is for the survival of our DNA by reproduction - which includes not only health concerns but also concerns for our states of mind. We've evolved to the point that our state of living is not only dependent on breathing, eating, and not being eaten by other species, but also on stimulating our minds with scientific endeavours, the arts, and imaginations.

And any persons that disrupt that process need to be cast out. Hence, I cannot dismiss murderers' actions.

I think the scope of the word "responsibility" needs to be limited to that one and immediate cause.

Final stuff

Did I address (most of) your points? I think we've come to an agreement in regards to "free will".

But what about "morality" and "responsibility"? It seemed like you were arguing that we can't hold people responsible. Or that you were asking how we can hold people responsible. While I'm arguing that we can - with my constrained meaning of the word "responsibility".

As for us being a confused accumulation of mainly oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous atoms ... I concur! "Confused" being the critical point. It suggests that we think.

@SamKerry ya i think we can put the matter to rest, at least between the two of us. We presented information to each other, but we have slightly different understandings that satisfy our criteria for acceptance. That is cool with me.

It is far more important to me to hold people responsible for their actions, that includes both positive and negative actions. The idea that we are unable for me to make choices seems a bit absurd to me really.

It would seem to me that morality, regardless of your criteria for right or wrong, is predicated upon the notion of choice. But i already stated my case for that. Even without the world morality, there seems to be no responsibility without choice.

So I tend to have a difficult time with hard determinism. But I think I have made my peace with it =)

You can include a link to this post in your posts and comments by including the text q:31237
Agnostic does not evaluate or guarantee the accuracy of any content. Read full disclaimer.