Free will is a problem. If all of us are physical machines, obeying laws of physics, then all our movements and mental states are caused by events that took place earlier. What is caused is fully determined by the cause. So whatever we do now and in the next minute is all pre-ordained by antecedent events and causes, and we have no control over it. How can we then have free will? The fact that I am writing this note on free will — is it totally and completely determined by the events from time immemorial? That doesn’t sound right.
Neuroscience has a finding that may question the way we think of our free will.
We now know that there is a time lag of about half a second between the moment “we” take a decision and the moment we become aware of it. This time lag raises the question of who is taking the decision because, in the absence of our conscious awareness, it is not clear that the decision is really ours. This finding has even cast doubt on our notion of free will.
In the experimental setup testing this phenomenon, a subject is hooked up to a computer that records his brain activities (EEG). The subject is then asked make a conscious decision to move either the right hand or the left hand at a time of his choosing. The choice of right or left is also up to the subject. The computer always detects which hand the subject is going to move about half a second before the subject is aware of his own intention. The computer can then order the subject to move that hand–an order that the subject will be unable to disobey, shattering the notion of free-will.
Free will may be a fabrication of our brain after the real action. In other words, the real action takes place by instinct, and the sense of decision is introduced to our consciousness as an afterthought. If we could somehow limit our existence to tiny compartments in time, as Zen suggests, then we might not feel that we had free will.
Ref: This post is an edited excerpt from my book, The Unreal Universe.