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Medicine Science

Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking 244

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the have-no-choice-but-to-post-this dept.
WSJdpatton writes "Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision — an eternity at the speed of thought. Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice, writes WSJ's Robert Lee Hotz."
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Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking

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  • 10 seconds. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YttriumOxide (837412) <yttriumox&gmail,com> on Saturday June 28, 2008 @08:58AM (#23980451) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure I can accept this... Primarily because I generally make a decision less than 10 seconds after receiving the final piece of information that I will use to make the decision - often, it's even less than 10 seconds after I knew I had a decision to make. So, how can I have made it before I knew I had to make it? I think the article needs to clarify their definition of "decision".
    • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:05AM (#23980493) Journal

      A common trick I like to do to figure out what I'm thinking:

      If I'm having trouble deciding something, I flip a coin. Then, I go with the side I was hoping would come up.

      • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:48AM (#23980853)
        And if your decision requires more than a yes/no answer? Do you use a 64-sided die and assign a choice to each side, and then memorize those assignments?
        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 28, 2008 @10:07AM (#23981093)

          Sure. Don't you? :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by $0.02 (618911)
          Why would anyone use 64-sided die when 6 coins can do the trick?
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Maxime (1178763)
            I see the funny side of your comment, but 6 coins aren't equivalent to a 64 dice: they are indistinguishable so HHHTTT == TTTHHH.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Gewalt (1200451)
              000000-111111 in binary is 64 possible choices.
            • You could use the same coin six times and note the results, or have six coins in a little enclosure with 6 separate compartments, then always read from the same side of the enclosure..

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by DirePickle (796986)
              Penny, dime, nickel, quarter, half dollar, dollar.
              • by CastrTroy (595695)
                For Canadians, it's penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar coin, 2 dollar coin. All these coins are in common use.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by hvm2hvm (1208954)
          I actually made a program that chose randomly from a list of options. I ran it until I was happy with the result :D
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dodobh (65811)

          Just toss the coin 'n' times, where 'n' is a positive integer such that 2^n >= k > 2^(n-1) where k is the number of possible choices.

        • by Prune (557140)

          He can encode the choice to binary and use multiple coin flips.

      • Re:I believe it. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @10:12AM (#23981163) Homepage Journal

        I used to do the same thing.

        This study doesn't bring anything new to the table - we've known for a LOOOONG time that what we perceive as "consciousness" is really more akin to a "ghost in the machine."

        What is important, however, is that, despite all this, we can actually, with enough thought, make decisions based on logic, as opposed to "feelings" or "what we think is reasonable."

        Most of what we do, we do on "autopilot", and our consciousness re-orders the stream of events so that we believe we "decided" to do what we did. Classic example - think of any time when you jammed on the brakes because of someone who rushed in front of the car ... and think back, and you'll realize that you already had braked before you even were aware of the person, because even the half-second lag between perception and stepping on the brake pedal would have been too long.

        • by rnswebx (473058) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @10:45AM (#23981525)

          What is important, however, is that, despite all this, we can actually, with enough thought, make decisions based on logic, as opposed to "feelings" or "what we think is reasonable."

          That's a lot of commas.

        • I tend to agree with your observation, but I have to give you -1 for "gratuitous" use of "quotation marks."

        • Re:I believe it. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Dun Malg (230075) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @01:18PM (#23983335) Homepage

          Most of what we do, we do on "autopilot", and our consciousness re-orders the stream of events so that we believe we "decided" to do what we did.

          Well, we did decide. We just didn't decide right then. We decided to brake for obstacles back when we learned to drive, then consciously reinforced that reaction. The conscious mind is the "after action analyst". The fact that the conscious mind feels like it and its programmed, autonomous slave sub-minds are one and the same is where the "illusion" comes from. Really, the problem is that people keep trying to separate the "conscious" from the "unconscious". It's all wired together.

      • I've done precisely the same thing, even (especially) on some really big decisions. Haven't regretted it yet!
    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:05AM (#23980497)
      Well, give yourself a little more time and think it over, then maybe you'll accept it.
    • Re:10 seconds. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by John_Sauter (595980) <John_Sauter@systemeyescomputerstore.com> on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:20AM (#23980619) Homepage

      The major experiment uses a flawed definition of "decision". If I were the subject it might take me several seconds of unconscious cogitation to formulate a plan: when the next letter flashes I will press the left button, for example. The real decision is made below the level of consciousness, so the letter recorded is the one shown when the action is started, not the one shown when the decision-making process is started.

      This is similar to driving a car. When you are driving to a well-known destination, when do you "decide" to turn the steering wheel to enter the parking lot? At the conscious level you decide when you see the driveway, and that there is no traffic in your way. The real decision, however, is made as part of the plan to drive to your destination, which may have been decided minutes or hours earlier.

      The experiment is really about the unconscious part of the decision-making process. That is interesting, but it has nothing to do with free will, since our unconscious is as much a part of us as our conscious.

      • Re:10 seconds. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mysticgoat (582871) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @11:00AM (#23981715) Homepage Journal

        I don't agree with several aspects of parent post, but I do agree that TFA's introduction of "free will" into the discussion is a red herring.

        The experiments show some very interesting things about the mind's mechanisms, in particular about the relationship of the self-aware, language-using part— call it "ego"— to the parts that do not have direct access to language and might not directly interact with the world. But author of TFA seems to be working with an outdated, simple model that places the ego at the top of the decision hierarchy. Which raises the question of free-will since with this model it appears that the top of the pyramid is being dictated to by mechanistic events happening in lower parts of the mind.

        Bob Newhart had a show in the 1980s (Newhart [wikipedia.org]) which introduced the comedic trio of Larry, and his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl. Larry was the only one who spoke or directly interacted with the other characters: Darryl and Darryl were always hanging back, witnessing the action but never participating (although the audience was able to see their reactions to events). But when a decision was called for, the three would go into a quick huddle and then Larry would state what the decision was. IIRC, at least once in the series he said something like "I like the idea, but my brother Daryl didn't like it so we won't do it."

        There are good reasons to believe that our minds are organized the same way: that the part of the self we are conscious of is the spokesman for very close siblings who happen to share a single body, and our decisions are all group decisions. There is no restriction on the possibility of free will in this: whether the group is constrained in its choices cannot be determined (at least at this time). The spokesman is of course constrained by the group's decision, and that part may or may not understand all the factors that led to a given decision. But that doesn't negate the free will of the group.

        This model supports the research findings, where instrumentation was able to deduce something about the non-verbal deciders seconds before the spokesman had finished polling his sibs. It also can explain the way someone astute in reading non-verbal cues can make very good guesses about what an individual will decide to do, sometimes before that person is himself aware of his decision.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wytcld (179112)

        "This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

        Big implausible supposition there: that decisions made without immediate reflective consciousness cannot possibly be free. The assumption is made that arguments and observations supporting the premise that we do have free will depend for their validity on all the aspects of agency being within the halo of consciousness - where consciousness is further defined as the capacity to report such self-awareness to an experimenter.

        We can assume that

        • by Prune (557140)
          There are even suggestions by serious and respect theorists that in some sense it is consciousness all the way down

          Yes, by physicists thinking they're qualified in metaphysics and psychology.

          The more sensible view: consciousness has nothing to do with basic physics (other than reducing to it through the usual theoretical reductionism psychology->neurology->biology->chemistry->physics). http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0412182 [arxiv.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by magisterx (865326)
        This is a brilliant point. Most of our thought is done well ahead of time, and much of learning (especially in physical activities, but it applies to other things as well) is training ourselves to push things that initially required conscious thought into automatic activities. When I was first learning to drive, I had to think about every time I turned on the turn signal, how often I looked in the rearview mirror, even how much to turn the wheel and I often over corrected. I also didn't think of much of
      • Look who submitted this story, it was apparently someone at the Wall Street Journal: "WSJdpatton [wsj.com]". I copied the link from the Slashdot story. I wish Slashdot would post a notice that a story is either influenced/paid, or a real reader-written story.

        I agree, it's flawed, and the results are vastly exaggerated: ' "The idea that conscious deliberation before making a decision is always good is simply one of those illusions consciousness creates for us," Dr. Dijksterhuis said.'
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by linzeal (197905)
      This is a study using the mechanical action of pressing buttons. If this was based on people and their wonderful wacky analytic thought processes I would be more impressed, yawn.
    • Re:10 seconds. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:38AM (#23980765) Journal
      It is clarified. Apparently you didn't read the article? :)

      It is not an experiment that backs up the claims of the summary at all. Challenging conventional notions of choice? Not at all.....how often do you make a choice based on logic anyway? What flavor of ice cream to eat? It's what you feel like eating. What to do next after you get home from work? Whatever you feel like doing. Some decisions don't require any work from the logic point of the brain.

      For example, the 'choice' made by the subjects of this experiment was whether they should push a right button or a left button. When confronted with such a choice, I would first sit there for a second wondering, "how the heck am I going to decide which one is best?" and then after finding nothing, give up and push whichever button I randomly felt like pushing. There IS no rational choice that can be made in such a situation. It's not a rational question.

      On the other hand, I'm not sure the actual study is useless (even if the WSJ's analysis is). Seems they are using brain scanners to figure out more how the brain works, which is a good thing.
    • Re:10 seconds. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kripkenstein (913150) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:52AM (#23980901) Homepage

      I'm not sure I can accept this...

      You don't need to, because it isn't true. The research is (shock!) misrepresented.

      In a particular type of task, they could predict with 70% accuracy which hand would be used 10 seconds ahead of time. That's the evidence for the summary.

      What this shows is that, in this sort of task, some 'unconscious impulse' precedes the action. In this particular task the impulse predicted correctly 70% of the time (note that even that isn't amazingly high, since 50% you get by random choice). Now, this might be very different with other decisions. For example, the impulse might be right only 55% of the time in other areas, perhaps because the conscious brain overrides it ("I shouldn't eat that; I'll order a salad instead.").

      That said, it's very nice research (when not misrepresented), and important. We're only starting to figure out how the brain works, we'll probably change our theories about it several times before we hit it right.

      A final note: The article is a little populist in treating it as 'surprising' that the unconscious is so important. But this was well-known in academia for a long time. The basic finding is that we are conscious of the products of thought, not the processes. That is, when you play Doom, you don't directly see what makes you decide to use a particular weapon at a particular time. What you do directly sense is that this is a good thing to do, and you do it. Now, sometimes you can make explicit the underlying process - e.g., "I should go over there because it's safer, and a weapon should spawn nearby also" - but this elaboration was not fully present before. There are few cases in which thought processes are entirely explicit, logic and mathematics perhaps the best examples (and even they are not 'purely' conscious).

      • by Feynman (170746)
        The basic finding is that we are conscious of the products of thought, not the processes.

        I agree completely. I was thinking about it like a computer and monitor. A computer will function without a monitor. You use the monitor to see what it's doing--and there's a delay between a result being computed and it showing up on the monitor.

    • Re:10 seconds. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dreamchaser (49529) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:53AM (#23980911) Homepage Journal

      I'm very sure I can't accept it. Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide what I am going to do when responding to a threat situation. It's not just a matter of reflex and ingrained response. Time slows down immediately and I can often sift through a large number of options and decision points. Is this really a threat? If so, what's the best response? Run? Strike? Duck?

      The same goes for more routine and mundane decisions, the way you put it exactly. Unless I am some how looking into the future and getting data that isn't there ten seconds before it's available, it takes me a LOT less time than 10 seconds to make a decision after I have all the information needed for said decision.

      • by Jay L (74152) * <jay+slashNO@SPAMjay.fm> on Saturday June 28, 2008 @10:54AM (#23981631) Homepage

        I'm very sure I can't accept it. Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide

        I, too, am manly and decisive, with lightning-fast reflexes.

        • by Xyrus (755017) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @12:21PM (#23982725) Journal

          Yeah, you're girlfriend told me. The manly and decisive part is ok, but the lightning fast part, not so much.

          ~X~

        • Than putting standard reflexes to work putting you in an advantageous position.

          e.g. The standard reflex might be to simply duck and cover your head. Someone trained in a realistic martial art (rather than playing tag) will certainly also duck and cover their head in exactly the same way in an identical situation, but may then follow that by trapping an opponent's arm and smacking them in the face with an elbow. For example the first movements of heian nidan/pinan shodan.

          It may look like lightning reflexes,

        • And I, too, make decisions without conscious evaluation. Which hand do I block that incoming punch with? After 30 years of martial arts, I hope you're reacting _long_ before you decide.
      • by nomadic (141991)
        Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide what I am going to do when responding to a threat situation.

        Have you actually been involved in a threat situation so you know how you'd react? Training isn't the same as real life.
      • But the study that you have put in (me too - both martial arts and sport) allows your conscious mind to delegate the action of blocking, punching, hitting the ball, whatever to a learned reflex - your mind spots a pattern of attack, or a backhand pass down the line - it matters not - it is all delegated to the learned behaviour, with only minor input from the senses.

        I prefer to think of it thus: you are the sum of your experiences, and in a fight / tennis match, you draw on the sum of what you are, without

      • by tgibbs (83782)

        I'm very sure I can't accept it. Having studied various martial arts for the past 30 years, I can tell you with certainty that I can engage in action the instant I decide what I am going to do when responding to a threat situation. It's not just a matter of reflex and ingrained response. Time slows down immediately and I can often sift through a large number of options and decision points. Is this really a threat? If so, what's the best response? Run? Strike? Duck?

        I've done martial arts for over 30 years al

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Fascinating. I have the exact opposite experience. I generally make a decision 10 days after receiving the final piece of information that I will use to make the decision. For example, the boss says, "Hey, Eugene. Here's a project for you. Get it done by the end of today.", and then 10 days later, I think to myself, "Hmm, maybe I should get started on that project...".

    • by mikael (484)

      Sounds like dual path execution for CPU's. The processor calculates both possible future states of the system, at the same time as the condition is being evaluated. Then the actual result selects the new state of the processor.

      By the wording of the article you could say a CPU makes the decision before the result is known.

      From the article:

      Tuning in on the electrical dialogue between working neurons, they pinpointed the cells of what they called a "free choice" brain circuit that in milliseconds synchronized


    • I agree their simple result is not completely applicable. However, one way to look at things is that your mind has worked with the previous information to *partially* prepare the context and decision point, anticipating the last piece of information.

    • by fugue (4373)
      Uh... from the article:

      While inside the brain scanner, the students watched random letters stream across a screen. Whenever they felt the urge, they pressed a button with their right hand or a button with their left hand. Then they marked down the letter that had been on the screen in the instant they had decided to press the button.

      What's unclear? Obviously it depends on the decision. I've seen monkey experiments in which the subjects' neurons fired unambiguously a second or so before action was taken, and I've seen people decide subconsciously what car to buy weeks before they stop gathering information that is, in the end, only used to trick their conscious minds into thinking that they've researched the question thoroughly...

    • by fugue (4373)
      After reading about Louisiana, I suppose that further proof is all the religious people out there. You can give them all the evidence and reason you want, and they consciously process it, but they are quite powerless against their subconscious decision made years ago.
    • by spun (1352)

      Easy, you actually made the decision before you received the last piece of data. And remember, your decision to make a decision was also ten seconds behind you being conscious of it. Your consciousness might not have been aware you had a decision to make, but your brain was.

      • That makes sense for some limited circumstances but not all - and if does not apply to all, then it can not be a valid theory as stated (it could be valid with rewording of course though).

        Example: I come home, and find a note stuck to my front door telling me to call my landlord. In less than 10 seconds, I will have made a decision whether to call him or not based on the available information. There's no way I could have "pre-made" that decision in my brain because the decision couldn't have existed befor

    • by luwain (66565)

      I think that this decision time could vary widely between different individuals and different "groups". After years of "blitz" chess, I find that my decision-making must be mostly based on pattern-recognition and specialized memory, because the choices of plans and moves when I play "3 seconds/move" on ICC (Internet Chess Club) or "72 Hours/move" on ItsYourTurn.com, do not differ much at all. In a way, this may validate their findings as much as dispute them...(I can't decide :)

  • by Fustican (897132) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:08AM (#23980523)
    The test the article discusses seems rather arbitrary -- letters streaming across a screen, and you decide when to press a button. Perhaps what they detected was the buildup of boredom? Analyzing complex inputs and reasoning to a decision is a far more complex thing. In any case, I'm not convinced that all my decisions are predetermined by fate or particle physics.
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      The test the article discusses seems rather arbitrary -- letters streaming across a screen, and you decide when to press a button. Perhaps what they detected was the buildup of boredom?

      Well, the article also states that they could predict with some accuracy which button the subjects would press:

      Studying the brain behavior leading up to the moment of conscious decision, the researchers identified signals that let them know when the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students knew it themselves. About 70% of the time, the researchers could also predict which button the students would push.

    • by Robert1 (513674) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:49AM (#23980863) Homepage

      From personal experience this is a very likely to be the case. In college when I participated in random psych experiments, as required by the class, I would notice gaping errors in testing that completely tainted the results.

      Example: I signed up for 1/2 hour experiment, I get there and the tell me it's an hour long and I will be analyzing erotic art with a female student. They emphasized that, which I thought was pretty unnecessary and odd, and there was no girl in the waiting room with me before the experiment. Anyway I put all this together and figured it was just a fake-out and that I wasn't going to be doing any actual analysis. Sure enough the researcher comes in and says "ok she will be coming in soon, rearrange the tables and chairs how you like." Uhuh, yeah this isn't contrived. Anyway I intentionally put the chairs right next to each other just to be contrary, because at this point it was beyond ridiculous to keep playing along. Anyway then they came in, took pictures of the chairs, and told me it was all a trick to see how I would position them - WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED?!

      Anyway, almost all the experiments I did had some kind of fatal flaw in it. I had another one - similar to what you're talking about - in which I was told to look at various numerical matrices which were then taken away and I was asked to answer 5 timed-questions about it. If I finished the question block a new matrix showed up, but the questions were complicated enough that I often could not even finish them before the timer ran out. This went on for ONE HOUR. After 10 minutes I was mentally exhausted and just putting in whatever for answers to get through all my blocks as fast as possible - I had totally stopped caring. At this point I also assumed that this must be the actual experiment - to gauge exhaustion. But no, when the researcher came in he thanked me and that's it - if it had been another experiment he would have had to tell me.

      So unless we see the entire experimental procedure written down, it's impossible to determine if their findings were legitimately obtained. Unlike other disciplines, psych/neuro results are particular susceptible to improper experimental procedure. Like you say, they could have just detected boredom.

  • Choice? (Score:4, Funny)

    by dfn5 (524972) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:10AM (#23980543) Journal

    Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice

    There is no choice/free will. Everything is deterministic. At least that's what I told the judge.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I was the judge: I told him that I don't have free will either, and was predetermined to sentence him to 5-10. Underage donkey porn is just sick.

    • by tygt (792974)
      The devil made me do it, oh, oh, oh,oh It was the act of a man possessed, now The devil made me do it, oh, oh ,oh, oh Your honor, I am innocent!
  • There is book by Malcolm Gladwell called "Blink [gladwell.com]" that explores something along the same lines, what the author called "the power of thinking without thinking". A quick skim of its wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] should give a good summary. It is a good read.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:15AM (#23980589)

    I've never met a sane woman who took more than 10 seconds to decide she'd NEVER sleep with me.

    This is news?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dgatwood (11270)

      Yeah, but according to the study, this probably means that she decided it long before she told you.... This is why dating sucks. The guy is always the last one to know that the girl he likes is just screwing with his head, has no interest in him whatsoever, and is just using him to piss off her parents, get free home repairs, make her ex jealous, etc.

      I'm assuming, of course, that you're a guy. If you're a girl, she probably decided whether she would or would not sleep with you way back in college.... :-D

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ElectricRook (264648)

        ...this probably means that she decided it long before she told you.... This is why dating sucks. The guy is always the last one to know that the girl he likes is just...

        Perhaps the guy needs to learn to play the dating/socialization game. Mario does not get to work on the plumbing without sufficient chick points. Those points are easily won/lost by various action/inaction that are not clearly understood by a logically thinking Wandering Software Salesman.
        To play the game well, one must watch the Pros. T

    • Most of that ten seconds is spent evaluating the probable size of ... your wallet.
  • Lag!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by NovaHorizon (1300173) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:16AM (#23980599)
    Hah! I knew the gamers that complain about 500Ms lag were full of it!

    They haven't even become aware of their decision to shoot within that space of time!

  • by mykepredko (40154) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:19AM (#23980613) Homepage

    Giving the subject a series of comparisions to make and determine the difference of when they make the decision and when they act on it.

    Use the same apparatus, but ask the subjects to select which they would prefer at that moment in time:

    Steak vs Salad
    Blonde vs Brunette
    Pepsi vs Coke
    Car vs Bicycle
    Mac vs PC
    and so on...

    You could go on and try to week out personal preferences with things that the subject has to evaluate:
    Which would you like in your front hall: A Van Gough or a Gougain?
    Which is funnier: A joke from Steve Martin or a joke from Robin Williams?
    What smells better: Roses or Cinnamon?
    With a given math problem, what is the better of two choices to solve it?

    I would think this approach would be a better way to see how decisions are made within the human mind.

    myke

  • Go with your gut feeling?

  • We may subconsciously arrive at a decision 10 seconds before we become conscious of the decision but that's only because we have to view the solution in our conscious mind and think of things such as: all the steps we have to do, the final outcome, perhaps ponder repercussions (harming others, any inconveniences, wether it conflicts with our other goals), we have to step through it in our mind to see if it is rational and makes sense considering our priorities as well before we actually take action. That's
  • TFA says that they let the subjects see a stream of letters pass the screen, and let them decide when to push with their left or right hand. Maybe all they've detected is the moment the candidates decided, "The next time I see the letter 'R', I'm gonna push the left button"?

    I could imagine that the average time to see the letter of your choice would be ~10 s, give or take.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:33AM (#23980717)
    The article states that the testers (only!) tested 14 people. The subjects pressed a button whenever they felt like it. The testers could see some tell-tales up to 10 seconds before the button was pressed.

    All this really tells us that when we think we're making a random action, we really commit to it some time beforehand. It only tells when people make a random decision - not what the choice is

    bad reporting.

    • by langelgjm (860756)

      It only tells when people make a random decision - not what the choice is

      Not quite. From the article:

      Studying the brain behavior leading up to the moment of conscious decision, the researchers identified signals that let them know when the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students knew it themselves. About 70% of the time, the researchers could also predict which button the students would push.

      • by snl2587 (1177409)

        the researchers identified signals that let them know when the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students knew it themselves

        All this shows is that the "gut feeling" people get actually occurs in the brain. Who would have guessed? The fact that the researchers were only correct 70% probably just means during the tests, the students went with their "gut feeling" 70% of the time. If the researchers are really using these results to question free will, I question their bias.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      In fact, it doesn't even tell us that. They were only able to predict the outcome 70%-80% of the time. There's a lot of misinterpretation here. Maybe a majority of us resort to some kind of random generator. Obviously, some people didn't go with their "first decision". That needs more study.

      10 seconds is a long time. I wonder what happens during that time.

  • by SEWilco (27983)
    I typed this response in 8 seconds. Too bad Slashdot made me wait to send it, as I now know I decided not to do it.
  • Snip FTA... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:47AM (#23980833)

    They monitored the swift neural currents coursing through the brains of student volunteers as they decided, at their own pace and at random, whether to push a button with their left or right hands.

    But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of the researcher: are you the sort of man who would press the button on the left or on the right? Now, a clever man would press the button on the left, because he would know that only a great fool would press the button on the right. I am a great fool, so I can clearly not press the button on the right. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not press the button on the right.

    Researcher: You've made your decision then?

    Not remotely! Because these buttons come from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not press the button on the left.

    Researcher: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

    WAIT TILL I GET GOING! Where was I?

    Researcher: Australia.

    Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the buttons' origin, so I can clearly not press the button on the right.

    Researcher: You're just stalling now.

    You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?

  • Sure.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rickb928 (945187) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @09:51AM (#23980877) Homepage Journal

    This explains hitting a 90mph fastball.

    I know, the instantaneous response (Wait 10 seconds here please) is that you decided to play, go to the park, get suited up, report to the manager, select your bat, go to the batter's box, choose your stance, raise your bat to position, and then chose to swing it the pitch were where you expected or would accept it, etc etc etc.

    Apparently this 10 second thing is for some decisions, those that require thought. Like whether to believe any of this 10 seond hooey.

    Systems analysis. If you look far enough up the chain, it becomes one thing. Look too far down, and it gets all complicated and difficult, and can't be so easily understood. Makes you sleepy.

  • ... euroscientist Richard Anderson and his colleagues explored how the effort to plan a movement forces cells throughout the brain to work together, organizing a choice below the threshold of awareness ...

    Another amazing discovery made by General O'Neill and his team.

    The question on everyones mind is does this help us against the Ori?

  • The point for "blink of an eye" decisions is made by Malcom Gladwells book "Blink": "The Power of Thinking without Thinking". A worthy rebuttal is Michale LeGaults book "Th!ink", "why crucial decisions can't be made in the blink of an eye". I found both worth reading and both have a point. It depends on the decision to be made.
  • by oztiks (921504) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @10:31AM (#23981359)

    "But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

    Why do some scientists simply insist that because they can prove one particular aspect that everything else surrounding the issue must domino into the same conclusion?

    Saying "free will" doesn't exist based upon their studies is a kin to saying the earth is flat simply because we stand on it upright, lets not take into account any other factors which could remain simply because its presently out of our current ability to grasp and therefore couldn't possibly exist.

    The word "implausible" is badly construed here maybe "cannot be determined" is more appropriate?

    IMHO This has and always will be sciences one and only real undoing at answering life's real questions. Whats wrong with leaving the door open sometimes?

  • I was about to cry "Dupe!" but it turns out I read it in New Scientist, not slashdot.

    Here's the link: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/dn13658-brain-scanner-predicts-your-future-moves.html [newscientist.com]

  • how does this challenge the notion of choice? It's not like your brain is not you.

    All this is saying is that we are not conscious of our thought processes, which we also knew and felt for a long time. The thought "computes" in the lower levels and synthesized idea bubbles up to the higher levels where we can verbalize it.

  • I think XKCD did nicely with this topic:

    http://xkcd.com/439/ [xkcd.com]

  • Not this again (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dun Malg (230075) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @11:08AM (#23981817) Homepage

    Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice

    I am seriously sick and tired of this notion coming up every time some study or other points out that your "conscious brain" fires up some amount of time after some other part of the brain has already started taking the action. THis shows a complete and utter failure to understand how our brains work. The conscious mind is in control, it's just not consciously "working the levers" every freakin' second. How would you find time to think about anything of consequence if you had to constantly coordinate everything your body does? "OK, now I'm breathing, now I'm moving my eyes to follow the sentence I'm reading, now I'm moving my hand to adjust the lighting on the book...."--- you'd never have the clock cycles to comprehend the material. No, the brain uses a sort of distributed computing. Your conscious mind instructs the autonomous slave sub-parts how to react to certain stimuli, and expects them to do the dirty work while it thinks of more important things (usually sex). That one study that externally manipulated people's brains to make them choose a certain card, then asked them why they chose it, and people always came up with some justification? It's not a lack of free will there, it's just that the conscious mind is accustomed to its "slaves" only doing things it has previously trained them to do. Of course your conscious analytical mind is going to justify the action somehow.
    An example: If you decide that the next time you see Joe, you're going to punch him, a scientist monitoring your brain the next time you see Joe will find that your "punching brain" acted before your "conscious brain" did. Does that indicate a lack of free will? You'd have to be an idiot to think so. All it indicates is that your "conscious brain" has a number of programmable sub-units at its disposal.

    • by tgibbs (83782)

      Of course your conscious analytical mind is going to justify the action somehow.
      An example: If you decide that the next time you see Joe, you're going to punch him, a scientist monitoring your brain the next time you see Joe will find that your "punching brain" acted before your "conscious brain" did. Does that indicate a lack of free will? You'd have to be an idiot to think so. All it indicates is that your "conscious brain" has a number of programmable sub-units at its disposal.

      I also think that our consc

  • It seems reasonable to me that conscious awareness is not a trivial phenomenon, and that it involves a significant amount of computing, with a large number of synaptic delays. If it was not possible to detect neural indicators of a decision well prior to conscious awareness of the decision, it would argue that there really isn't much to consciousness after all.

  • by dosboot (973832)

    With all do respect, the people claiming this undermines the notion of choice are stupid. It is still your brain making rational decisions. At best this undermines the assumed notion that consciousness is the source of rational choice and is not an echoing chamber of the subconscious.

    However, I would not even concede that much at this point. The fact that these findings are always so closely tied to undermining rational choice makes me suspect of the research in the first place.

  • Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking

    Just go with the flow.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Saturday June 28, 2008 @12:24PM (#23982759)

    I must post this, my mind was made up before I read the article 7 seconds ago.

    We can make snap decisions that are not purely in muscle memory.

    Our brain builds subroutines that handle those situations (I'm in doom and i notice the weapon I was running to is gone and instantly turn to head to the next weapon).

    Dale Carnegie says that most people make their decisions 90% based on emotions. If you successfully appeal to their emotions, they will FIT the logic and facts to their decision. This drives me crazy since I see it at work when I'm trying to get a logical decision- but at least now I know so I can use it to work with people instead of pissing them off giving them facts they don't like and reject.

  • "But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

    Consciousness is not thought, or reasoning, it's the narrative that you tell yourself about yourself. It's not even the tip of the iceberg, it's a flashlight that turns itself on to reassure itself that the iceberg is still there, it's a model of the iceberg made of fog and seaspray and drifting snow. All this is doing is confirming what's been increasingly obvious for decades: you are not your conscious self, any more than a computer is its display, or a corporation its lobby, or a nation its flag and national bird.

    So this says nothing about free will, because your will is not what you're thinking about, it's why you're thinking about it.

    The fellow who wrote those words needs to meet Mister Volition [fictionwise.com].

  • by Nullav (1053766) <moc@@@liamg...valluN> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:09AM (#23988631)

    The next time I get injured, I'm blaming lag. (Seriously, how does that challenge free-will in any way?)

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