A confused man scratching his head

Can we call it having free will if, in a sense, our decisions are made before we are conscious of them?

As human beings we have an urge to ask for reasons why certain things happen. Some people believe that there is a higher being which decides our fate, while others think that we live in a world determined by some amount of cosmic karma. While definitive answers evade us, science offers clues as to what actually determines how our lives pan out.

Libet’s Study

In one of the most important studies in neuroscience, Benjamin Libet determined that our brain waves might have the answer to this question. His study had participants wear electrodes on their scalp to track their brain wave pattern while performing a simple exercise. He instructed test subjects to raise their left or right finger, while allowing the urge to move their finger come about on its own. In other words, they should not pre-determine or think about the act before moving their finger – they should just do so at random. Once the physical act was completed, the scientists made note of exactly what time the finger was moved. On the neurological side of things, the electrodes attached to the participant’s scalp constantly made note of the brain’s activity. Perhaps the most important aspect of the experiment was that Libet had participants make note, using a provided stopwatch which can track down to the millisecond, exactly when they made the decision to move.


By analyzing these three vital parts – the finger movement, the electrodes, and the decision making time – Libet was able to uncover an astonishing fact. Participants’ brain activity showed that their brain actually made the decision to move their finger more than four hundred milliseconds before they said noted on the clock that the decision was made, and more than six hundred milliseconds before they physically moved their finger.

What Does It Mean?

So what does this mean in terms of free will? Well, it depends how you interpret it. If our brains are able to determine our movements before we are even conscious of them, does that mean that our decisions are really our own? If the human brain can act independently of the body, what does it mean to exercise free will? When it comes to determining our free will and ability to own decisions, Libet’s findings certainly complicate things. So what do you think? Can we call it having free will if, in a sense, our decisions are made before we are conscious of them?



  1. Charles Lee says:

    Brain activity does not necessarily prove that the brain is making the decision. Perhaps the brain is aware that a decision is forth coming. There is just not enough data to prove one way or the other. It does open the door for debate.

  2. John Paul Lanier says:

    I’ve read about this study before, and it prompted me to observe when I decided to get out of bed in the morning, as opposed to continuing to stay put for a few minutes. To my amazement, I discovered a decision is made before a conscious decision is made. Often I rise from the bed before consciously deciding to do so. In other words, while I believed my decision is conscious, it is actually preceded by an unconscious decision.

    As a chemist, I’m also aware of the biochemistry of the workings of brain cells and how they interact. The entire process is dictated by basic chemistry. Molecules do what they are expected to do. While life may seem to be pervaded by some divine or other extra-physical force, in truth life is just molecules doing what they do. There is no reason to invoke anything special about it.

    So I don’t see how there can be such a thing as free will. There just doesn’t seem to be any conscious decision which is above the workings of molecules. My two cents.

    1. Charles Lee says:

      So are you saying that Ted Bundy, and the likes have no responsibility for their actions? Just molecules?

    2. Charles Lee says:

      Perhaps certain actions are wired into our neurons because we do them over and over. A good scientist does not jump to conclusions too quickly.

  3. john muli says:

    i belive every thing is good the lord is go through in every thing that is i comment me pastor john

    1. hsw says:

      I’m struggling to figure out what you were trying to say.

      1. Charles Lee says:

        Me too. Please clarify your comment John. I believe you didn’t proof read to catch your typos.

      2. john muli says:

        please help me

        1. john muli says:

          okey tel me

  4. Alvin R Jones says:

    The right to do or decide as one wishes. (Smile)

  5. Lynn Gideon says:

    We are led by man to believe we have free will. The scriptures say otherwise. First off we were predestined and not only that but in accordance with his will.

    Eph1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.

    Eph1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

    10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

    11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

    And talking about wills, let us see what Rom9 has to say;

    Rom9:10 And not only that, but this too: Rebekah conceived twin sons by one man [under the same circumstances], by our father Isaac;

    11 and though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything either good or bad, so that God’s purpose [His choice, His election] would stand, not because of works [done by either child], but because of [the plan of] Him who calls them,

    12 it was said to her, “The [b]older (Esau) will serve the [c]younger (Jacob).”

    13 As it is written and forever remains written, “[d]Jacob I loved (chose, protected, blessed), but [e]Esau I hated (held in disregard compared to Jacob).”

    14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? Certainly not!

    15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I have compassion.”

    16 So then God’s choice is not dependent on human will, nor on human effort [the totality of human striving], but on God who shows mercy [to whomever He chooses—it is His sovereign gift].

    17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “I raised you up for this very purpose, to display My power in [dealing with] you, and so that My name would be proclaimed in all the earth.”

    18 So then, He has mercy on whom He wills (chooses), and He hardens [the heart of] whom He wills.

    19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still blame me [for sinning]? For who [including myself] has [ever] resisted His will and purpose?”

    20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers [arrogantly] back to God and dares to defy Him? Will the thing which is formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”

    21 Does the potter not have the right over the clay, to make from the same lump [of clay] one object for honorable use [something beautiful or distinctive] and another for common use [something ordinary or menial]?

    If you think you have free will then so be it. BYITNOJ

    1. hsw says:

      So…it doesn’t really matter what I do – I’m going to end up in the same circumstances no matter what?

  6. Charles Lee says:

    Not all of us believe everything in the Bible. It is highly flawed and contains upwards of 10,000 translation errors not to mention additions.

    1. hsw says:

      Deletions are just as important as additions. Much was written that was deleted in later years. There is no better proof that the bible was written by men for men’s purposes than to know what was done to it over the years.

      1. Charles Lee says:

        Agreed. People forget that the Bible is not a book, but a collection of books into a canon. There were hundreds and hundreds of books and a few men made the decision of what was to be canonized. Those men were agents of Constantine. Great books like the Sayings Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary were left out. Not to mention the Gnostic Gospels. One would do well to explore and check things and not blindly accept what someone says is the “truth”. Also if one does an objective word study on the words from which the English is translated, one will find that often the meaning is misconstrued or presents alternative interpretations.

        1. Lynn Gideon says:

          If you Are talking about using other biblical books you left out the book of Jasher.

          1. Charles Lee says:

            There are hundreds of books we could mention. I was not trying to mention every single non canonized book.

  7. john muli says:

    what do you mean a baut free will

  8. Rodney Matejek says:

    There is an old saying that you must believe in free will. You have no choice!

    1. Charles Lee says:

      LOL – I love it.

    2. Lynn Gideon says:

      Awesome Byitnoj

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