‘Free choice’ in primates altered through brain stimulation

When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behavior in primates.

via ‘Free choice’ in primates altered through brain stimulation — ScienceDaily.

Further evidence that the mind is fully contained in the brain, and that libertarian free will is illusory.  Of course, many people will insist that what applies for monkeys is not indicative of how things are in humans.  Fair enough, but we may someday be able to resolve this question.

Could this method be used in the future to manipulate our choices? “Theoretically, yes. But the ventral tegmental area is very deep in the brain. At this point, stimulating it can only be done invasively, by surgically placing electrodes — just as is currently done for deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s or depression. Once non-invasive methods — light or ultrasound, for example — can be applied with a sufficiently high level of precision, they could potentially be used for correcting defects in the reward system, such as addiction and learning disabilities.”

This could have both good and dark uses.  Good uses might be voluntary stimulation of ourselves to help us maintain our willpower.  (Will some people in the future regard this as “cheating” or its use as a sign of a lack of moral fiber?)

Of course, the dark uses are pretty obvious.

12 thoughts on “‘Free choice’ in primates altered through brain stimulation

    1. Of course 😉 It’s just that the experiment seems to add nothing to previous experiments, and I thought I might be missing something,


      1. It might be more accurate to say the experiment produced the expected results, but confirming expected results is crucial science, because you never know when the expected results won’t be confirmed.


  1. For some reason, the idea of free will being an illusion has never bothered me much. The only part that weirded me out a bit were those studies showing a time gap between when a decision was made and when I became cognizant of it, since that would mean that our consciousness is just piggy-backing on other mental processes.


    1. I think it helps to remember that we are more than just our conscious selves. Even if a decision is not made by our consciousness, what our consciousness contemplates prior to the decision usually has causal effects on what got decided.


    1. Wow, I totally missed that one. Thank you! I think I’ll have to post it.

      I think free will’s use as a theodicy is why so many atheists don’t like the term, even when it”s used in a pragmatic non-metaphysical manner. I suspect the Templeton funding will make many of them suspicious of this study’s results.


      1. Re Templeton funding: You’re probably right even though I don’t see the results of the study as particularly pro-religion.


        1. I agree. But the results seem to show that free will isn’t necessarily the pernicious concept many claim, and I’ll be surprised if Templeton’s involvement isn’t zeroed in on because of that.


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