Full-Mental Nudity

Posted on Thursday, March 22 at 09:17 by Diogenes
But those feats barely scratch the brain's surface. Any animal can perceive objects and move limbs. To plumb the soul, you need a metaphysician. John-Dylan Haynes, a brilliant researcher at Germany's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, is leading the way. His mission, according to the center, is to predict thoughts and behavior from fMRI scans. Haynes, a former philosophy student, is going for the soul's jugular. He's trying to clarify the physical basis of free will. "Why do we shape intentions in this way or another way?" he wonders. "Your wishes, your desires, your goals, your plans—that's the core of your identity." The best place to look for that core is in the brain's medial prefrontal cortex, which, he points out, is "especially involved in the initiation of willed movements and their protection against interference." To get a clear snapshot of free will, Haynes designed an experiment that would isolate it from other mental functions. No objects to interpret; no physical movements to anticipate or execute; no reasoning to perform. Participants were put in an fMRI machine and were told they would soon be shown the word "select," followed a few seconds later by two numbers. Their job was to covertly decide, when they saw the "select" cue, whether to add or subtract the unseen numbers. Then, they were to perform the chosen calculation and punch a button corresponding to the correct answer. The snapshot was taken right after the "select" cue, when they had nothing to do but choose addition or subtraction. http://slate.msn.com/id/2161936/ [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on March 23, 2007]

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