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Noisy decisions

A philosophical issue that kept fascinating me is the one of free will. Philosophers have taken different standpoints on this, and religions are as well taking different standpoints. 
Some studies on quantum effects, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, have been called into sustaining the physical underpinning for free will. But so far speculations can continue since there is no clear understanding on the process involved in decisions taking place in our brain.
As new ways of looking inside a working brain are becoming available we are approaching a point where a scientific answer to "free will" might become possible.
Researchers at the University of California have published the results of an experiment that shows how decisions our brain takes are strongly influenced by random noise" that is present in the second before the brain is asked to take a decision (800 ms in fact).
Our brain is always swamped by electrical activity. Stimuli coming from our senses create specific electrical currents within the brain that are the result of, and result in, triggering of neurones. Since a neurone triggering depends on various parameters (like the intensity of activating signals, the one of deactivating signals, the time since the last activation, the neuromodulator presence around the neurone…) the actual firing is not always a sure thing and the experiment has proved that the electrical noise existing a few moments before a stimulus requiring a decision condition the outcome of the decision.
This experiment follows one made by Libet in the 1970’s that measured electrical activity but with much less resolution than what it is possibile today.
According to one of the experimenters, Jesse Bengson,
“It inserts a random effect that allows us to be freed from simple cause and effect” .
A new twist on our quest to understand free will ….

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.