Brain Scanners and Free Will

So apparently we don't have free will anymore.

Right? I mean, how else can you interpret the data? Your brain fires up seven seconds before you consciously make a decision! How could you possibly have any control?

Unfortunately for all the die-hard monists out there, the reality is a little more complicated.

(And yes, I know the article never explicitly states that we have no free will, but since that conclusion seems foregone to the researchers mentioned, I will contest it.)

I am also, by the way, completely ignoring the fact that the predictive quality of the brain imaging data maxed out at 60%. Does that sound conclusive?

What the experiment proves - at most - is that our subconscious triggers simple, essentially random decisions (like the ones in the article) before they are consciously made.

But let's consider an even broader scope. Let's imagine neuroscientists had proved all mental processes - decisions, thoughts, feelings - were formulated subconsciously before they were formulated consciously. What would that say about free will?

Here is the underlying logical framework:
  1. Brain imaging techniques allow scientists to determine how a choice is made.
  2. These imaging techniques demonstrate that some choices are made subconsciously, not consciously.
  3. Therefore, the subconscious is in fact the originator of choice and, by extension, will.
  4. Therefore, there is no soul, free will, etc.
I don't have any lasting problem with #1-3. The dicey conclusion is #4, which links the Freudian idea of consciousness with the theological concept of the soul and with the philosophical concept of free will.

Who first linked these together? Descartes. In fact, the idea that the conscious is in fact a spiritual or non-material manifestation of the soul which controls the corporeal body is the main tenet of what is called (appropriately) Cartesian dualism.

Cartesian dualism, as you might expect, has come under severe criticism in modern times, especially from the field of neuroscience. In fact, to the modern educated layperson, Descartes' belief (derided as the "Ghost in the Machine") that the mind controlled the body can seem nonsensical.

I am not here to defend Cartesian dualism (nor do I subscribe to it). I am here, however, to point out what I think is a rather obvious but ignored fact: Descartes's dualism is not the only dualism.

Consider again claim #3, that the subconscious, not the conscious, chooses. Fine - but do we know anything about why the subconscious chose what it chose? Does the article say anything about why some people choose left and some people choose right? No.

So perhaps our free will allowed our subconscious to choose rather than our conscious. That is not too complicated an idea to consider - and yet no one seems to have considered it.

I wish they would.