Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are You Free?

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast which discussed the significance of an accomplishment by researchers in which they were able to create a mechanism so that a monkey could control an electronic arm only using it’s brain. This may sound like merely a neat trick to some, but it is the process in which this was accomplished that was described as important. In order for this to work, the researchers had to successfully model the process of arm movement in the monkey’s brain. 
This is a big deal because the more we learn about the brain, the more we learn how complex it is. In the past, neuroscientists focused on finding nodes in which particular functions were accomplished. Modern imaging techniques now make it possible to see that brain activity is far more complex than we could have imagined. Therefore it is not surprising that the researchers noted that their model was not exactly correct, the monkey’s brain did have to adapt partially in order to move the arm effectively.
I think this discovery is interesting in regard to the free will vs. determinism debate. This research suggests that if we have a sufficient model, we can predict and model behavior. I see it as evidence toward a deterministic perspective. Being able to predict behavior suggests that there is a discoverable pattern in the brain which governs the process that we see in behavior. 
At the same time, a monkey moving an arm is quite a distance from many of the complicated processes and decisions that humans encounter on a daily basis. Theologians have also investigated this issue, often coming to many different conclusions. 
If you will, I hope the reader will engage with me as I review evidence from psychology and scripture concerning this debate. Are you free to come on this journey?