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Seeing is With The Heart

Hillary Sanctuary | 3:23


What are the brain mechanisms of freewill? freewill can be something like deciding to smell your favorite rose or to watch the sunset. Or perhaps you're thirsty, maybe your mouth is dry. Maybe you're in a terribly hot desert. Maybe you find a well in the desert. What exactly happens in your brain when you decide to reach for that drink of water? How does your brain come to decisions at all? Scientists in Switzerland are probing the brain mechanisms of freewill. 

And they've discovered something astonishing. In past research, they noticed that notions of the self, who you are and of being conscious are anchored in brain signals that come from the body. For example, even though you're unaware of it, your heartbeat helps you to know that your body is your own body, and that the screen in front of you is not an act of free will is a component of self consciousness. So the scientists hypothesize that free will may be anchored in the body as well. What they discovered is that voluntary action is actually anchored in the lungs. 

Central to these results is the readiness potential, a signal of brain activity that appears just before muscle movement. In the experiment, the subject is asked to press a button at will, brain activity begins to rise. This rising is the readiness potential. The subject then presses the button. The readiness potential precedes being aware of the urge to act, leading many to wonder if we have free will at all. In the study, subjects became aware of the urge to act as they exhale, and were more likely to press the button at the end of an exploration. These results suggest that the origin of the readiness potential is linked to breathing. 

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