If all Human beings are 'super complicated' neuro-chemical biological machines (with all possible 'brain' activities governed by the laws of physics and chemistry) how can any 'brain' activities even appear to involve a set of behaviors where one behavior is chosen to be acted on and the other is not?

  • Can you clarify what you mean by "appear"? There's an importan ambiguity there. Do you mean, "just looking at people's choices, how can they be free if everything is biologically determined?" OR do you mean "in light of everything being biologically determined, how can anyone believe there are free choices?" – virmaior Aug 3 '14 at 6:13
  • Both meanings you mention involve interesting questions. – user128932 Aug 5 '14 at 4:39

To see that one behavior is chosen while another is not, by looking at brain activity, you can do something like this: find a set of neurons A that start becoming active before behavior 1 is executed; you find a set of neurons B that start becoming active before behavior 2 is executed; and you find when presenting a choice between behavior 1 and 2 that both sets become active but then resolve with strong activation of one (the one which is chosen).

This sort of thing (anticipatory neuronal activity that is enhanced when an action is selected or suppressed if it is not) is observed fairly often. I don't know whether the exact formulation I gave above has been observed, but there is certainly no reason to think it is impossible, and even the possibility is enough to answer the question.

(Anticipatory neural activity is philosophically and experimentally vexing in its own right, see e.g. here.)

  • Is this like Buridan's donkey (forgive spelling if incorrect)? Where 'competing' sets of neural activity representing two distinct choices ( two 'identical' looking bales of hay one to its left ,one to its right ) are being processed ,when one neural activity set 'wins' out 'telling' the donkey to act on what this represents , that is to eat the left bale, say. Are Human Beings just computing machine's that 'map' discrete 'packages' of neuronal activity to distinct behavior patterns? – user128932 Aug 5 '14 at 5:02
  • @user128932 - You've got the idea with Buridan's ass. But neuroscience is incredibly far from being complete. Saying what human beings "are" (aside from implemented in matter) is woefully premature. But we can say that neural correlates of the appearance of alternatives and refinement to an individual choice are observed. – Rex Kerr Aug 5 '14 at 5:11
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    If a human being is some kind of neuronal activity puppet then how does the puppet 'do' any procedure or 'behavioral algorithm'? The puppet (by definition ;being a puppet) can't initiate such action 'itself'; it would just 'follow' a pre-programmed behavioral algorithm that already exists and is 'active' or a program that somehow just 'formed' (with no relevant pre-progamming ). Yet why does it look like 'we' puppets are initiating our own actions to 'do' one or more of these behavioral 'algorithms'? Our 'initiating efforts' might not come from previous behavioral activity.. – user128932 Aug 11 '14 at 5:18
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    If an A.I. system has some kind of information 'management system' (like an operating system in a computer) only it is 'self-controlling' this could be an analogy of the 'mind' as a self-controlling 'idea management system'. Both being self-controlling systems that are self-sustaining. The mind being what is called a 'consciousness'( I think) is a real thing, it is not immaterial or ghostly. . It is not a disembodied consciousness. The mind is a real self-sustaining emergent system embedded in the brain's physical architecture. Of course these are very controversial ideas in Philosophy. – user128932 Aug 13 '14 at 23:51
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    @user128932 - Indeed. And it has direct bearing on how the brain might work (not that neuroscientists were really counting on it being able to solve the Halting problem). – Rex Kerr Nov 14 '14 at 7:41

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