I recently read this scientific study: Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H. J., & Haynes, J. D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature neuroscience, 11(5), 543.
It provides strong evidence that what we thought of as a free conscious decision is already unconsciously decided in the human brain, sometimes up to 10 seconds before. They claim a 60% success rate in prediction which is only 10% above chance which I don't see as significant but maybe it depends on the number of tests done.
Many on the internet are using the results of this study to speak out against free will. But is this study really decisive? I have observed myself and it is true I am normally an unconscious machine moving and making selections around my house without being aware that I am consciously making choices. I just get off from my computer chair and go somewhere without consciously deciding to. I select from my breakfast cereals without consciously deciding to. I run on automatic and this speaks to the wonder of the brain. But I am not a slave of the unconscious brain. If I get an itch, I can consciously choose not to act on the unconscious urge to scratch it. If I am on a no-carb diet and the smell of that baked bread is making my unconscious brain present me a desire to eat it, I can ignore it. If I am holding onto a plate so hot that it will leave blisters on my hand and BOTH my instinctual unconscious and sensible conscious brain is telling me to drop, I can consciously ignore it until the pain is gone. I have actually tried the last to see the difference between physical and mental suffering.
So what does this study prove? That what we thought was a conscious free choice was an unconscious predetermined process in the brain? Maybe. They CAN be. Do they all HAVE to be? We know that the conscious self can choose while the unconscious brain reacts. I think the key here is if the test subjects were really making conscious decisions. Is just sitting without thinking until the idea of one button presents itself to the mind a CONSCIOUS decision? Or is it letting the unconscious mind present an idea that you then feel you 'picked'? What if instead the test were done with subjects consciously flipping back and forth between concepts of "this button, that button" until they decide to stop at one? I wonder what the success rate of prediction would be then.
Maybe what this study really proves is that many of the selections we make ARE unconscious. Most of our life we are automatic. There is no free will. We are robots following a learned program. But not when there is conflict. Not when the choice matters. Then it really is a conscious decision. Maybe they could also do a study with homeless people and selection of buttons deciding whether they gain a dollar or lose a dollar.