Champions of free will, take heart. A landmark 1980s experiment that purported to show free will doesn’t exist is being challenged.
In 1983, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet asked volunteers wearing scalp electrodes to flex a finger or wrist. When they did, the movements were preceded by a dip in the signals being recorded, called the “readiness potential”. Libet interpreted this RP as the brain preparing for movement.
Crucially, the RP came a few tenths of a second before the volunteers said they had decided to move. Libet concluded that unconscious neural processes determine our actions before we are ever aware of making a decision.
Since then, others have quoted the experiment as evidence that free will is an illusion – a conclusion that was always controversial, particularly as there is no proof the RP represents a decision to move.