Hazily or fuzzily a resolution for 2018: making fuller use of online learning programs incited me to sign up for a course in neuroeconomics offered through Coursera. So far, I am not regretting my mildly impulsive action. Having listened to the first week’s assignments, I was surprised by the following information:
- Our brains have decided what action to take before we are even aware that there is a decision being taken. Yes, before I am aware of needing to move my fingers, parts of my brain have already sent out signals to my fingers to get moving.
- By placing an electronic interface between the parts of the brain that control his hand movements and a prosthetic arm and hands, a monkey who had his arm amputated and a prosthetic limb attached can, by thinking alone, learn to feed himself to a treat.
- A monkey can learn to command virtual limb located halfway around the world as if it were his (extra) limb, in real time, as the time it takes to send the neurological signal from the monkey’s brain in the USA to a robot in Japan and the time to send a feedback neurological message from the robot to the monkey’s brain is less than the normal delay between starting an action and getting feedback from the monkey’s real limb. The monkey effectively manipulates the robot in real time, performing a feat that elastic women would have been very stretched to emulate.
The implication of all this, according to the professor, is that the activation of neural circuits within our brain have determined all our actions before we are even aware of having to think them up. Homo sapiens may be wise, but his vaunted claim to be rational is simply ex post justification to explain away the action that was already determined before we engaged our thought process. Keep posted to learn more about my trip on what seems to be a magical carpet that needs no mushrooms to set it off.