Robotic Mice provide strong evidence that we do not have free will

They can now harness a rat’s brain such that they can use a remote control to “drive” it forward backwards left right, Up and down trees, through difficult to navigate rock formations, whatever.

Here’s the article:
<a href=“”> Robot Rats </a>

We know we can trigger the happy centers of our brains. We have verified that our FEELINGS are merely manifestaion of purely physical proccesses. WE ARE ROBOTS; eddies of organization in an ocean of entropy.

I assert that we must not have free will, but rather operate in a purely deterministic fasion. We are slaves to the laws of physics.

How does a rat being shocked by a person equal people are ntohing but F=ma? All that study proves is that you can control a rats motor skills by simulating the electrical impulses in the brain that the rat uses itself. We have known for many years the brain works via electro-chemical sygnals, this study is just a cool thing we can do that will annoy PETA.

Y’know, if we’re slaves to the laws of physics, then everything you’ve just typed was fixed by the laws of physics. In fact, what about the thought processes which drew you to conclude that we have no free will? Those thought processes would be bound to the laws of physics as well.

Besides, the experiment in question doesn’t prove that we have no free will. It merely proves that they could exert limited control over a rat’s behavior. This doesn’t mean that the rat has no free will, and it certainly says nothing about human free will.

The electrodes aren’t controlling the rat’s motor centers. The experiment uses one electrode wired to the pleasure center, and two wired to the sensory centers for the rat’s whiskers. The rat’s been trained to turn when it feels the imput from the whicker electrode, in return for a bit of signal from the pleasure electrode.

Technically this is nothing new - the pleasure center of the brain has been known about for decades, and the remote-control system is nothing more than basic skinner conditioning. The bits have been known about for years, it’s just that nobody put them together to make a remote-controlled rodent before.

I may as well be first…

Robot Rats
Band name!

Right, it certainly less a discovery than a really neat application of what we’ve already known, but I thought I’d use it as a springboard to some interesting discussion.

It’s one thing ot know that we can incite a neuron to incite a muscle contraction. That’s fairly comfortable with our concept of the mind being something that uses the body as a tool.

But here we are fucking with these poor little critter’s minds! We are making them want to do stuff. This is conditioning, brain washing, whatever, but I think it’s implications are important. It leaves less room for the kind of free will that Christians often assert.

Right, you’re first paragraph summarizes some of my beliefs.

It is true that this experiment is less a discovery than an application, but the implications are interesting. We aren’t using the rat like a tool, we are MAKING it want to do something. If ten thousand rats all do what we want them to do…

we could program an army of cockroach killing soldiers. MUHAHAHHAHA!

Neurological experiments do not scale very well from small to large species like ours due to the huge differences. One can do as with the OP’s rats and jig the human nervous system to induce motor reactions. However, advanced neurosurgery against epilepsy and parkinson has recently shown that even this is hard to predictably perform in the human brain. The rough motor centers in the brain are indeed rough and the detailed wiring varies from individual to individual. The OP mentions drug induced emotional manipulations, this is however also very unpredictable as anyone with even the most innocent experience of recreational drugs will know. Different day, different trip – Different human, different rip. Free will, if it exists (I believe it does) would have mostly to do with our frontal lobes in the upper brain were abstraction and logic seems to mostly take place and our lower brain, with which we intuit, remember, coordinate and emote. Much of the rest of the upper brain seems to be busy working motor skills, language comprehension and such everyday tasks that seem mundane, but when you think of for instance the human hand or the English language are rather remarkable (I’m being real rough here BTW, this is the most complex thing you can imagine and we only know a small fraction of what there is to know about our brains).

The frontal lobes and the lower brain are where the larger part of our differences to the rest of the world’s animals reside. The frontal lobes in humans are extremely large, but elephants, other primates and some whales come pretty close. However, in the lower brain we have up to 200 times as many neurotransmitters per cubic centimeter as our closest other, namely chimps.

Evidence has it that the combined work of the brain is processed into awareness in the back end of the frontal lobes.

That it takes a while (1.4 seconds on average) for a nervous signal to travel through our central nervous system to awareness does some freaky stuff to us that could give you the illusion that we have no free will. Try this for instance; next time you converse with someone, see if you know what you were going to say word by word or if you became aware only after you said it. Don’t worry, it has to be that way for the sake of speed, you still decided what you were going to say as a concept before you said it, it’s only the wording that happened without you knowing it. Likewise if you, for reasons beyond logic place your hand on a hot stove you’ll pull it off before you become aware of the burning pain. This is easy to try as well; ask someone to prick your upper hand gently with a pin while you have your eyes closed. Say ‘now’ when you feel the pain and you’ll find that your hand has already jerked away. Your antagonist will be able to verify this with his/her own eyes.

This all has to do with the fact that the lower brain `and reptilian brain where reflex happens, as stated earlier largely function subconsciously and faster than awareness. All that being said, you can easily reverse the process and actively decide to not say something for instance or sit still and let someone prick you with needles (which many a tattoo artist are grateful for).

‘The Man Who Tasted Shapes’ by neurologist Richard E Cytowic is a book that illustrates the way this all works on a layman’s level in a pretty fun way. Cytowic also makes a case for the existence of free will.


Sparc, you might like (if you haven’t read it) Consciousness Explained by Daniell Dennett. He makes a case (IMO) for a lack of free will.

I am rather of that mindset myself. :slight_smile:

Now what on earth does that have to do with anything?

As for your first paragraph, I hear that alot from the free-will crowd. That they continue to somehow believe that argument is a rebuttal is one of life’s great mysteries. If you stipulate the truth of everything in that paragraph, it doesn’t do any damage or benefit to either argument.

As for your second point, I agree. The experiment is not really evidence that rats have no free will so much as evidence that simple brains can be manipulated. If you starve a rat near death then put some food in front of it, you can be darned sure the rat will approach the food. That’s not a loss of free will, just indirect manipulation. That the tactics are more direct in this case doesn’t change the nature of the experiment.

I’m definitely a determinist, but I won’t be putting any stock in that experiment as an argument chip.

The rats certainly show free will. The rats are “trained” to perform these tasks, they aren’t doing them involuntarily. This is more like giving a rat a treat (in this case- stimulating the rat’s pleasure center) than creating a robotic rat.

Fixed link.

I don’t know. My boss makes me want to work for him by giving me a paycheck twice a month. My parents made me want to not do stuff by yelling at me and occassionaly smacking me.

The idea of conditioning isn’t a new one, and I don’t think it, in itself, disproves free will.

We must all go through life trying to survive as best we can. Our brains are excellent instruments for deciding whether or not doing “such and such” will be good or bad for us. While you can probably do otherwise, there is no reason to do so, logically or emotionally.
In this case you are creating an illusion to trick the rat. This is largely the same as, say, having an elaborate trick to confuse or convince a human. You can convince a person that action Y is in their best interest, or perhaps the interest of someone they love. In the rat’s case it is a simple, relatively easy job. I suppose that if you locked up a person, implanted neuro-stimulators, and essentially tortured them they would eventually break and go ‘left’ like you want. This doesn’t havce anything to do with free will.
And even if they did ceate a robo-rat, how would that have to do with free will? Just because you can tear someone’s bodily control does not mean you can erase their will. They will still feel, have desires, and try to fight you. You might make a man a puppet, but you couldn’t force him to like it. And lets say you could do so. Is that really the person’s feelings your changing - or are you merely slowly killing him and making a new, fleshly robot?

This type of experimentation, though, could go some ways to strengthen the determinist camp. If people could be controlled with stimulii (and they didn’t know they had electrodes in their head) then we could say for certain that if we had free will, the agent in question (he who has the will) cannot distinguish between it and blatant control.

Of course, such experiments would probably be illegal. Fucking compassion, gets in the way of some really intetresting experiments!

Why does the evil use of brute force to physically and psychologically beat someone into submission have anything to do with free will? In any case, no one person can hold out against a stronger force forever, we are not built that way. We break. It doesn’t mean that we did not choose to break more slowly.
Think about this logically, for a moment. If my head graons with horrific pain when I do “A” action a feels much better when I do “Y”, I will try to avoid “A”, unless I defcide I have a compelling interest. I can do “Y”, but my mental and physical resources are limited. That is to say, I cannot constantly do “Y”. Fictional mental perfection regimes like in “Dune” notwithstanding, pain is darn real. People are trying to preserve their internal integrity.

Smiling, my point is that if one cannot distinguish between control and exercizing personal will, then what would ever make anyone believe that there is free will? Sort of superfluous to explainaing human behavior, see?

Over in the Ratbot thread in GQ I posted the following but it seems relevant here so I’ll repost it.

Humans have considerably more free will than a rat. Touch the side of a rat’s face (or make it think it has been touched) and there is no thought that goes into whether it wants to move in the opposite direction…it just does (unless there is another compelling reason not to go a certain way such as falling off a ledge).

You may get a human to do what you want by stimulating the pleasure center of the brain but only because the human has decided that they want their next fix…you essentially setup an addiction in the human and hope they cooperate. Nevertheless a human could still decide to be recalcitrant and not do what you want if they decide they are willing to forego their next jolt of pleasure. If you really wanted you could stick your hand in a fire and leave it there even though your mind would be screaming to get it out. Same principle here. Even if the compulsion for your next zap is huge you can still decide not to do a thing.

To my mind directly stimulating the pleasure center of a human brain could easily amount to a perverse sort of torture. To really get a humanbot like a ratbot you’d likely have to break the person’s will in which case you’d quickly end up with a jibbering idiot whose only goal in life is to get more of the good stuff.

Sorry, but you really think most people aren’t like this? Or that the estimation to hold one’s hand in a burning fire in spite of pain is somehow indicative of a higher process? Why can’t there simply be multiple processes in a human brain which guide its action? You admit that humans are more complex then rats, then immediately conclude that this is because we have free will. :confused: Couldn’t we just be… more complex?