February 08 : Free will is not an illusion. For decades a brain signal called the readiness potential (RP) made scientists to understand that free will is an illusion. But recently scientists have proved that RP is connected to breathing, and free will takes place when we exhale.
Free will means when we act freely due to circumstances or needs. For example, we instantly take a decision when we feel hungry or cold. This means the way the brain processes the internal body signals has a connection to our ability to act freely.
Decades old notion
RP, which was at the centre of the new research, is a signal from the brain that is found in the cortex and takes place even before any muscle movement or before we are aware of the brain signalling to move. Scientists got the wrong notion because RP happens in the brain just before we take a free decision.
What the new research found
Scientists at EPFL in Switzerland discovered that our inner body signals affect the way we think and act freely. They found that while we exhale, the process triggers an initiate to take a free decision. This finding challenged and proved wrong the 60-year-old neuroscientific belief that free will is connected to the human brain.
Olaf Blanke, EPFL's Foundation Bertarelli Chair in Cognitive Neuroprosthetics, explained that taking a free decision is connected to our body's inner process, particularly with breathing. It is definitely not connected with any bodily signals like a heartbeat.
The new research found that RP is actually linked to breathing, and provides a new perspective on the free decision. Researchers found that the normal breathing cycle is part of the process that triggers our wish to take a decision on our own. This happens especially when we exhale.
Olaf Blanke elaborated that the initiative to take a free decision is affected by our internal body signals and breathing may be just one example of how acts of free will take place. The new study found that RP is linked to the body's regular breathing cycle and not to the heartbeat.