In The Secret You (available on iPlayer until 27/11/09), Professor Marcus du Sautoy (a mathematician) goes in search of answers to one of science’s greatest mysteries: how do we know who we are?
It’s basically about the search for a natural explanation for our consciousness. Are our thoughts just neurons firing? or is there something more going on?
In one experiment, where Marcus decided whether to press the button in his left or right hand, the scan of his brain apparently indicated which side he was going to choose 6 seconds before he even knew himself.
Obviously scientists like things to have a natural cause, and this seems to indicate that our thoughts are predictable, and hence that our concept of free will is a bit messed up. I began to wonder if a criminal could argue that he wasn’t in control of his actions based on this, but the guy did insist that our subconscious is obedient to our conscious wishes.
In other experiments, people were shown a load of pictures, and the response of a certain neuron detected. With one patient, out of 100 pictures, it only responded to the 6 pictures of Jennifer Aniston, and only when she was photographed on her own, it didn’t respond to a picture of her with Brad Pitt.
There was other stuff in there like sticking spots to babies’ faces and giving Marcus an “out of body experience”, and I found it very interesting, but in conclusion, there’s still plenty we don’t understand.