Jerry Coyne has published another post discussing another recent experiment that stacks more evidence against the notion of us freely making conscious choices.
It is based on a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Predicting free choices for abstract intentions.
Jerry raises the obvious social implications for this theses, including one that has particularly interested me for some years now — the foundations of our entire legal system, based as it is on the concept that lawbreakers/anti-social criminals are freely (consciously) responsible for their actions, and the requirement to punish for making decisions that cause harm.
On the other hand, the enforcing of rules with threats of punishments is a fundamental part of all social behaviour in probably all social species. Is it possible, or is it even really ethical, for us to be able to accept that our Jack the Rippers should be treated and cured — as opposed to punished — when caught? I hardly think so.
What will a social species do when or if it is eventually confronted with the evidence that the decisions of its members are somehow determined and concluded before those decisions register in the consciousness?