How science supports the Destonian understanding of ‘free will as illusion’

The main premise on which the Desteni material builds upon is the understanding that free will is illusion – that free will is a feature of the mind-consciousness system, the program we have come to accept, for us to think and believe that we freely decide upon our actions.  In reality we perform our actions as part of orchestrated and preordained events which have been set into motion long before we can walk. The life we live is a pre-programmed existence, yet in our minds we believe to have and make choices which put us in charge of controlling our life’s path via conscious volition. Clever system – no doubt!

On the other hand, when one knows what Desteni has researched over the years and made freely available for public consumption, one might be astonished by the utter blindness to which humanity pays homage when ignorantly assuming the title of being the planet’s most intelligent specie. However, the acknowledgement that we are robotic in nature does not justify our individual and collective behaviour, rather it should make use aware of the urgency to change ourselves by taking self-responsibility in ending the program, by no longer accepting it and transforming it through self-forgiveness and corrective action. Surely I do not need to elaborate on the reasons why, let me just simply say: to end all abuse.

Yet many people will contest that free will is an illusion. If we were to take a world survey and ask those who believe that humans have free will, that we decide in our lives upon our own accord, we would get consensus for this simple example demonstrating the notion of free will in three steps:

Step one: I think I want to lift my arm
Step two: my thoughts somehow set the appropriate brain activity into motion….
Step three: …and thus, my arm goes up

Sounds about right?

Let’s see what the mind-consciousness system has to say about itself in this regard from the perspective of neuroscience. It all began in 1983, when Benjamin Libet conducted an experiment to investigate subjective experience, to understand the role of the conscious mind and the role of the brain. The set up for this experiment was straight forward: A clock that takes 2.5 seconds to complete a revolution, and a button. Subjects, or study participants, were instructed to press the button whenever they felt like it. The clock served as an external metric to facilitate the reporting of a voluntary action. Once the subject pressed a button, the clock would continue to turn and shortly after come to a halt in a random location. The subject was then asked to report when he or she had the will to press the button.  When he or she first thought: “I am going to press the button now”, or when the person had the experience of conscious intention.

During this procedure Libet measured the subject’s brain activity in micro volts using EEG. Here small electrodes are fastened on the scalp and tiny electrical signals are transmitted that are the product of the underlying brain activity. Libet averaged many trials to be able to reliably show that just before the person presses the button, there is a rise in electrical signals from the brain, the so called readiness potential.

To be precise, this readiness potential was observed when looking at the output of a particular electrode, or pairs of electrodes, that function to control movements of the hand. A change in electrical potential in these regions of the brain were observed quite a long time before the person presses the button. On average, the readiness potential, or the preparing of voluntary movement, can take over a second before the actual onset of the movement itself.

Libet named this interval of time ‘judgement of will’, other researchers have called it ‘awareness of intention’. On average, it takes people about 200 milliseconds for the person to know what he or she is about to do. In brain time, this gap is huge and supports the conclusion that our brains prepare our actions before we have conscious intent to act. Therefore it looks as if conscious will is an illusion and our previous example would have to be revised to read like this:

Step one: my brain prepares to lift my arm up
Step two: …I then intent to move my arm
Step three: …my arm goes up

If brain activity proceeds conscious action as we just saw, then this notion of free will cannot be the cause but only possibly be a consequence of brain activity – hence it is not free.

Libet however, realising that such a result spells disastrous in the face of moral responsibility further investigated the idea of a so called veto zone. Patrick Haggard and other researchers, who have re-enacted and improved Libet’s experiment, have acknowledged that Libet’s explanation of a veto zone turned out a bit convoluted, but the gist of it can be summed up in an example: Let’s say we want to send an angry email to one of our co-workers. We write the email and a second before, just as we are about to click the ‘send’ button, we have a change of mind, and we stop ourselves from executing the action. This is what Libet wanted to address with the concept of veto zone. In recent experiments Haggard and others were able to show that there is such an area in our brain, located in front of all the motor areas, which seem to be specifically activated when people develop an action and then hold back at the last moment. Thus there is some kind of ‘voluntary inhibition action potential’.

There has been a number of criticism placed on this research work which I will not address in this context, instead I will bring in one more strand of data which solidifies these measurements and the adjacent conclusion that free will is illusion. In 1991, Itzhak  Fried and others began reporting data of neurosurgery in epilepsy. This procedure entails that the surgeon places, in order to locate the appropriate area of the brain that is to be removed, pairs of electrodes directly onto the cortical surface. These electrodes then stimulate the brain to which the patient, who is fully awake, aware and motionless, responds. In their own words, patients have reported: “I have the urge to move my right arm”, in response to the stimulation of the brain, precisely the motor areas which were active in Libet’s experiment, and can be reliably traced back to the functioning of motor processes such as hand or arm movement.

Graph depicting the brain's Readiness Potential

The patient reporting what sounds like a conscious intention is always linked to a specific body part and a particular movement that he or she wants to make  – yet no actual movement takes place! In other words, the neurosurgeon is giving the patient the will to move before the actuality of movement takes place. This data gives us a clear indication that there are particular areas we know are involved in the initiation of action and also give rise to a conscious experience of: I am about to… I want to ….

Moreover, when the surgeon turns up the stimulating current the patient’s body actually moves, and the bit of the body that moves is, in general, the body part that the patient previously pointed out in their urge to move. This data is interesting and in time, with more cases accumulated, will reveal even more details on how brain activity and conscious intent are interconnected.

Finally, researchers acknowledge that brain activity comes first and causes conscious experience and action. From their perspective, the conscious experience is seen as allowing for social learning: consciousness is too late for the current action, but if we have a vivid conscious intention and action outcomes, it may constitute learning for next time – such as the learning of “good willed” actions, or, from the perspective of Desteni, “system honest” actions.

How can we expect that beyond this micro-level of basic bodily movements, performed like a puppet on a string, we are on the whole in charge of our lives? How can we claim to “know” anything? How can we claim to be “alive”, when we have nil awareness of what lies beyond – the “source” that induces brain activity?

In this scenario, the exit from the puppet on a string habituation, comes with so called veto zone, or ability to have input into our actions and stop ourselves. These acts can be performed deliberately, and they can be directed from a place we call “Self”. Does this not reveal that there is some other part of us that is, for the lack of a better word, trapped, and can only be unleashed through steps of stopping oneself from the automation that we are?

What if we were to conduct Libet’s experiment with persons who are in process, the DesteniIprocess that is – could we show and demonstrate to the world that self-forgiveness  practice ceases brain activity to have a hold on that part of us that is trapped in the automation? Could we show that breath creates a gateway for Self to step out and be here in the moment? … and that with the accumulation of breaths we change to self-directed beings that create a better world for all?

In time, Destonians will become the living experience of oneness and equality that demonstrate collectively that the answer to the aforementioned questions – is yes.


“Functional organization of human supplementary motor cortex studied by electrical stimulation”
I. Fried et al (1991)
The Journal of Neuroscience 1
November 1991, 11(11): 3656-3666

“On the relation between brain potentials and the awareness of voluntary movements”
P. Haggard and M. Eimer (1998)
Experimental Brain Research Vol.126, No.1

“Voluntary action and conscious awareness”
P. Haggard et al. (2002)
Nature Neuroscience 5, 382- 385

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