• Alan Alda visits the lab to talk about free will.

    Alan Alda visits the lab to talk about free will.

    Here I am talking to my scientific crush of twenty years.  It's hard enough discussing the issue of free will without getting tongue-tied in the best of circumstances but with Alan Alda?  On camera?  Terrifying.

    We started by putting 64 electrodes on his head so that he could do the original Libet experiment.  I had assumed that we'd stage that part --that he wouldn't want hair full of electrode gel for the rest of the day or go through all the trials necessary to collect real ERP data.  He immediately rejected the staging idea, countering that it would be much more compelling if we could analyze his own data to test whether the key finding replicated (it did --thanks go to Alex Schlegel and Scottie Alexander for crunching the numbers in a couple of hours!). 

    When someone mentioned the hair problem again, he just looked at me and said "Can you find me a sink and a brush?" When I nodded he smiled, adding, "well, then, problem solved." There were no make-up people, no egos --just an extremely agile crew of four including the insightful producer/director Graham Chedd.  Everything was filmed as it happened organically, from the moments of confusion to the moments of clarity and a lot of laughter in between. As a bonus, Alan is hypnotizable so we did hypnosis to illustrate the brain's ability to generate action without the feeling of will.  Who knows if any of it will make it into the eventual documentary Brains on Trial, but it was a day I will never forget.  <more here>