Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do Flies Exercise Free Will?

The question of whether or not organisms with less brain power than humans can exercise free will, essentially the ability to think for themselves, has long been a scientific curiosity. New research out of Berlin Free University suggests that fruit flies may have some level of free will.

Drosophila melanogaster. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The idea is that an organism that doesn't have free will, always reacts in the same way to stimuli due to the way their brain has programmed them to react. Yet, experiments with fruit flies show some unpredictability to the way that fruit flies react. This suggests that fruit flies "think" on a different level that previously believed.

Now the ability to react differently to stimuli, does not mean that organisms with less brain power than humans are sentient. Sentience is the ability to be self aware, and to understand and think critically about yourself and what goes on around you. Whether or not organisms are sentient - and to what extent they may be so, remains a controversial topic.

Flying left instead of right when poked isn't the same thing -- at all. But it does suggest that we still have a lot to learn about the brain, even in teeny tiny organisms, because researchers have only scratched the surface of understanding the ability to make choices, and what it means about the capabilities of the brain.

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