A new version features humans as zombies. Adam Bear and Paul Bloom conducted a series of experiments at Yale University. Volunteers looked at white circles and had to guess which one would turn red.
The test subjects managed to predict the right circle more often than if they had done so by mere chance, giving them a feeling of being in control.
However, the researchers “placed different delays between the white circles’ appearance and one of the circles turning red, ranging from 50 milliseconds to one second. Participants’ reported accuracy was highest – surpassing 30 per cent – when the delays were shortest.”
The researchers suggest that it “is possible that we perceive the order of events correctly – one circle changes colour before we have actually made our prediction – but then we subconsciously swap the sequence in our memories so the prediction seems to come first. Such a switcheroo could be motivated by a desire to feel in control of our lives.”
The results prompted Bear to suggest, “We are essentially zombie agents most of the time under the illusion that we’re always aware of why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
It might do us good to remember what Mark Twain famously wrote: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
Hutson, Matthew. 2016. We are zombies rewriting our mental history to feel in control. New Scientist (15 April).