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Fruit flies also have free wills
May 16 : A new study has found that fruit fly - drosophila melanogaster
- is not just a 'complex robot' as previously thought, but an insect
with 'free will' and spontaneity.
The study was conducted by an international team of researchers including Alexander Maye and Bjvrn Brembs George Sugihara and Chih-hao Hsieh.
Brembs said that it negated earlier beliefs about these insects.
and especially insects are usually seen as complex robots which only
respond to external stimuli. They are assumed to be input-output
devices. When scientists observe animals responding differently even to
the same external stimuli, they attribute this variability to random
errors in a complex brain," Brembs said.
As part of the study, researchers tethered fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) in completely uniform
white surroundings and recorded their turning behaviour to show that
such variability cannot be due to simple random events but is generated
spontaneously and non-randomly by the brain.
The flies did not
receive any visual cues from the environment and since they were fixed
in space, their turning attempts had no effect.
Thus lacking any input, their behaviour should have resembled random noise, similar to a radio tuned between stations.
researchers found that the temporal structure of fly behaviour is very
different from random noise. The researchers then tested a plethora of
increasingly complex random computer models, all of which failed to
adequately model fly behaviour.
The team was able to analyse
the fly's peculiar spontaneity with methods developed by co-authors
George Sugihara and Chih-hao Hsieh.
"We found that there must be
an evolved function in the fly brain which leads to spontaneous
variations in fly behaviour. The results of our analysis indicate a
mechanism which might be common to many other animals and could form
the biological foundation for what we experience as free will,"
"Our subjective notion of "Free Will" is an
oxymoron: the term 'will' would not apply if our actions were
completely random and it would not be 'free' if they were entirely
determined. So if there is free will, it must be somewhere between
chance and necessity - which is exactly where fly behaviour comes to
lie," Brembs said.
"The question of whether or not we have free
will appears to be posed the wrong way. Instead, if we ask 'how close
to free will are we"' one finds that this is precisely where humans and
animals differ," Brembs added.
"I would have never guessed that
simple flies who otherwise keep bouncing off the same window have the
capacity for non-random spontaneity if given the chance," Maye said.
The findings of the study were published in the May issue of of the open-access journal PLoS ONE.
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