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For decades, neuroscientists have been debating the question: How much free will do people actually have? Why are some people inclined to make better, wiser decisions than others? And why do some people, even those considered highly intelligent, act on their worst impulses while others don't?

Those are the sort of questions that neuroscientists have been grappling with over the years.

New York City-based science writer Bahar Gholipour discussed the "death of free will" in a much-read article published by The Atlantic on September 10, 2019. And he explained why a 1964 study continued to have an impact on how some neuroscientists view that subject.

"The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps," Gholipour wrote. "In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people's brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists' lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit."

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Gholipour continued, "The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants' brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world — when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph —but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone's brain actually initiating an action."

That German experiment from 57 years ago, according to Gholipour, was groundbreaking because it showed "the brain readying itself to create a voluntary movement."

Gholipour explained, "This momentous discovery was the beginning of a lot of trouble in neuroscience. Twenty years later, the American physiologist Benjamin Libet used the Bereitschaftspotential (readiness potential) to make the case not only that the brain shows signs of a decision before a person acts, but that, incredibly, the brain's wheels start turning before the person even consciously intends to do something. Suddenly, people's choices — even a basic finger tap — appeared to be determined by something outside of their own perceived volition."

Libet, according to Gholipour, "introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will."

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"Over time, the implications have been spun into cultural lore," Gholipour wrote in 2019. "Today, the notion that our brains make choices before we are even aware of them will now pop up in cocktail-party conversation or in a review of Black Mirror. It's covered by mainstream journalism outlets, including This American Life, Radiolab, and this magazine. Libet's work is frequently brought up by popular intellectuals such as Sam Harris and Yuval Noah Harari to argue that science has proved humans are not the authors of their actions."

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    Gas stoves are a threat to health and have larger climate impact than previously known, study shows

    (CNN)The gas emitted from household stoves and ovens is not only dangerous to public health but also has a much more significant impact on the climate crisis than previously thought, new research shows.

    The study, from scientists at Stanford University, found the emissions from gas stoves in US homes have the same climate-warming impact as that of half a million gasoline-powered cars -- far more than scientists have previously estimated.This Colorado community was proof an all-electric, net-zero future is possible. Now that vision is under siege"This new study confirms what environmental advocates have been saying for over a decade now, that there is no [such thing as] clean gas -- not for our homes, not for our communities and not for the climate," Lee Ziesche, community engagement coordinator for Sane Energy, a non-profit climate justice group that was not involved in the research, told CNN. "From the drilling well to the stoves in our kitchens, fracked gas is harming our health and warming the planet."Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent planet-warmer. It is around 80 times more powerful in the short term than carbon dioxide, scientists say.The study also found that in homes without range hoods, or with poor ventilation, the concentration of harmful nitrogen oxides -- a byproduct of burning natural gas -- can reach or surpass a healthy limit within minutes, especially in homes with small kitchens. Read MoreGas stoves and ovens leak significant amounts of planet-warming methane whether they are on or off. The study estimates stoves release 0.8% to 1.3% of their natural gas into the atmosphere as unburned methane. That may not sound like much, but lead study author Eric Lebel told CNN it's a "really big number" when added to the amount of methane that is released during the production and transmission of the gas itself."If someone says they don't use their stove, and so they're not actually emitting any methane, well, that's actually not true because most of the stoves that we measured had at least a slow bleed of methane while they were off," said Lebel, who conducted the research as a graduate student at Stanford University and is now a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy. Researcher Eric Lebel attaches sensors to a stove to measure how often it is used. For nitrogen oxides, or NOx, which pose an especially harmful risk to children and the elderly, Lebel said they found the emissions are directly proportional to how much gas is burned. "So if you turn another burner on, use a bigger burner, or turn it higher, all these things will create more NOx," Lebel said. The concentration of those gases is "dependent on how big your kitchen is, what your ventilation is in your kitchen, all those things matter."Planet-warming emissions surged faster in the US than expected in 2021, analysts sayThe study comes as a growing number of US cities, including certain places in California, New York and Massachusetts, are shifting away from including natural gas hookups in new homes. Green energy advocates argue that switching from gas to electric appliances will ease the transition to renewable energy. Electric appliances, according to this study, avoid the harmful byproducts of burning natural gas.According to the latest data from the US Energy Information Administration, there were more than 40 million gas stoves in US households in 2015, though the proportion of gas stoves in some regions is higher than others. The study also suggests that the federal government is underestimating the amount of methane emissions leaking from homes, which the researchers found was 15% higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's estimate for all residential emissions in 2019."This new study is a really great example of how widespread the sources of greenhouse gas pollution are," Charles Koven, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who is not involved with the study, told CNN. Scientists say this invisible gas could seal our fate on climate change"Getting to net zero isn't a matter of replacing just the cars or just the power plants that burn fossil fuels with alternatives that don't," he added. "We need to look at everything that uses fossil fuels, even the sources as seemingly small as leaky gas pipes that power the stoves in our kitchens, and realize that all of these tiny sources can add up to big climate impacts."Methane emissions were a focus in a major UN climate report in August, in which Koven was a lead author. Scientists found the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher now than any time in at least 800,000 years -- and that reducing methane is the easiest knob to turn to change the path of global temperature in the next 10 years. Natural gas has been hailed as a "bridge fuel" that would transition the US to renewable energy because it is more efficient than coal and emits less carbon dioxide when burned. But that plan, some experts say, underestimates the impact of it leaking, unburned, into the atmosphere and causing significant warming.Lebel said that he hopes policymakers can use their research in their effort to decarbonize homes and make appliances healthier. "It's neither just a climate issue, not a health issue, but it's both together," he said. "When people are deciding whether or not to put out a gas ban, they should consider the climate and health impacts and what the benefits of electrification would be. And it seems pretty clear what the science is showing."

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