The author of the passage mentions the classical conception of

In the 1980s, neuroscientists studying the brain processes underlying our sense of conscious will compared subjects’ judgments regarding their subjective will to move (W) and actual movement (M) with objective electroencephalographic activity called readiness potential, or RP. As expected, W preceded M: subjects consciously perceived the intention to move as preceding a conscious experience of actually moving. This might seem to suggest an appropriate correspondence between the sequence of subjective experiences and the sequence of the underlying events in the brain. But researchers actually found a surprising temporal relation between subjective experience and objectively measured neural events: in direct contradiction of the classical conception of free will, neural preparation to move (RP) preceded conscious awareness of the intention to move (W) by hundreds of milliseconds.

The author of the passage mentions the classical conception of free will primarily in order to

  1. argue that earlier theories regarding certain brain processes were based on false assumptions
  2. suggest a possible flaw in the reasoning of neuroscientists conducting the study discussed in the passage
  3. provide a possible explanation for the unexpected results obtained by neuroscientists
  4. cast doubt on neuroscientists’ conclusions regarding the temporal sequence of brain processes
  5. indicate the reason that the results of the neuroscientists’ study were surprising

An important thing to keep in mind about the Reading Comprehension section of the GRE as we use PowerPrep online to study is that it is just that—reading comprehension. In other words, as difficult as it may seem, and it can be pretty tricky, the test makers will always give us all the information we need in the passage to answer the question, even when the question asks us about the author’s intent, like question 19 of the first Verbal section on practice test 1.

First, let’s figure what keywords exist in our question. The question asks about the “classical conception of free will,” so that’s what we’ll want to skim for in our passage. Specifically, we want to know why the author mentions this phrase. It looks like the “classical conception” comes up in the last sentence in our paragraph, so let’s back up one sentence and reread from there.

“This might seem to suggest an appropriate correspondence between the sequence of subjective experiences and the sequence of the underlying events in the brain. But researchers actually found a surprising temporal relation between subjective experience and objectively measured neural events: in direct contradiction of the classical conception of free will, neural preparation to move (RP) preceded conscious awareness of the intention to move (W) by hundreds of milliseconds.”

OK, so we know that researchers initially found something that seemed to be “appropriate” in terms of the order of neurological events related to movement, BUT then they found something “surprising.” We should note that the sentence in which our keywords appear contains a colon, which is often an important structural clue because a colon usually signals an explanation, elaboration, or example. Here, the information after the colon further elaborates on what this “surprising temporal relation” was, and this is where we see our keywords. The sentence tells us that what they found was in direct contrast (“in direct contradiction”) of “the classical conception of free will,” or what what might have been expected. So it seems like referencing this “classical conception” kind of helps us understand why what researchers actually found was not what they’d expected to find. Let’s see if we find any answers that are similar to this.

argue that earlier theories regarding certain brain processes were based on false assumptions

Hmm. This answer sounds sort of logical. We do know from this part of the passage that earlier theories about neurological events associated with movement may have been wrong based on these new findings. BUT, we aren’t told what this “classical conception” is based on, AND we aren’t told for sure that “earlier theories,” of which the passage only seems to reference one, were based on assumptions. Perhaps they were based on different evidence or studies. This answer is a tricky one because it contains sort of similar ideas but takes things too far; still, since this information wasn’t in the passage, we can eliminate A.

suggest a possible flaw in the reasoning of neuroscientists conducting the study discussed in the passage

This doesn’t match our prediction, and the part of the passage that we reread told us about the findings of researchers, not their reasoning. We can eliminate B.

provide a possible explanation for the unexpected results obtained by neuroscientists

This also doesn’t match our prediction, and in fact we’re never told any reasons why the researchers found surprising results, only what those results were and that they contrasted with the “classical conception.” We can eliminate C.

cast doubt on neuroscientists’ conclusions regarding the temporal sequence of brain processes

Oh, well anything that contradicts classical thought is definitely doubtful, so this must be correct, right? Nope. The author never made the case that it was a bad thing that the researchers results contradicted classical ideas—that is something we might assume based on the phrase “direct contradiction.” Just because what the researchers found was unexpected doesn’t mean the author intends to discount their findings UNLESS he or she makes a point to do so, and our author has not. Eliminate D.

indicate the reason that the results of the neuroscientists’ study were surprising

Aha! An answer that matches our prediction. Sometimes people arrive at this answer and talk themselves out of it because it seems too easy or maybe like it doesn’t provide enough of a reason for the information to be in the passage. However, can we say that this answer is wrong? Certainly not; by telling us that the findings contrasted with classical theories the author certainly does indicate a reason the results were “surprising.” And we know that each question has to have ONE unequivocally correct answer. So, this must be that one! E is correct.

 

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