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.
Based on information contained in the passage, which of the following chains of events would most closely conform to the classical conception of free will?
- W followed by RP followed by M
- RP followed by W followed by M
- M followed by W followed by RP
- RP followed by M followed by W
- RP followed by W and M simultaneously
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, and question 17 of the first Verbal section on practice test 1 is no exception.
First, what is our question asking about? It seems like a key phrase is “classical conception of free will,” and we want to know what chain of events conforms to this process. We might also notice that our answers look a little wonky because they use variables like “M” “W” and “RP”—is this a quant question?! No, the passage defines those things for us. So, from the passage we’ll need to learn what these letters mean, and what the “classical conception of free will” is. Let’s skim for the latter phrase.
Aha! Towards the end of the passage, we learn about something that is contrary to the “classical conception”:
“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.”
If we understand what the passage is talking about, well, bully for us! If not, who cares! All we need to glean from this sentence is that RP preceded, or happened before, W, which is contrary to the classical conception. We can infer then that in the classical conception W would come first. Ok, we want an answer in which W is BEFORE RP, which eliminates B, D, and E, but where should M go? Let’s skim the passage for information about M.
Ahh. A couple of sentences earlier we have some information about what was found in the experiment regarding M.
“As expected, W preceded M: subjects consciously perceived the intention to move as preceding a conscious experience of actually moving.”
Ok, so we have to make a bit of a inference again, but if it was “expected” that W would precede M, then this must be the order that “conforms to the classical conception.
PERFECT. So now we know that we want an answer where W is first, before RP and M. We don’t know what order these other two should be in, but it doesn’t matter: only one answer fits the first criteria. A is correct.
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