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Nothing in life is free…

“You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.”

-Sam Harris


The previous quote originated in a book called Free Will by Sam Harris. I take it to loosely mean that we do not exert conscious control over our thoughts and actions (free will), though we do not live out our lives as mere puppets of fate serving a larger-than-life purpose (determinism). Perhaps we are the sum total of our thoughts and actions, which themselves are traces of information propagating through a complex network of biological structures that has adapted to all it has ever mediated. Demonstrating the ubiquity of the signal traces which accompany our actions can act as the first evidence that it is the nature of humans to meander stochastically through space and time and to perceive our own “free will” so as to feel a little bit better about ourselves.

Now where would one look for free will? It is my belief that the first place to look is the final stage in motor control for the brain: the Primary Motor Cortex. Attaching an electrode vaguely over the region of the motor cortex associated with arm movements, and subsequently initiating arm movements being recorded via electromyography (EMG), or electrical muscle recordings, offers a simplified paradigm for scoping out a “readiness potential.” This characteristic waveform is an artifact of movement initiation, and it is possible that once the onset of the readiness potential can be accurately detected, a machine learning algorithm could be used to classify the signal and subsequently alert a subject of their intention to make a movement prior to onset. My first step was to locate the readiness potential, and I believe that I have done so. My next step is to test a wide variety of classification systems, filters, and novel computational methods for predicting arm movements.

The above figure shows the average EEG signal across multiple trials aligned by the recorded onset of movement via EMG. Movement initiation is shown by a vertical bar at 0 seconds. The monte carlo test window of 95% confidence is shown in red. The EMG was recorded from the right wrist flexor with the ground wire connected to the medial epicondyle. The EEG was recorded from C3 on the left side of the head with the reference electrode placed below the base of the occiput and the ground placed on the left mastoid, behind the ear.

My name is Aaron and I like to hear myself talk too much. I have one more year of schooling until I obtain my BS in Bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh. In my spare time, I’ll pretty much do anything as long as it’s fun and/or challenging and/or competitive. Such activities may include, but are not limited to: frisbee, soccer, piano, baseball, board/card games, Rocket League (ranked Diamond in Standard and Doubles), and eating a lot. Also, I enjoy a good conversation.

This is a picture of me (left), my siblings (all older), and my niece.


My project is actually a continuation of previous Fellow’s project back in 2016. I’m going to be expanding on Patrick’s work, so make sure to check out his blog posts for some background information!

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