Free will and neuroscience

Ever get told that neuroscience has disproved free will?

Well, I’m still undecided on free will (in the libertarian sense) so don’t really have an agenda to push, but I know that this is pretty much rubbish. I don’t have time to go into it now, but check out this conclusion from Libet’s own 1985 paper (2 years after his original pioneering work was published):

“This is not the place to debate the issue of free will versus determinism in connection with an apparently endogenous voluntary action that one experiences subjectively as freely willed and self-controllable (see Eccles 1980; Hook 1960; Nagel 1979; Popper & Eccles 1977). However, it is important to emphasize that the present experimental findings and analysis do not exclude t he potential for “philosophically real” individual responsibility and free will. Although the volitional process may be initiated by unconscious cerebral activities, conscious control of the actual motor performance of voluntary acts definitely remains possible. The findings should therefore be taken not as being antagonistic to free will but rather as affecting the view of how free will might operate. Processes associated with individual responsibility and free will would “operate” not to initiate a voluntary act but to select and control volitional outcomes.”

Take it from the pioneer of this area of neuroscience!

3 thoughts on “Free will and neuroscience

  1. I prefer Sam Harris’ take on free will. It’s interesting to say the least but I think he challenges what the ‘self’ is and how there is no ‘self’ in the brain. I’m most likely wrong about that but he ends off with “The illusion of free will, is in itself, an illusion”.

    There’s also Daniel Dennett’s “Elbow Room” which I haven’t got round to reading unfortunately.

  2. We, even as Christians, still, at times, experience sin and it’s impulses. But, thankfully, are set free from acting on these impulses to a tremendous degree than would otherwise be the case as we have another life, the life of God, living in us.

  3. Not sure if you’ve spent much studying Victor Reppert’s developments of the “Argument from Reason” (i.e., against physicalism), but He and some other philosophers (esp. Derek Barefoot, and William Hasker) have made an extremely convincing case for the incompatibility of physicalism and the reality of rational inference. Reppert divides the argument into six subarguments. The one that I think has important implications for “free will” is the so-called “argument from mental causation”. Now Reppert, Barefoot and Hasker each aim to show the ways in which physicalism holds to certain assumptions about reality that preclude the possibility of real mental causation, and seek to show how this further precludes the possibility of real, rational inference. I think, though, that their arguments can equally be applied to accounts (or rather denials) of “free will” such as Harris’s. If I’m right, and using neuroscience to argue for determinism precludes, as does physicalism, the possibility of rational inference, then Harris et. al. cannot argue that their conclusions about free will were rationally inferred. In which case, why should we accept their conclusions about free will?

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