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Michael Egnor: How a neuroscientist imaged free will (and “free won’t”)

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Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor discussed the work of neuroscientist Benjamin Libet (1916–2007), who studied measured brain activity as people make decisions, came across the power of “free won’t”: an apparently free decision NOT to do something we had decided on earlier.

At first, Libet thought that free will might not be real. Then he looked again…

But then, being a really good scientist, he decided to look at it in a little more depth. So he asked the people, when you make a decision to push the button, immediately veto the decision. So, sit there at the desk, say “Hey, I’m going to push this button” and then say “No, maybe I won’t push the button.” And then don’t push it. So he looked at the vetoes. And what he found was, when you made a decision to push the button, you still had the brain wave that preceded the decision by half a second. But when you decided to veto pushing the button, there was no new brain wave at all. It was silent in terms of brain waves…

But you did make the decision to veto. So he said that it wasn’t so much that you have free will but you have free won’t. That is, you have the ability to decide whether or not you are going to comply with what your brain is urging you to do. And that compliance is not material. It’s not a brain wave. It’s immaterial. And he said, that’s the soul. That’s free will.

Michael Egnor, “How a neuroscientist imaged free will (and free won’t)” at Mind Matters News

Further reading on free will and free won’t:

Can free will really be a scientific idea? (Eric Holloway) Yes, if we look at it from the perspective of information theory

Why do atheists still claim that free will can’t exist? Sam Harris reduces everything to physics but then ignores quantum non-determinism (Eric Holloway)

Was famous old evidence against free will just debunked? The pattern that was thought to prove free will an illusion may have been noise


Younger thinkers now argue that free will is real. The laws of physics do not rule it out, they say.

Also by Dr. Michael Egnor on free will:

Can physics prove there is no free will?

Does “alien hand syndrome” show that we don’t really have free will?

How can mere products of nature have free will?

Does brain stimulation research challenge free will?

Is free will a dangerous myth?


But is determinism true?

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