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Michael Egnor: Materialists misrepresent Libet’s research on free will

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Egnor is responding to a reader’s question about whether neuroscience has disproven free will. Among other things, he notes:

Materialists sometimes misrepresent the evidence for free will, especially Benjamin Libet’s work. …

found that there was a brain wave from the cortex about a half second before the person was aware of making the decision. Libet initially interpreted this as refuting free will — it seemed that our “decisions” are determined beforehand by physical processes in the brain and we merely experience the illusion of deciding freely.

But Libet was an excellent scientist so he tested the hypothesis that free will isn’t real by asking the volunteers to occasionally veto their decision after making it — to decide to push the button but to then immediately decide not to. He found that there was no brain wave associated with the veto — i.e., the veto was not from the brain. Thus, the veto was immaterial and independent of brain processes, and it corresponded to free will. Libet concluded that our decisions consist of two parts: a preconscious “temptation” and a conscious acceptance or veto. The temptation was associated with brain activity and might in that sense be considered involuntary (even that is problematic). But the acceptance or veto of the temptation was not determined by brain activity and appeared to be immaterial (i.e. spiritual) in origin. Libet quipped that he hadn’t proven free will per se, but he had proved “free won’t.”

Materialists like Harris misrepresent Libet’s work. It is hard to believe that they do not know they are doing so. Harris has a PhD in neuroscience and he’s fully aware of Libet’s research, yet he chooses to mislead the public about the fact that Libet’s work supports free will. It’s unscientific behavior on the part of a scientist and a public intellectual but this sort of thing is par for the course for materialists. Michael Egnor, “A reader asks: Does neuroscience disprove free will?” at Mind Matters News

He says, “We most certainly do have free will. We can see this from three perspectives: scientific, philosophical and logical.” He provides material on all three.

See also:

Why I, as a neurosurgeon, believe in free will. The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy

and

Can physics prove there is no free will? No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will. Think of the irony: she entreats us “If you want to make good decisions…” after insisting that we can make no decisions at all, let along good ones.

One Reply to “Michael Egnor: Materialists misrepresent Libet’s research on free will

  1. 1
    Fasteddious says:

    I thought doubt had been cast on Libet’s work as not reproducible? I recall reading something about the signal levels were in the noise and being interpreted by wishful thinking. But I could be wrong. After all, if I don’t have free will, then I had no choice in typing this.
    Even if true, why couldn’t the half second delay merely be the process of choosing freely? i.e. it takes time to choose and more time to think about choosing.

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