Mind Naturalism

Michael Egnor: Does brain stimulation research challenge free will?

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If we can be forced to *want* something, is the will still free?

If an electrode is applied to a specific brain region during “awake” neurosurgery, the patient may experience a strong desire to perform a related action and may even be mistaken about whether he has done so. For example, the study Movement intention after parietal cortex stimulation in humans (Karen Reilly et al, 2009), cited over 100 times at Pub Med, reported on patients undergoing awake brain surgery …

Reilly’s work appears to demonstrate that a sense of agency—and free will—can be elicited by direct brain stimulation. It implies that free will is probably an illusion. Materialists frequently cite this and similar research as evidence that the experiential illusion of free will is created by natural activities within the brain: …

The materialist interpretation of Reilly’s work is a misunderstanding of what the research actually shows. However, a genuine understanding requires a bit of background on the nature of agency in human beings.

The classical understanding of the soul derived from Plato and Aristotle—which is, I think, correct—is that the immaterial aspect of the human soul consists of the intellect and the will. The intellect thinks abstract thoughts about universal things (mathematics, morality, etc.) and the will follows on the immaterial intellect. The will is naturally free in the sense that it is not determined by matter. More.

See also: How can we believe in naturalism if we have no choice?

3 Replies to “Michael Egnor: Does brain stimulation research challenge free will?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Nope. Electronic stimulation is no different from drug-induced desires. People have been using alcohol, ergot, and other chemicals to create or eliminate “will” for thousands of years.

  2. 2
    jdk says:

    Entirely off-topic, but there is no current appropriate thread: here is a neat article about a young woman graduate student who has solved a critical problem with quantum computing, for of you interested in both quantum mechanics, AI via quantum computing, and information.

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/graduate-student-solves-quantum-verification-problem-20181008/

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note is this previous article by Dr. Egnor:

    Michael Egnor: Is free will a dangerous myth?
    October 6, 2018
    Excerpt: 4. While scientific experiments do not entirely settle the matter, an objective review of the neuroscientific evidence unequivocally supports the existence of free will. The first neuroscientist to map the brains of conscious subjects, Wilder Penfield, noted that there is an immaterial power of volition in the human mind that he could not stimulate with electrodes. The pioneer in the neuroscience of free will was Benjamin Libet, who demonstrated clearly that, while there is an unconscious material predisposition to acts as shown by electrical brain activity, we retain an immaterial “free won’t,” which is the ability to veto an unconscious urge to act. Many experiments have followed on Libet’s work, most of which use fMRI imaging of brain activity. They all confirm Libet’s observations by showing what is at most a loose correlation between brain activity and volition (for example, nearly half the time the brain activity that precedes the act is on the wrong side of the brain for the activity to determine the will)—the looseness of correlation being best explained as evidence for libertarian free will. Modern neuroscience clearly demonstrates an immaterial component to volition.
    Harari is wrong about free will. It is not a myth. Free will is a real and fundamental aspect of being human, and the denial of free will is junk science and self-refuting logical nonsense.
    https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/michael-egnor-is-free-will-a-dangerous-myth/

    Besides evidence from neuroscience, evidence from quantum mechanics also confirms the reality of free will:

    As Dr. Antoine Suarez states, “the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory.”

    What Does Quantum Physics Have to Do with Free Will? – By Antoine Suarez – July 22, 2013
    Excerpt: What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving “entanglement” (the phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices.
    To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time…
    https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/what-does-quantum-physics-have-do-free-will

    And as Steven Weinberg, an atheist, points out in the following article, “In the instrumentalist approach (in quantum mechanics),,, humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level.,,, the instrumentalist approach turns its back on a vision that became possible after Darwin, of a world governed by impersonal physical laws that control human behavior along with everything else.,,, In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure,,, Unlike the case of classical physics, a choice must be made,,,”

    The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics – Steven Weinberg – January 19, 2017
    Excerpt: The instrumentalist approach,, (the) wave function,, is merely an instrument that provides predictions of the probabilities of various outcomes when measurements are made.,,
    In the instrumentalist approach,,, humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level. According to Eugene Wigner, a pioneer of quantum mechanics, “it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.”11
    Thus the instrumentalist approach turns its back on a vision that became possible after Darwin, of a world governed by impersonal physical laws that control human behavior along with everything else. It is not that we object to thinking about humans. Rather, we want to understand the relation of humans to nature, not just assuming the character of this relation by incorporating it in what we suppose are nature’s fundamental laws, but rather by deduction from laws that make no explicit reference to humans. We may in the end have to give up this goal,,,
    Some physicists who adopt an instrumentalist approach argue that the probabilities we infer from the wave function are objective probabilities, independent of whether humans are making a measurement. I don’t find this tenable. In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure, such as the spin in one or another direction. Unlike the case of classical physics, a choice must be made,,,
    http://www.nybooks.com/article.....mechanics/

    And although Steven Weinberg, an atheist, rejects the instrumentalist approach precisely because of free will, (i.e. precisely because of the fact that “humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level”), science itself could care less about how Weinberg and other atheists would prefer nature to behave.

    Specifically, advances in quantum mechanics, with Contexuality and/or the Kochen-Speckter Theorem, now confirm the reality of free will within quantum mechanics.

    With contextuality we find, “In the quantum world, the property that you discover through measurement is not the property that the system actually had prior to the measurement process. What you observe necessarily depends on how you carried out the observation” and “Measurement outcomes depend on all the other measurements that are performed – the full context of the experiment. Contextuality means that quantum measurements can not be thought of as simply revealing some pre-existing properties of the system under study. ”

    Contextuality is ‘magic ingredient’ for quantum computing – June 11, 2012
    Excerpt: Contextuality was first recognized as a feature of quantum theory almost 50 years ago. The theory showed that it was impossible to explain measurements on quantum systems in the same way as classical systems.
    In the classical world, measurements simply reveal properties that the system had, such as colour, prior to the measurement. In the quantum world, the property that you discover through measurement is not the property that the system actually had prior to the measurement process. What you observe necessarily depends on how you carried out the observation.
    Imagine turning over a playing card. It will be either a red suit or a black suit – a two-outcome measurement. Now imagine nine playing cards laid out in a grid with three rows and three columns. Quantum mechanics predicts something that seems contradictory – there must be an even number of red cards in every row and an odd number of red cards in every column. Try to draw a grid that obeys these rules and you will find it impossible. It’s because quantum measurements cannot be interpreted as merely revealing a pre-existing property in the same way that flipping a card reveals a red or black suit.
    Measurement outcomes depend on all the other measurements that are performed – the full context of the experiment.
    Contextuality means that quantum measurements can not be thought of as simply revealing some pre-existing properties of the system under study. That’s part of the weirdness of quantum mechanics.
    http://phys.org/news/2014-06-w.....antum.html

    And with the Kochen-Speckter Theorem we find, as leading experimental physicist Anton Zeilinger states in the following video, what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure. Which is a very, very, deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.”

    “The Kochen-Speckter Theorem talks about properties of one system only. So we know that we cannot assume – to put it precisely, we know that it is wrong to assume that the features of a system, which we observe in a measurement exist prior to measurement. Not always. I mean in a certain cases. So in a sense, what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure. Which is a very, very, deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.”
    Anton Zeilinger –
    Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism – video (7:17 minute mark)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=4C5pq7W5yRM#t=437

    Moreover the final ‘free will’ loophole in quantum mechanics has now been closed. Specifically, the “creepy” and “far-fetched” possibility that the “physicist running the experiment does not have complete free will in choosing each detector’s setting” and that “a particle detector’s settings may “conspire” with events in the shared causal past of the detectors themselves to determine which properties of the particle to measure”,,, has been closed.

    Closing the ‘free will’ loophole: Using distant quasars to test Bell’s theorem – February 20, 2014
    Excerpt: Though two major loopholes have since been closed, a third remains; physicists refer to it as “setting independence,” or more provocatively, “free will.” This loophole proposes that a particle detector’s settings may “conspire” with events in the shared causal past of the detectors themselves to determine which properties of the particle to measure — a scenario that, however far-fetched, implies that a physicist running the experiment does not have complete free will in choosing each detector’s setting. Such a scenario would result in biased measurements, suggesting that two particles are correlated more than they actually are, and giving more weight to quantum mechanics than classical physics.
    “It sounds creepy, but people realized that’s a logical possibility that hasn’t been closed yet,” says MIT’s David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and senior lecturer in the Department of Physics. “Before we make the leap to say the equations of quantum theory tell us the world is inescapably crazy and bizarre, have we closed every conceivable logical loophole, even if they may not seem plausible in the world we know today?”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....112515.htm

    ,,, that “creepy” and “far-fetched” possibility has now been closed,,,

    Anton Zeilinger and company have now pushed the “free-will loophole” back to 7.8 billion years ago using quasars to determine measurement settings.

    Cosmic Bell Test Using Random Measurement Settings from High-Redshift Quasars – Anton Zeilinger – 14 June 2018
    Abstract: In this Letter, we present a cosmic Bell experiment with polarization-entangled photons, in which measurement settings were determined based on real-time measurements of the wavelength of photons from high-redshift quasars, whose light was emitted billions of years ago; the experiment simultaneously ensures locality. Assuming fair sampling for all detected photons and that the wavelength of the quasar photons had not been selectively altered or previewed between emission and detection, we observe statistically significant violation of Bell’s inequality by 9.3 standard deviations, corresponding to an estimated p value of ? 7.4 × 10^21. This experiment pushes back to at least ? 7.8 Gyr ago the most recent time by which any local-realist influences could have exploited the “freedom-of-choice” loophole to engineer the observed Bell violation, excluding any such mechanism from 96% of the space-time volume of the past light cone of our experiment, extending from the big bang to today.
    https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.080403

    And here is another recent interesting experiment by Anton Zeilinger, (and about 70 other researchers), that insured the complete independence of measurement settings in a Bell test from the free will choices of 100,000 human participants instead of having a physical randomizer determine measurement settings.

    Challenging local realism with human choices – A. Zeilinger – 20 May 2018
    Abstract: A Bell test, which challenges the philosophical worldview of local realism against experimental observations, is a randomized trial requiring spatially-distributed entanglement, fast and high-efficiency detection, and unpredictable measurement settings. While technology can perfect the first two of these, and while technological randomness sources enable device-independent protocols based on Bell inequality violation, challenging local realism using physical randomizers inevitably makes assumptions about the same physics one aims to test. Bell himself noted this weakness of physical setting choices and argued that human free will could rigorously be used to assure unpredictability in Bell tests. Here we report a suite of local realism tests using human choices, avoiding assumptions about predictability in physics. We recruited ~100,000 human participants to play an online video game that incentivizes fast, sustained input of unpredictable bits while also illustrating Bell test methodology. The participants generated 97,347,490 binary choices, which were directed via a scalable web platform to twelve laboratories on five continents, in which 13 experiments tested local realism using photons, single atoms, atomic ensembles, and superconducting devices. Over a 12-hour period on the 30 Nov. 2016, participants worldwide provided a sustained flow of over 1000 bits/s to the experiments, which used different human-generated bits to choose each measurement setting. The observed correlations strongly contradict local realism and other realist positions in bi-partite and tri-partite scenarios. Project outcomes include closing of the freedom-of-choice loophole, gamification of statistical and quantum non-locality concepts, new methods for quantum-secured communications, a very large dataset of human-generated randomness, and networking techniques for global participation in experimental science.
    https://arxiv.org/abs/1805.04431

    Thus it is not only, (as Dr. Egnor pointed out), that the Atheist’s belief in determinism is falsified by neuroscience, it is also now shown that free will is a integral part, even a defining axiom, within quantum mechanics.

    Moreover, having the reality of free will empirically validated by quantum mechanics at such a foundational level of reality has some fairly profound implications for us.
    https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/michael-egnor-is-free-will-a-dangerous-myth/#comment-665917

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