Readers may recall that Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne considers neurosurgeon Michael Egnor an archenemy. As we said at the time, Coyne has good taste in archenemies. It shouldn’t go unrewarded.
As Egnor points out, science would imply that we do have free will. But culture says we don’t. So commentators bafflegab around the problem.
They don’t like the outcome of their philosophy but twisting logic won’t change it:
I think that compatibilists’ efforts to avoid the obvious — that free will and determinism can’t both be true — fail in every instance. If determinism is true, then our actions are determined by natural forces over which we have no genuine control and free will is an illusion…
Although most compatibilists have a more or less materialist view of nature, they find it impossible to shake the conviction that free will is real. More.
Could their hesitation be because, as Egnor goes on to point out:
In 1964, Irish physicist John Bell (1928–1990) published a paper titled “On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox”. In it, he observed that there is a way to test determinism at the quantum level by measuring the ratio of quantum states of particles emitted by radioactive decay.1 Bell’s experiment has now been done many times, and the answer is unequivocal: determinism at the quantum level is not true. Nature is not deterministic. More.
We need more discussion of this.
Does brain stimulation research challenge free will?
Is free will a dangerous myth?
27 Replies to “Neurosurgeon asks, Do we have free will or not?”
News writes, “We need more discussion of this.”
We’ve had some exhaustive discussion of this. Do you read ba77’s posts?
What QM says is that certain aspects of nature are probabilistic, and that what happens has a random element to do it. It says nothing about “freedom”. I don’t think it’s an improvement to say, “No, our actions are not determined: rather they happen in part by chance.”
Whatever will is, and however how minds can in part direct our actions and make choices, may very well, as a number of us have discussed lately, involve some type of QM interface between mind and matter, but QM itself doesn’t solve the problem of free will. (And I note wjm’s take on this: no need to repeat here the discussion on the Quantum particles thread.)
Suppose we modify Egnor’s question:
This statement of Egnor’s also stands out to me:
Most ordinary folks have decided that determinism is likely true? That’s news to me.
Edit: Perhaps it shouldn’t be? After a quick round of googling, it looks like determinism is more popular than I thought.
What did you find when you googled, Dave? I think the fact that the universe isn’t strictly deterministic has been accepted by physicists and philosophers who know about QM for a long time.
It looks like I misread—I skimmed a few documents quickly and conflated some of their statements, so I have to withdraw my edit.
I would certainly agree that physicists mostly believe that determinism is false. I suspect that’s true even among the unwashed masses such as myself, perhaps for different reasons.
Dave writes, “If the behavior of a sample of tritium is not determined by physics or chemistry, what besides free will could determine them?’
Good question, Dave. Illustrates my point at 2 well.
This is one of those times I kind of disagree with Michael Egnor, Although I do agree with a lot of what he says I think compatiblists do you have a point.
I think there is an interplay between both determinism and free will. I don’t see how you can’t have one without the other because both justify each other’s existence.
Just because the universe is in determine it doesn’t mean determinism to some degree doesn’t exist.
On the other hand knowing the difference between determinism and free well would suggest that they both exist as both of have had impacts on our perception.
Strict determinism would only give us the view of determinism we would never ever know the difference between free well and itself
No differently than a blind man born blind at birth would know what the color red looks like. Now I know you could say that doesn’t mean the color red doesn’t exist but my point still stands we would know no different of its existence if determinism was all we knew and all there was.
This can similarly be applied to free well as well
Even though logically speaking if we had free will we might be able to see a difference between not having free will and having free will.
This is much less likely in a world that is strictly deterministic I don’t see how you would ever know the difference.
You might be able to say it is when your pre-ordained program is violated by someone else but at the exact same notion you might also realize that that’s part of their pre-ordained program and it becomes a very large and very long circular argument
Anyways I think a little of both has to exist for you to know the difference between the two. I never understood why this world which almost always seems to be a combination of two things, that we almost always have to take one side or the other, when it seems that there’s an inner play between both.
I also kind of seem to see that when this question is asked it presupposes that determinism is true. We always ask the question if not nature than what. Why is it “That we are the source of our decisions”
Is generally never the first answer it’s always some external source like physics, genetics, environment, or combination of the three.
All of those things play on what and who we are but none of those things alone determine what and who we are.
Secondly, a choice is not a choice if it doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s just a selection. Free will is about making a choice even when the value of that choice is not as high as the other, but a choice has to have value because if it meant nothing to you then what’s the point of your choice.
Yes if it has influence on you it impacts your decision but if it had no influence on you in the first point then there’s no reason for the choice. Every choice should mean something to you that doesn’t mean that thats what determines why you chose it.
It’s a catch 22 free will philosophically requires a choice but determinism says that your choice was chosen for you because the influence of the choice but if the choice had no influence then there are there is no free will to begin with and there’s no meaning to the choice.
That’s why am a compatiblist. You have to be able to observe and value the choices for them to mean anything so you need both. Because of its all one or the other either all your choices are meaningless are you never had a choice to begin with.
Without free will we can’t make mistakes no one makes mistakes with determinism but if it’s only free wil then your mistakes don’t matter
“The question that naturally follows is this: Is determinism true? If so, free will is impossible in principle. If not, free will is possible.”
Actually determinism is irrelevant. The reason people obsess about it is because they have materialist assumptions. If materialism is not true, and matter is only moved by spirit (and not by itself, as materialism irrationally supposes) then what happens AFTER it is moved (is it deterministic or probabilistic) is of much interest but not of primary interest.
If materialism is not true and determinism is true, then free will remains absolutely possible, since will is a property of the spiritual realm and not of the material.
Basic reasoning skills remain in short supply in these straitened times …
If determinism is true then we always “choose” to act upon our strongest motives, but which are our strongest motives? They are the motives upon which we always choose to act. Thus, on determinism we always choose to act upon the motives we choose to act upon. Unless I’m missing something there’s a petitio buried in there somewhere.
“Basic reasoning skills remain in short supply in these straitened times …”
Here’s a very old story of a powerful lady in ancient history, who apparently was in search of wisdom and therefore asked many important questions:
The Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-9)
1 Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. 2 She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. 3 And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. 4 And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 5 the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.
6 And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, 7 but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. 8 Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”
The Call of Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-33)
20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,[a]
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
And yet, as Stephen Weinberg himself stated in 2017, “In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure,”
In fact Weinberg, who is an atheist, rejects the instrumentalist approach precisely because of the fact that it undermines the Darwinian worldview from within:
And yet, despite however Weinberg and other atheist would a-priori prefer the world to behave, as of 2018 the instrumentalist approach in quantum mechanics, (as opposed to the ‘realist approach’ in quantum mechanics), has now been empirically confirmed.
Anton Zeilinger and company have now pushed the “free-will loophole” back to 7.8 billion years ago using quasars to determine measurement settings.
Moreover, 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.
As well, the Kochen-Speckter Theorem and Contextuality (which is integral to quantum computation), now confirm the reality of free will within quantum mechanics.
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.”
And 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. ”
And since free will is a entirely Theistic presupposition,,,
,,, And since free will is a entirely Theistic presupposition, then, of course, verifying the reality of free will at such a fundamental level of reality empirically verifies the Christian’s contention that the Mind of God created, and sustains, this universe.
Moreover, allowing the Agent causality of God ‘back’ into physics, as the Christian founders of modern science originally envisioned, and as quantum mechanics itself now empirically demands, provides a very plausible resolution for the much sought after ‘theory of everything’ in that Christ’s resurrection from the dead provides an empirically backed reconciliation, via the Shroud of Turin, between quantum mechanics and general relativity into that quote unquote ‘Theory of Everything”
Besides the empirical verification of ‘free will’ and/or Agent causality within quantum theory bringing that rather startling solution to the much sought after ‘theory of everything’, there is also a fairly drastic implication for individual people being “brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level” as well.
Although free will is often thought of as allowing someone to choose between a veritable infinity of options, in a theistic view of reality that veritable infinity of options all boils down to just two options. Eternal life, (infinity if you will), with God, or Eternal life, (infinity again if you will), without God. C.S. Lewis states the situation as such:
In support of C.S. Lewis’s contention that “Without that self-choice there could be no Hell”, I only have to point to the people who are fanatically ‘pro-choice’ as far as abortion in concerned, demanding the unrestricted right to choose death for their unborn baby no matter what stage of development the baby may be at. Shoot, infanticide itself is now being demanded by many on the ‘pro-choice’ side.
Moreover, exactly as would be a priorily expected on the Christian view of reality, we find two very different eternities in reality. An ‘infinitely destructive’ eternity associated with General Relativity and a extremely orderly eternity associated with Special Relativity:
Again, the implications for individual humans are fairly drastic,
i.e. you are literally choosing between eternal life life with God or eternal death separated from God:
Because of such dire consequences for our eternal souls, I can only plead for atheists to seriously reconsider their choice to reject God, and to now choose life, even eternal life with God, instead of eternal death.
I’d have put it the other way round: science implies no free will while culture insists we do
This is one of the problems with such discussions. What do we mean by free will? Does it just mean I am free to choose between two or more options without my choice being compelled by external influences or does it mean I am able to realize the choice as well? In other words, if I were offered the choice of walking like any other human being or flying unaided like Superman, do I have free will if I decide I would like to fly but nothing happens or do I only have free will if I am actually able to fly like Superman?
And when I make my choice, I usually don’t just toss a coin, I make it for reasons. My choice is being determined to some extent by those reasons. Does that make it free will?
I actually talk about exactly that in both 7, 8. Again I’m a compatiblelist I believe very strongly that you cannot have one without the other you need to have both and they do not eliminate one another.
I understand were Egnor says that it’s culture, all be at you are correct, most culture will insist that we do have free will, but on the same token the culture of academia which, I believe is what he is referring to, will demand that you don’t. Also a lot of the my “genes made me do it”
Or “it’s in my genes”
Is another part of our culture that is insistent that we do not have free will.
A lot of this pushes also comes from misinterpretations of the Libet experiments, thanking Sam Harris for a lot of those deliberate misinterpretations, only benefiting his personal interpretation of it and he often leaves out key things about the experiment that supports free will. There was another more recent experiment specifically testing the free won’t in a book called “the point of no return”
It was very successful and showing that we had free wont using A computer and electrodes measuring brain activity during the generations of RP signals, they actually measured the exact point where you could not cancel RP but also showed that you could cancel it at any time before hand.
Other work from Aaron Schurger Has also supported the idea of free will. Sadly most of the stuff goes unnoticed even though they directly contradict the interpretations of people that push that we do not have free will. So there is science very strong science that supports free will.
But also what is free will exactly?
And that is a very good question that you raise which is also addressed by philosopher Alfred Mele
I do strongly recommend his books
And if this helps at all I do believe that your cognitive awareness has a lot to do with your ability to exercise free will if not it’s directly proportional to it but I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I know everything and anything about free will, I certainly don’t. I’m just sharing my am put I hope it is helpful
Vocabulary Word of the Day:
Now it’s time to be on the lookout for opportunities to use it. (Three cheers for Twitter! Thanks News! 😀 )
“There was another more recent experiment specifically testing the free won’t in a book called “the point of no return”
It was very successful and showing that we had free wont using A computer and electrodes measuring brain activity during the generations of RP signals, they actually measured the exact point where you could not cancel RP but also showed that you could cancel it at any time before hand.”
Very interesting. Could you give a link to this research, a paper, etc.?
“Other work from Aaron Schurger Has also supported the idea of free will. Sadly most of the stuff goes unnoticed even though they directly contradict the interpretations of people that push that we do not have free will. So there is science very strong science that supports free will.”
Can you cite and give links to this research? All I can find on the Internet under Aaron Schurger are descriptions of studies that basically showed another variation of “there is no free will”, this time because of showing that a decision point was reached after a period of unconscious exponential buildup of action potentials, finally triggered by random fluctuations. In other words, a deterministic causal chain + randomness, all that can be imagined by science.
Sooooooooooooooooooooooo I’m about to pull a BA77, so I apologize for how long this is. I have relative links on the bottom. Also the wiki has links to the sources as well but here you go guys I hope this all helps this is two old article that I had copied many years ago”
“”””Brain might not stand in the way of free will
By Anil Ananthaswamy
Editorial: “Can we live without free will?“
Advocates of free will can rest easy, for now. A 30-year-old classic experiment that is often used to argue against free will might have been misinterpreted.
In the early 1980s, Benjamin Libet at the University of California in San Francisco, used electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain activity of volunteers who had been told to make a spontaneous movement. With the help of a precise timer that the volunteers were asked to read at the moment they became aware of the urge to act, Libet found there was a 200 millisecond delay, on average, between this urge and the movement itself.
But the EEG recordings also revealed a signal that appeared in the brain even earlier – 550 milliseconds, on average – before the action. Called the readiness potential, this has been interpreted as a blow to free will, as it suggests that the brain prepares to act well before we are conscious of the urge to move.
This conclusion assumes that the readiness potential is the signature of the brain planning and preparing to move. “Even people who have been critical of Libet’s work, by and large, haven’t challenged that assumption,” says Aaron Schurger of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Saclay, France.
One attempt to do so came in 2009. Judy Trevena and Jeff Miller of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, asked volunteers to decide, after hearing a tone, whether or not to tap on a keyboard. The readiness potential was present regardless of their decision, suggesting that it did not represent the brain preparing to move. Exactly what it did mean, though, still wasn’t clear.
Crossing a threshold
Now, Schurger and colleagues have an explanation. They began by posing a question: how does the brain decide to make a spontaneous movement? They looked to other decision-making scenarios for clues. Previous studies have shown that when we have to make a decision based on visual input, for example, assemblies of neurons start accumulating visual evidence in favour of the various possible outcomes. A decision is triggered when the evidence favouring one particular outcome becomes strong enough to tip its associated assembly of neurons across a threshold.
Schurger’s team hypothesised that something similar happens in the brain during the Libet experiment. Volunteers, however, are specifically asked to ignore any external information before they make a spontaneous movement, so the trigger to act must be internal.
The random fluctuations of neural activity in the brain. Schurger’s team reasoned that movement is triggered when this neural noise accumulates and crosses a threshold.
To probe the idea, the team first built a computer model of such a neural accumulator. In the model, each time the neural noise crossed a threshold it signified a decision to move. They found that when they ran the model numerous times and looked at the pattern of the neural noise that led up to the decision it looked like a readiness potential.
Next, the team repeated Libet’s experiment, but this time if, while waiting to act spontaneously, the volunteers heard a click they had to act immediately. The researchers predicted that the fastest response to the click would be seen in those in whom the accumulation of neural noise had neared the threshold – something that would show up in their EEG as a readiness potential.
This is exactly what the team found. In those with slower responses to the click, the readiness potential was absent in the EEG recordings.
Spontaneous brain activity
“Libet argued that our brain has already decided to move well before we have a conscious intention to move,” says Schurger. “We argue that what looks like a pre-conscious decision process may not in fact reflect a decision at all. It only looks that way because of the nature of spontaneous brain activity.”
So what does this say about free will? “If we are correct, then the Libet experiment does not count as evidence against the possibility of conscious will,” says Schurger
his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein complained that “in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion.” What he meant is that academic psychologists too often interpret empirical evidence in light of unexamined and dubious metaphysical assumptions. What is presented as good science is really just bad philosophy.
The recent spate of neuroscientific and psychological literature claiming to show that free will is an illusion provides a case in point. Philosopher Alfred Mele’s new book, Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will (Oxford, 2015), is a brief, lucid, and decisive refutation of these arguments. Mele demonstrates that scientific evidence comes nowhere close to undermining free will, and that the reasoning leading some scientists to claim otherwise is amazingly sloppy.
Perhaps the best known alleged evidence against free will comes from the work of neurobiologist Benjamin Libet. In Libet’s experiments, subjects were asked to flex a wrist whenever they felt like doing so, and then to report on when they had become consciously aware of the urge to flex it. Their brains were wired so that the activity in the motor cortex responsible for causing their wrists to flex could be detected. While an average of 200 milliseconds passed between the conscious sense of willing and the flexing of the wrist, the activity in the motor cortex would begin an average of over 500milliseconds before the flexing. Hence the conscious urge to flex seems to follow the neural activity which initiates the flexing, rather than causing that neural activity. If free will requires that consciously willing to do something is the cause of doing it, then it follows (so the argument goes) that we don’t really act freely.
As Mele shows, the significance of Libet’s results has been vastly oversold. One problem is that Libet did not demonstrate that the specific kind of neural activity he measured is invariably followed by a flexing of the wrist. Given his experimental setup, only cases where the neural activity was actually followed by flexing were detected. Also, Libet did not check for cases where the neural activity occurred but was not followed by flexing. Hence we have no evidence that that specific kind of neural activity really is sufficient for the flexing. For all Libet has shown, it may be that the neural activity leads to flexing (or doesn’t) depending on whether it is conjoined with a conscious free choice to flex.
There’s a second problem. The sorts of actions Libet studied are highly idiosyncratic. The experimental setup required subjects to wait passively until they were struck by an urge to flex their wrists. But many of our actions don’t work like that—especially those we attribute to free choice. Instead, they involve active deliberation, the weighing of considerations for and against different possible courses of action. It’s hardly surprising that conscious deliberation has little influence on what we do in an experimental situation in which deliberation has been explicitly excluded. And it’s wrong to extend conclusions derived from these artificial situations to all human action, including cases which do involve active deliberation.
Even if the neural activity Libet identifies (contrary to what he actually shows) invariably preceded a flexing of the wrist, it still wouldn’t follow that the flexing wasn’t the product of free choice. Why should we assume that a choice is not free if it registers in consciousness a few hundred milliseconds after it is made? Think of making a cup of coffee. You don’t explicitly think, “Now I will pick up the kettle; now I will pour hot water through the coffee grounds; now I will put the kettle down; now I will pick up a spoon.” You simply do it. You may, after the fact, bring to consciousness the various steps you just carried out; or you may not. We take the action to be free either way. The notion that a free action essentially involves a series of conscious acts of willing, each followed by a discrete bodily movement, is a straw man, and doesn’t correspond to what common sense (or, for that matter, philosophers like Wittgenstein or Aquinas) have in mind when they talk about free action.
Other arguments against free will are no better. For examplese, in psychologist Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments, participants were instructed to administer what they falsely supposed were genuine electric shocks to people who gave incorrect answers to questions put to them. Many participants reluctantly obeyed these commands even when they seemed to be causing severe pain. As with the neuroscientific evidence, some have argued that such data casts doubt on free will. But as Mele says, it’s difficult to see “exactly what the argument is supposed to be.” Is the claim that Milgram’s experimental setup made it inevitable that participants would obey? That can’t be it, because not every participant obeyed the commands. Is the idea merely that situations exist in which people find it difficult to disobey authority figures? If so, what defender of free will ever denied it?
Mele’s book shows that, if anyone has been too quick to follow authority, it’s those who swallow dubious philosophical claims merely because they are peddled by scientists.
Originally posted in the City Journal. Used with permission.
Aquinas pointed out, not all acts of a human are freely willed. He cited a scholar absently stroking his beard as an example. The mistake a lot of critics make is to assume it is an all-or-nothing affair. But as we know, there is an autonomic nervous system in addition to the cerebro-spinal system. No one decides to beat their heart.
Besides, the will is the intellective appetite; that is, a hunger or revulsion for the products of the intellect, for concepts. The emotions are the sensitive appetites, hunger or revulsion for the products of imagination. Whether to flip a wrist or not is an appetite of the senses and while it may be governed by the will, is not itself a product of the will.
Back in the 1980s, the American scientist Benjamin Libet made a surprising discovery that appeared to rock the foundations of what it means to be human. He recorded people’s brain waves as they made spontaneous finger movements while looking at a clock, with the participants telling researchers the time at which they decided to waggle their fingers. Libet’s revolutionary finding was that the timing of these conscious decisions was consistently preceded by several hundred milliseconds of background preparatory brain activity (known technically as “the readiness potential”).
The implication was that the decision to move was made nonconsciously, and that the subjective feeling of having made this decision is tagged on afterward. In other words, the results implied that free will as we know it is an illusion — after all, how can our conscious decisions be truly free if they come after the brain has already started preparing for them?
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For years, various research teams have tried to pick holes in Libet’s original research. It’s been pointed out, for example, that it’s pretty tricky for people to accurately report the time that they made their conscious decision. But, until recently, the broad implications of the finding have weathered these criticisms, at least in the eyes of many hard-nosed neuroscientists, and over the last decade or so his basic result has been replicated and built upon with ever more advanced methods such as fMRI and the direct recording of neuronal activity using implanted electrodes.
These studies all point in the same, troubling direction: We don’t really have free will. In fact, until recently, many neuroscientists would have said any decision you made was not truly free but actually determined by neural processes outside of your conscious control.
Luckily, for those who find this state of affairs philosophically (or existentially) perplexing, things are starting to look up. Thanks to some new breakthrough studies, including one published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers in Germany, there’s now some evidence pointing in the other direction: The neuroscientists are backtracking on past bold claims and painting a rather more appealing account of human autonomy. We may have more control over certain processes than those initial experiments indicated.
The German neuroscientists took a different approach from past work, using a form of brain-computer integration to see whether participants could cancel a movement after the onset of the nonconscious preparatory brain activity identified by Libet. If they could, it would be a sign that humans can consciously intervene and “veto” processes that neuroscience has previously considered automatic and beyond willful control.
The participants’ task started off simply enough: They had to press a foot pedal as quickly as possible whenever they saw a green light and cancel this movement whenever they saw a red light. Things got trickier when the researchers put the red light under the control of a computer that was monitoring the participants’ own brain waves. Whenever the computer detected signs of nonconscious preparatory brain activity, it switched on the red light. If this preparatory activity is truly a signal of actions that are beyond conscious control, the participants should have been incapable of responding to these sudden red lights. In fact, in many cases the participants were able to cancel the nonconscious preparatory brain activity and stop their foot movement before it even began.
Now, there was a point of no return — red lights that appeared too close (less than about one-quarter of a second) to the beginning of a foot movement could not be completely inhibited — there simply wasn’t time for the new cancellation signal to overtake the earlier command to move. But still, the principle stands — these results suggest at least some of the activity identified by Libet can, in fact, be vetoed by conscious will.
“A person’s decisions are not at the mercy of unconscious and early brain waves,” the lead researcher, Don’t r. John-Dylan Haynes of Charité – Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, said in the study’s press release. “They are able to actively intervene in the decision-making process and interrupt a movement. Previously people have used the preparatory brain signals to argue against free will. Our study now shows that the freedom is much less limited than previously thought.”
This new finding comes on the back of research by French neuroscientists published in 2012 in PNAS that also challenged the way Libet’s seminal work is usually interpreted. These researchers believe that the supposedly nonconscious preparatory brain activity identified by Libet is really just part of a fairly random ebb and flow of background neural activity, and that movements occur when this activity crosses a certain threshold. By this account, people’s willful movements should be quicker when they’re made at a time that just happens to coincide with when the background ebb and flow of activity is on a high point.
And that’s exactly what the French team found. They recorded participants’ brain waves as they repeatedly pressed a button with their finger, sometimes spontaneously at times of their own choosing, and other times in response to a randomly occurring click sound. The researchers found that their participants were much quicker to respond to the click sounds when the sounds happened to occur just as this random background brain activity was reaching a peak.
Based on this result from 2012 and a similar finding in a study with rats published in 2014, the lead researcher of the 2012 study, Aaron Schurger at INSERM in Paris, and two colleagues have written in their field’s prestige journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences that it’s time for a new perspective on Libet’s results — they say that their results call “for a reevaluation and reinterpretation of a large body of work” and that for 50 years their field may have been “measuring, mapping and analyzing what may turn out to be a reliable accident: the cortical readiness potential.”
And like their counterparts in Germany, these neuroscientists say the new picture is much more in keeping with our intuitive sense of our free will. When we form a vague intention to move, they explain, this mind-set feeds into the background ebb and flow of neural activity, but the specific decision to act only occurs when the neural activity passes a key threshold — and our all-important subjective feeling of deciding happens at this point or a brief instant afterward. “All this leaves our common sense picture largely intact,” they write.
I’ll leave you to decide whether to believe them or not.
Ooooppps doubter that’s a typo sorry
The German scientist were able to measure when you couldn’t cancel the RP not could hence point of no return, just read my miss take
Like you had a lot of flexibility of when you could cancel it but once you hit that point of no return it was you already invested in the movement and you couldn’t really take it back other than slightly inhibiting it
AaronS1978, it might interest you to know that Libet himself interpreted his own results as supporting the reality of free will and/or ‘free won’t’. Libet also noted the correspondence between his experiments and the traditional religious understanding of human beings.
Moreover, despite the widespread false belief that Libet himself supported a ‘deterministic brain’, the experimental work of Libet, that materialists had often invoked to support a ‘deterministic brain’, has now been reexamined in finer experimental detail and found to be contrary to the deterministic claims that atheists had falsely placed on Libet’s original experimental work:
You know it’s also more Interesting that Benjamin libet quoted the Bible multiple times,especially when referring to the 10 Commandments “Thall shall not”
He did so to show a parallel between the 10 Commandments and the evidence that he said supported Free won’t.
He did not believe One little bit that he had disproven free well or that his research supported that we had no free will. He actually cautions against exactly that interpretation in his conclusion.
And this is almost always left out when people quote him in support of no free will
I find that dubious.
as to, “I find that dubious.”
That is to put it mildly. I think CS Lewis had a bit harsher view of how atheists handle scientific evidence. CS Lewis, said something to the effect of “the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives”.
es58 @ 22 – I don’t see how organisms reacting how they were designed to react has to do with mainstream evolution.
Are electrons and photons conscious? If they are not then the fact that they have properties that are indeterminate on the “quantum level” tells us nothing about free will because whatever free will is it is an attribute of a conscious agent– an intelligent conscious agent.
See Dave’s question at 3, which relates to JAD point.
My perspective on this debate is to humbly submit a summary outline (perhaps simplistic) of some of the disparate but still converging reasons I feel we can relax and realize that we very probably have free will, in no particular order (other arcane philosophical arguments not included). None of the arguments are absolutely conclusive, however.
1. If the mind is the brain, thinking, feeling, and perceiving are physical processes — in particular, input/output processes — going on in the brain. If this is the case these are deterministic causal chains that even if supplemented by random fluctuations, guarantee that there absolutely is no true (libertarian) free will. However, there is a large array of empirical paranormal evidence in the various fields of parapsychology and other areas of psychic investigation that conclusively demonstrate that the mind is not the physical brain.
2. The mind is not the brain for other reasons, for instance the now-famous “Hard Problem” of consciousness. This has no solution up to the present or in the forseeable future. This problem is the fact that the properties of consciousness like thinking, feeling, perceiving (qualia), willing and intentionality (agency), etc. are in a different (higher) existential realm than the properties of matter and energy and space. They have no length, width, depth, mass, charge, velocity, etc. etc., and therefore are not physical, not either the physical brain or its neurological processes. This other higher realm obstinately eludes any scientific analysis. The ultimate nature of it and its subsidiary properties of deciding, willing, “agentness”, etc. are probably scientifically and intellectually unknowable.
3. Libertarian free will does seem to require something other than deterministic causal chains plus random fluctuations, but is seemingly impossible to analytically be conceived of and intellectually understood. But insistence that some sort of an analytical understanding of (libertarian) free will is required to even consider it as possible, is an invalid debating tactic, since it makes the unfounded assumption that that something can’t exist merely because we can’t intellectually understand it.
4. Further, there is no real in-depth understanding of what precisely are causality and randomness. Their real nature may ultimately be traced to consciousness.
Ergo, per 1, 2, 3 and 4 the materialist assumption that determinism and randomness absolutely must rule consciousness is not true, and is not any reason to confidently deny free will. This evidence still leaves the possibility of no-free-will, but then this bare possibility is subject to other objections.
5. “…an objective review of the (empirical) 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.” (https://mindmatters.ai/2018/10/is-free-w…rous-myth/)
6. The existence of human creativity, especially the extreme creativity exhibited by some geniuses also has strong implications toward the existence of free will.
7. Another reason is predicated on the clear implications of a spiritual world view. Of course this argument is rejected out of hand by materialists for ideological reasons. If, despite the present social dominance of materialism, the spiritual world view (the so-called “perennial wisdom”) is correct (and there is a load of empirical evidence bearing on this), then soul (and human) free will must exist. If determinism/randomness rule all of reality and there is no free will, then there is also no sense or point to a spiritual existence, and therefore it probably doesn’t exist. Even if it were possible in a totally deterministic/random reality to conceive of souls with no free will, they make no sense in this metaphysical system. But this totally materialist deterministic/randomistic metaphysic is probably invalid, considering the mass of empirical paranormal evidence alluded to above.