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« Nick Bostrom on the Status Quo Bias | Main | Onora O'Neill on Trust (originally on Bioethics Bites) »

May 20, 2012


Sander Calis

Excuse my English for I'm not a native speaker.

In my opinion the biggest problem with the free will debate, is a discrepancy in languages of philosophy and neuroscience. What's 'true' on the one level might be 'false' on the other. In that order a broader understanding of both domains would upscale the debate from right/wrong into a more insightful thesis.

If you take a historical philosophical perspective you will find that there's a long tradition in thinking about free will without the aide of neuroscience. What happens with current neuroscientists is that their conclusions have broad philosophical consequences, whereas their findings lack solid philosophical ground.

In short; a course in philosophy (on free will) for the neuroscientists and a neuroscience course for philosophers.

My stance on the matter; there's no such thing as free will (hard incompatibilism), derived from the sylogism of responsibility [philosophy, supported by neuroscience! :)]

Andrew Oliver

A. Roskies appears to me to confuse free choice with free will. She may choose either strawberry or vanilla, but all of the reasons for the choice (conscious and unconscious) cannot be but what they are. It is the culmination of all factors - far to numerous and hidden from consciousness - that cause the choice to be made. No amount of scientific equipment can detect the factors that cause the choice. Unless there's an immaterial, independently originating, ghost to make the decision to choose strawberry, then the decision came from the culmination of factors previously mentioned.

Or am I mistaken?


I enjoyed this podcast discussion of free will. It made me wonder if all violent offenders had their brains scanned for tumors, cysts or other. Reminded me of a podcast that described worms in a rat's brain controlling it and making it attracted to cat urine (so the rat would get caught by the cat and worms pass to the cat for a host). I believe it's the Toxoplasmosis parasite.
Can anyone tell me why a deterministic universe would allow even the mere notion of free will? The cogs in my watch seem to function just fine without it.


Sometimes free will and free choice are simply analysed as the same thing on many accounts of free will. free will is a little more broader a term and includes actions based on free choice as well. But for the most part, the two concepts are analysed the same way.

There are also many contemporary accounts of free will (almost all actually) that does not posit anything like immaterial souls.

Philosophy Forum

Andrew - you point out what seems to me as being the heart of the issue >> "It is the culmination of all factors - far to numerous and hidden from consciousness - that cause the choice to be made.s". Indeed, if there causes are far too great for our minds to fathom, then the result of the cause simply cannot be altered. Hence without the ability to cause change there is no free will.

Andrew D. Viceroy

I'm glad to hear that this topic went beyond Libet's work for once. I remain unconvinced by her arguments overall, but she gave it a good go. She appeals to increased probabilities possibly being based upon previous research of her preferences, which the researchers did not do. When you remove researching preferences beforehand, those probabilities ARE relevant. If increased probabilities in prediction were not relevant, what WOULD be relevant? I agree that self-report and noise may be confounds in the Libet studies, but the other studies (Hanes, Fried, etc) do seem to bolster his intuitions. While the agent's participation in a mechanistic world may grant them something like responsibility, our epistemic limitations remove more culpability than we currently assert IMO. What's really important is that the free will v determinism frame be rearranged to focus on predictability. Too much emphasis is placed upon whether or not causal chains are broken and not whether behavioral predisposition endures and circumvents any proposed break in the chain. This is where she falls down, because just because you don't have 100% predictability, doesn't mean you *always* have some remaining untainted free will. I see influence as shades of paint on a wall that overlap. There are no untainted portions, even if there may be more or less influence.


Andrey and community - neuroscience still does not know unconsciousness factors transfer to consciousness is linear or parallel processing, not even if decision is linear causality or not.
From the logic deduction we can not say sure about a conclusion since the premises are uncertain - these causes are far too great for our minds to fathom now from science perspective.
We don't know how unconsciousness deals with ones but we know . As per Itzhak Fried, a neuroscientist and surgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Tel Aviv Medical Center in Israel:
At some point, things that are predetermined are admitted into consciousness," says Fried. The conscious will might be added on to a decision at a later stage, he suggests.
On the other hand:
As per Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara: researchers should instead think of processes working in parallel, in a complex network with interactions happening continually. The time at which one becomes aware of a decision is thus not as important as some have thought.


One question for one participant who posted that:

"It is the culmination of all factors - far to numerous and hidden from consciousness "- how did you determine them all and how do you know consciousness is not aware of ? Please provide the neurologists studies that comes to the conclusion from above, will be interesting for all the community I assume.
Then - Indeed, if there causes are far too great for our minds to fathom, then the result of the cause simply cannot be altered. - but even Benjamin Libet experiment shows the "free won't" and studies that followed after following the same topic.


@Andrew - I think A. Roskies made a straight point about free will as cumulus of free choices that are OURS, and refers also to philosophy about free will and determinism and compatibilism
Even the neuroscience don;t know now all the factors involved and decisions we take, she pointed out clearly that no external factors influence directly, as per all experiments done so far by neurologists.
The decision remains OURS all the time, still there are too complex/unknown factors in place to be put on the table by current science yet to have a full picture , like a mainstream computer processing, for example.
For example, even we have decided that strawberry is our preference by past pattern, we can still stop it, for example considering that ice-cake is outdated or change the colour or whatsoever . Our brain can turn out a "predefined" pattern on site, based on decision making.

We will talk about that 10-15 years after to catch up with new results:) hopefully


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