Questions about free will ever keep you up at night? I just read a great rambling roundtable of an essay called Faith and The Science of Free Will.
It’s a response to an essay by John Horgan in the New York Times, which reads in part: A couple of books I’ve been reading lately have left me brooding over the possibility that free will is as much a myth as divine justice. The chief offender is The Illusion of Conscious Will, by Dr. Daniel M. Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard.… We think of will as a force, but actually, Dr. Wegner says, it is a feeling“merely a feeling,” as he puts itof control over our actions. I think, “I’m going to get up now,” and when I do a moment later, I credit that feeling with having been the instigating cause. But as we all know, correlation does not equal causation.
The exchanges (several people comment) are insightful, such as this one: My response to this is based on The Volitional Brain: Towards a Neuroscience of Free Will, edited by Benjamin Libet (Imprint Academic, 2000). As I understand it, Libet was actually one of the scientists involved in the experiments that Dr. Wegner refers to. The fact that Libet’s position is nowhere mentioned makes me very suspicious of Wegner’s agenda.
The conscious will appears to be initiated by an unconscious brain event. If the experiment is correct, then this calls into question free will. But Libet says the conscious will can veto these subconscious decisions (see page 51 of The Volitional Brain). The conscious veto may itself have a preceding unconscious process. But this would become an unconscious choice of which we become conscious rather than a consciously causal event (52). The conscious veto is a control function, not just simply becoming aware of a wish to act. The role of conscious free will would be, then, not to initiate a voluntary act, but rather to control whether the act takes place. The ethical implications of this are actually consistent with most ethical and religious systems. Most of the Ten Commandments are thou‐shall‐not commandments (54). The experiments cited by Wegner give us no indication that actions cannot be consciously controlled.
Pretty cool stuff. You can read an expanded version of the essay here.