We all sense that free will is real. We know that we could have stopped ourselves from making some mistakes. For decades, some neuroscientists have claimed that free will is an illusion, based on some well-publicized experiments. Some recent research challenges that:
Experiments spanning the 1960s and 1980s measured brain signals noninvasively and led many neuroscientists to believe that our brains make decisions before we do—that human actions were initiated by electrical waves that did not reflect free, conscious thought.
However, a new article in Trends in Cognitive Science argues that recent research undermines this popular case against free will.
“This new perspective on the data turns on its head the way well-known findings have been interpreted,” said Adina Roskies, the Helman Family Distinguished Professor and professor of philosophy at Dartmouth College, who co-wrote the article. “The new interpretation accounts for the data while undermining all the reasons to think it challenges free will.”Dartmouth College, “Neuroscience doesn’t undermine free will after all” at MedicalXpress The paper is open access.
According to the new research, many of the busy brain signals on which the “no free will” position depends on were system noise:
These new computational models account for the consistent finding of the readiness potential without positing anything like an RP in individual trials. The readiness potential itself is a kind of artifact or illusion, one which would be expected to appear just as it does given the experimental design, but doesn’t reflect a real brain signal that begins with the RP onset or is read out by other areas,” said Roskies.Dartmouth College, “Neuroscience doesn’t undermine free will after all” at MedicalXpress The paper is open access.
Benjamin Libet (1916-2007), whose research is quoted at MedicalXPress, actually thought that free will is real. But his research is often interpreted as showing otherwise:
Robert J. Marks: You mentioned that Libet’s experiment of free won’t is actually misrepresented by materialists. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
Michael Egnor (right): Yes, the misinterpretation is very common and it’s almost routine to read or to hear Libet’s work being described as scientific evidence for the absence of free will. Which is bizarre because Libet himself explicitly endorsed the reality of free will, emphatically he endorsed the reality of free will. And Libet point out that his research unequivocally supports the reality of libertarian free will. But his experiments are described very often both in the scientific literature and in the popular press as supportive of materialism—which is something that they don’t support and something that Libet made very clear was not his conclusion.
News, “How Libet’s free will research is misrepresented” at Mind Matters News (March 23, 2020)
Michael Egnor: So he asked the people, when you make a decision to push the button, immediately veto the decision. So, sit there at the desk, say “Hey, I’m going to push this button” and then say “No, maybe I won’t push the button.” And then don’t push it. So he looked at the vetoes. And what he found was, when you made a decision to push the button, you still had the brain wave that preceded the decision by half a second. But when you decided to veto pushing the button, there was no new brain wave at all. It was silent in terms of brain waves.
Robert J. Marks: Interesting.
Michael Egnor: But you did make the decision to veto. So he said that it wasn’t so much that you have free will but you have free won’t. That is, you have the ability to decide whether or not you are going to comply with what your brain is urging you to do. And that compliance is not material. It’s not a brain wave. It’s immaterial. And he said, that’s the soul. That’s free will.News, “How Libet’s free will research is misrepresented” at Mind Matters News (March 23, 2020)
It would only be fair to neuroscientist Benjamin Libet’s memory to set the record straight. He did believe in free will. It was the popular science media that didn’t believe in it.
Can physics prove there is no free will? No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will. It’s hilarious. Sabine Hossenfelder misses the irony that she insists that people “change their minds” by accepting her assertion that they… can’t change their minds.
Does “alien hand syndrome” show that we don’t really have free will? One woman’s left hand seemed to have a mind of its own. Did it? Alien hand syndrome doesn’t mean that free will is not real. In fact, it clarifies exactly what free will is and what it isn’t.
But is determinism true? Does science show that we fated to want whatever we want? Modern science—both theoretical and experimental—strongly supports the reality of free will.
How can mere products of nature have free will? Materialists don’t like the outcome of their philosophy but twisting logic won’t change it
Does brain stimulation research challenge free will? If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free?
Is free will a dangerous myth? The denial of free will is a much more dangerous myth
Also: Do quasars provide evidence for free will? Possibly. They certainly rule out experimenter interference.
Can free will even be an illusion? Michael Egnor reiterates the freeing implications of quantum indeterminacy
Also, by Baylor University’s Robert J. Marks: Quantum randomness gives nature free will Whether or not quantum randomness explains how our brains work, it may help us create unbreakable encryption codes