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Do human beings have free will? Show more Show less
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Do we have control over our actions? If we do, what sort of control and to what extent? Free will is the power to act without the constraint of necessity or fate. It is the ability to act at one's own discretion. For centuries, people have wondered how freedom is possible in a world ruled by physical determinism. Reflections on free will have been confined to philosophy until half a century ago, when the topic started also to be seriously investigated by neuroscientists. Today, there are several irreconcilable positions about the existence of human free will.

No, people don't have free will Show more Show less

We can run from it, but the truth is that our actions are predetermined by a higher force than our selves.
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Neuroscientific research has disproved the existence of free will

Benjamin Libet conclusively proved that we decide to carry out actions after it has already been determined.
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The Argument

Philosophers have spent millennia debating whether we have free will without reaching a conclusive answer. Neuroscientists optimistically entered the field in the 1980s, armed with tools they were confident could reveal the origin of actions in the brain.[1] At the University of California, Benjamin Libet conducted experiments that looked at the electroencephalogram outputs of volunteers who were told to make random motions, such as pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock. Libert found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.[2] The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on, a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurs after the brain has already set the act in motion.[3] Libet’s so-called readiness potential (RP) was taken as evidence that free will is an illusion, since it seems that specific brain areas activate before we are aware of the onset of the movement.[4][1] Libet introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will, which many had already claimed at a theoretical level based on the argument of the incompatibility between determinism and freedom.[4][5] It seemed as though neuroscience had produced empirical evidence against free will, so that the century-long debate on it could be considered solved.[4]

Counter arguments

The concept of free will relevant to our moral, legal, personal and social practices is much more complex than that captured by Libert's experiments.[4] Three decades later, neuroscientists have reached the same conclusion as philosophers: free will is complicated.[1] Libet’s experiments have been criticized, with many arguing that “there was no evidence of stronger electrophysiological signs before a decision to move than before a decision not to move, so these signs clearly are not specific to movement preparation.”[6][4] Recent studies also point to a different interpretation of the RP, namely that the apparent build-up of the brain activity preceding subjectively spontaneous voluntary movements may reflect the ebb and flow of the background neuronal noise, which is triggered by many factors.[4][5] These subsequent studies argued that Libert’s was a flawed interpretation, and that the results said little about free will.[1] This interpretation seems to bridge, at least partially, the gap between the neuroscientific perspective on free will and the intuitive, commonsensical view of it.[4]

Premises

[P1] It has been scientifically proven that our actions are not determined by our own free will.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] The 'science' that demonstrates this is flawed.

Further Reading

Lavazza, A. (2016) Free Will and Neuroscience: From Explaining Freedom Away to New Ways of Operationalizing and Measuring It. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 262 Libet, B. (1985). Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 8 (4): 529–566. doi:10.1017/s0140525x00044903 Schurger, A., Sitt, J, & Dehaene, S. (2012) An accumulator model for spontaneous neural activity prior to self-initiated movement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Stated of America (PNAS) October 16, 2012 109 (42) E2904-E2913; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1210467109

References

  1. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/philosophers-and-neuroscientists-join-forces-see-whether-science-can-solve-mystery-free
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/02/science/02free.html
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/
  4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00262/full
  5. https://www.pnas.org/content/109/42/E2904.abstract
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19736023
This page was last edited on Tuesday, 21 Apr 2020 at 09:01 UTC

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