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Category Archive: Free will

Dec 07 2012

Elaborating on the idea of free will

My post yesterday on the coming death of free will generated some interesting comments, with some questioning what I meant by the term ‘free will’ and whether the descriptor of ‘free’ added anything to the discussion or merely confused it. So I thought I would clarify my stand and elaborate on what I think is …

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Dec 06 2012

The coming death of the idea of free will

The idea of human beings having free will is so powerful that it would seem to be impossible to dislodge. Having free will seems to be so essential to the way that we view ourselves that denying its existence seems like denying our very humanity, transforming ourselves into mindless automatons, and thus we are loathe …

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Jun 03 2011

Update on free will

Readers may recall my multi-part series on free will in which, among other things, I reported on the pioneering 1983 experiments of Benjamin Libet. Peter Hankins reviews a recent paper that uses latest developments that have been made possible by more recent sophisticated technology that can look at the activity of individual neurons in the …

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Dec 03 2010

Benjamin Libet’s 1983 experiment

I came across this video of how Libet’s experiments, that started the serious empirical testing of free will, were done.

Dec 02 2010

On free will-16: A sense of self in the absence of free will

(For previous posts in this series, see here.) According to the writer Isaac Beshevis Singer, “We must believe in free will, we have no choice.” It is a funny line because of its paradoxical nature and yet also profound because of its multiple layers of meaning. On the one hand, it could be interpreted as …

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Dec 01 2010

On free will-15: Acting as if there is free will

(For previous posts in this series, see here.) Let’s consider two scenarios. In one case, John carefully plans and executes a murder. In the other case, Susan kills an assailant who attacks her. With a belief in free will, we assume that John freely made a willful and conscious decision to commit that act and …

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Nov 30 2010

On free will-14: Misuse of the insanity defense

(For previous posts in this series, see here.) Many people are suspicious of the insanity defense, suspecting that it is abused by unscrupulous criminals and their lawyers. The fact that psychiatrists and other experts can be found to argue both sides of the case adds weight to the suspicion that there is no objective basis …

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Nov 29 2010

On free will-13: Dealing with the consequences of not having free will

(For previous posts in this series, see here.) It is time to examine the consequences if we are forced to conclude, as seems likely, that there is no such thing as free will and that our actions are determined by the unconscious neural activity of a physical brain that was itself the creation of the …

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Nov 24 2010

On free will-12: How about quick decisions?

(For previous posts in this series, see here.) The 2008 research findings of Soon et. al., gave the surprising result that when we are allowed time to make decisions, our subconscious neural networks make the decisions up to ten seconds before we are consciously aware of it. Of course, there are many situations in which …

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Nov 23 2010

On free will-11: Recent fMRI studies of the brain

(For previous posts in this series, see here.) In a recent paper (Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain, Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze, & John-Dylan Haynes, Nature Neuroscience, vol. 11, no. 5, May 2008, 543-545), researchers used the more sophisticated modern technique of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure …

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