Why neuroscience does not disprove free will.

Affiliation

Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, Ghent, 9000, Belgium. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

While the question whether free will exists or not has concerned philosophers for centuries, empirical research on this question is relatively young. About 35 years ago Benjamin Libet designed an experiment that challenged the common intuition of free will, namely that conscious intentions are causally efficacious. Libet demonstrated that conscious intentions are preceded by a specific pattern of brain activation, suggesting that unconscious processes determine our decisions and we are only retrospectively informed about these decisions. Libet-style experiments have ever since dominated the discourse about the existence of free will and have found their way into the public media. Here we review the most important challenges to the common interpretation of Libet-style tasks and argue that the common interpretation is questionable. Brain activity preceding conscious decisions reflects the decision process rather than its outcome. Furthermore, the decision process is configured by conditional intentions that participants form at the beginning of the experiment. We conclude that Libet-style tasks do not provide a serious challenge to our intuition of free will.

Keywords

Attention,Awareness,Bias-signal,COINTOB model,Choice,Conditional intention,Decision,Drift-diffusion model,Free will,Implementation intention,Integration-to-bound process,Intentional action,Libet,Picking,Psychopathology,Readiness potential,Stochastic noise,Vetoing,Volition,W time,