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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Are the Implications of the Free Will Debate for Individuals and Society?

By Alfred Mele
Big Questions Online
Originally posted May 6, 2014

Does free will exist? Current interest in that question is fueled by news reports suggesting that neuroscientists have proved it doesn’t. In the last few years, I’ve been on a mission to explain why scientific discoveries haven’t closed the door on free will. To readers interested in a rigorous explanation, I recommend my 2009 book, Effective Intentions. For a quicker read, you might wait for my Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, to be published this fall.

One major plank in a well-known neuroscientific argument for the nonexistence of free will is the claim that participants in various experiments make their decisions unconsciously. In some studies, this claim is based partly on EEG readings (electrical readings taken from the scalp). In others, fMRI data (about changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain) are used instead. In yet others, with people whose skulls are open for medical purposes, readings are taken directly from the brain. The other part of the evidence comes from participants’ reports on when they first became aware of their decisions. If the reports are accurate (which is disputed), the typical sequence of events is as follows: first, there is the brain activity the scientists focus on, then the participants become aware of decisions (or intentions or urges) to act, and then they act, flexing a wrist or pushing a button, for example.

The entire article is here.