Free Will

 Posted by on 28 September 2005 at 6:40 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 282005

Mike of Passing Thoughts has an interesting post on the proper interpretation Benjamin Libet’s famous experiment on free will. Wikipedia describes the experiment as follows:

[Libet] asked subjects to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he watched the associated activity in their brains. Libet found that the brain activity leading up to the subject flicking his or her wrist began approximately one-third of a second before the subject consciously decided to move, suggesting that the decision was actually first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward being translated into a “conscious decision”, and that the subject’s belief that it occurred randomly was only due to their perception.

Libet himself apparently opts for a “veto” theory of free will: the freedom of the conscious mind lies in its capacity to veto the random urges of the subconscious. Others, such as Daniel Wegner, have cited such experiments to deny free will entirely by dismissing it as an “illusion.” I’ve only read a short article from Wegner on the topic, assigned in my philosophy of mind class. The data he cited was so completely irrelevant to his conclusion that the whole class agreed that argument was pure foolishness. (However, since I have heard fellow graduate students honestly worry that free will might just be an illusion, I’d like to work through the details of that stolen concept one of these days.)

Interestingly, Mike argues that the results of the experiment are exactly what the Objectivist view of free will would predict. He writes:

What this experiment shows is that the subconscious originates commands and the conscious mind evaluates them, even if for only a nano-second.

When making a choice, OBVIOUSLY the subconscious has to activate possibilities before we can choose. That is the role of the subconscious. Imagine if every time we choose something the conscious mind had to go again through every thought process that preceded the information sent by the subconscious. Choice would be impossible. The most famous experiment on free-will, the one that is supposed to give evidence for determinism, actually provides evidence for free-will if we have a proper theory of the nature of volition!

In addition, it’s important to recognize and emphasize the fact that the conscious mind is responsible for giving the standing orders to the subconscious, in this case: “Flick your wrist on occasion.” Without the conscious mind so directing the subconscious, it wouldn’t do much of anything. As I understand it, the basic error of the veto theory is the failure to recognize that the conscious mind is not merely evaluating the random outputs of the subconscious, but also determining its inputs.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha