Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will 


▷ Murphy, Nancey, George F. R. Ellis, and Timothy O'Connor (eds.) (2009). Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

Online version available 

Publisher: Springer

Hardcover: VIII + 292 pages, 24 illus., 5 in color

Pub Date: September 21, 2009

ISBN-10: 3-642-03204-4

ISBN-13: 978-3-642-03204-2

e-ISBN: 978-3-642-03205-9

Book Dimensions: 235 x 155 mm

List Price: $129.00 / £90.00 / €99.95 


How is free will possible in the light of the physical and chemical underpinnings of brain activity and recent neurobiological experiments? How can the emergence of complexity in hierarchical systems such as the brain, based at the lower levels in physical interactions, lead to something like genuine free will? The nature of our understanding of free will in the light of present-day neuroscience is becoming increasingly important because of remarkable discoveries on the topic being made by neuroscientists at the present time, on the one hand, and its crucial importance for the way we view ourselves as human beings, on the other. A key tool in understanding how free will may arise in this context is the idea of downward causation in complex systems, happening coterminously with bottom up causation, to form an integral whole. Top-down causation is usually neglected, and is therefore emphasized in the other part of the book's title. The concept is explored in depth, as are the ethical and legal implications of our understanding of free will.

This book arises out of a workshop held in California in April of 2007, which was chaired by Dr. Christof Koch. It was unusual in terms of the breadth of people involved: they included physicists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, and theologians. This enabled the meeting, and hence the resulting book, to attain a rather broader perspective on the issue than is often attained at academic symposia. The book includes contributions by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, George F. R. Ellis , Christopher D. Frith, Mark Hallett, David Hodgson, Owen D. Jones, Alicia Juarrero, J. A. Scott Kelso, Christof Koch, Hans Küng, Hakwan C. Lau, Dean Mobbs, Nancey Murphy, William Newsome, Timothy O'Connor, Sean A. Spence, and Evan Thompson.

Written for: Researchers, engineers, graduate students in complexity, neuroscience, neurobiology, philosophy, theology

Keywords: Cognitive Neuroscience · Complex Systems · Complexity · Downward Causation · Free Will


1 Introduction and Overview …… 1-28

Nancey Murphy 

School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, 91182

Email: nmurphy [AT] fuller.edu

Summary: This chapter provides an overview of some of the history of debates regarding free will, and concurs with several authors who claim that the philosophical discussions have reached a stalemate due to their focus on a metaphysical doctrine of universal determinism. The way ahead, therefore, requires two developments. One is to focus not on determinism but on reductionism; the other is to attend to specific scientific findings that appear to call free will into question. The chapter provides an introduction to the topics of reductionism, emergence, and downward causation, and then surveys the works of Daniel Wegner and Benjamin Libet, which have been taken to show the irrelevance of conscious will in human action. It summarizes the chapters comprising the rest of the volume, and then offers a reflection on the achievement of the work as a whole ― in brief, a critique of free-will skeptics based on human capacities such as meta-cognition and long-term planning, which allow agents to exert downward control on neural processes and behavior. It ends by highlighting, in light of Alasdair MacIntyre's work on moral responsibility, an important additional factor involved in creating the possibility for freedom of choice, namely the possession of abstract symbolic language.

Keywords: voluntary action, bottom-up causation, downward causation, top-down causation, emergence, free will, symbolic language, Benjamin Libet, Alasdair MacIntyre, self-transcendence, complex dynamical systems, Daniel Wegner

Part I: Physics, Emergence, and Complex Systems

2 Free Will, Physics, Biology, and the Brain …… 31-52

Christof Koch

Division of Biology and Division of Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, 91125

Email: koch.christof [AT] gmail.com

Summary: This introduction reviews the traditionally conceived question of free will from the point of view of a physicist turned neurobiologist. I discuss the quantum mechanic evidence that has brought us to the view that the world, including our brains, is not completely determined by physics and that even very simple nervous systems are subject to deterministic chaos. However, it is unclear how consciousness or any other extra-physical agent could take advantage of this situation to effect a change in the world, except possibly by realizing one quantum possibility over another. While the brain is a highly nonlinear and stochastic system, it remains unclear to what extent individual quantum effects can affect its output behavior. Finally, I discuss several cognitive neuroscience experiments suggesting that in many instances, our brain decides prior to our conscious mind, and that we often ignorant of our brain's decisions.

Keywords: Determinism, indeterminism, free will, quantum indeterminacy, neurons, stochastic synaptic release, flies, roundworm, readiness potential, choice blindness

3 Human Freedom “Emergence” …… 53-62

William T. Newsome

Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Fairchild Building, Room D200, Stanford, CA, 94305

Email: bill [AT] monkeybiz.stanford.edu

Summary: Whether free will is a reality is an increasingly urgent problem, both from a scientific and a social point of view. An ability to make judgments and take actions that are "free" in some meaningful sense would seem a prerequisite for the process of scientific reasoning and for our ability to behave morally. How are we to reconcile the "autonomy" of a reasoning intellect with our scientific conviction that all behavior is mediated by mechanistic interactions between cells of the central nervous system? It seems that answers will ultimately lie in a deeper understanding of emergent phenomena in complex systems. This will help enrich our impoverished standard notions of causation in physical systems.

Keywords: free will, emergence, neuroscience, neural networks, casuality

4 Top-Down Causation and the Human Brain …… 63-81

George F. R. Ellis

Mathematics Department, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, Cape Town, South Africa

Email: George.Ellis [AT] uct.ac.za

Summary: A reliable understanding of the nature of causation is the core feature of science. In this paper the concept of top-down causation in the hierarchy of structure and causation is examined in depth. Five different classes of top-down causation are identified and illustrated with real-world examples. They are (1) algorithmic top-down causation; (2) top-down causation via nonadaptive information control; (3) top-down causation via adaptive selection; (4) top-down causation via adaptive information control; and (5) intelligent top-down causation (i.e., the effect of the human mind on the physical world). Recognizing these forms of causation implies that other kinds of causes than physical and chemical interactions are effective in the real world. Because of the existence of random processes at the bottom, there is sufficient causal slack at the physical level to allow all these kinds of causation to occur without violation of physical causation. That they do indeed occur is indicated by many kinds of evidence. Each such kind of causation takes place in particular in the human brain, as is indicated by specific examples.

Keywords: complex systems, hierarchy, causation

5 Top-Down Causation and Autonomy in Complex Systems …… 83-102

Alicia Juarrero

Emeritus, Prince George's Community College, Largo, MD, 20774-2199

Email: ajuarrero [AT] pgcc.edu

Summary: Evolutionary evidence shows that complex dynamical systems become increasingly self-directed and decoupled from merely energetic forces over time. In this paper I analyze these transformations, concentrating on changes in the type of top-down causation that characterizes such self-organized and autopoietic processes. Specifically, I show that the top-down selection criteria of these systems makes some of them autonomous, and that because once evolution reaches humans the criteria according to which voluntary actions are selected are semantic and symbolic ― and can be self-consciously chosen ― human self-direction constitutes a form of strong autonomy that can arguably be considered "free will."

Keywords: autonomy, complexity, constraints, context-dependence, emergence, evolution, free will, multiple realizability, selection, self-determination, self-organization, top-down causation

6 Toward a Complementary Neuroscience: Metastable Coordination Dynamics of the Brain …… 103-124

J. A. Scott Kelso and Emmanuelle Tognoli

The Human Brain and Behavior Laboratory Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL, 33431

Email: kelso [AT] ccs.fau.edu

Email: tognoli [AT] ccs.fau.edu

Summary: Metastability has been proposed as a new principle of behavioral and brain function and may point the way to a truly complementary neuroscience. From elementary coordination dynamics we show explicitly that metastability is a result of a symmetry-breaking caused by the subtle interplay of two forces: the tendency of the components to couple together and the tendency of the components to express their intrinsic independent behavior. The metastable regime reconciles the well-known tendencies of specialized brain regions to express their autonomy (segregation) and the tendencies for those regions to work together as a synergy (integration). Integration ~ segregation is just one of the complementary pairs (denoted by the tilde [~] symbol) to emerge from the science of coordination dynamics. We discuss metastability in the brain by describing the favorable conditions existing for its emergence and by deriving some predictions for its empirical characterization in neurophysiological recordings.

Keywords: brain, metastability, the complementary nature, coordination dynamics, consciousness

Part II: Volition and Consciousness: Are They Illusions?

7 Physiology of Volition …… 127-143

Mark Hallett

Chief, Human Motor Control Section, NINDS, NIH, Building 10, Room 7D37 10 Center Dr MSC 1428, Bethesda, MD, 20892-1428

Email: hallettm [AT] ninds.nih.gov

Summary: The idea of free will is a conscious awareness of the brain concerning the nature of the movement that it produces. There is no evidence for it to be a driving force in movement generation. This review considers the physiology of movement generation and how the concepts of willing and agency might arise. Both the anatomical substrates and the timing of events are considered. Movement initiation and volition are not necessarily linked, and one line of evidence comes from consideration of patients with disorders of volition. Movement is generated subconsciously, and the conscious sense of willing the movement comes later, but the exact time of this event is difficult to assess because of the potentially illusory nature of introspection. The evidence suggests that movement is initiated in frontal lobe, particularly the mesial areas, and the sense of volition arises as the result of a corollary discharge from premotor and motor areas likely involving the parietal lobe. Agency probably involves a similar region in the parietal lobe and requires both the sense of volition and movement feedback.

Keywords: free will, volition, agency, corollary discharge, frontal lobe, parietal lobe, premotor cortex, motor cortex

8 How We Recognize Our Own Actions …… 145-151

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AR, United Kingdom

Email: s.blakemore [AT] ucl.ac.uk

Summary: This chapter first describes how predicting the sensory consequences of action contributes to the recognition of one's own actions. Second, the chapter discusses three symptoms in which this prediction mechanism is proposed to be impaired: the consequences of parietal lobe damage, passivity experiences associated with schizophrenia, and phantom limbs.

Keywords: action prediction, forward models, internal models, delusions of control, auditory hallucinations, fMRI, PET

9 Volition and the Function of Consciousness …… 153-169

Hakwan C. Lau

Psychology Department 355D Sch Ext, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue MC: 5501, New York, NY 10027

Email: hadwan [AT] gmail.com

Summary: What are the psychological functions that could only be performed consciously? People have intuitively assumed that many acts of volition are not influenced by unconscious information. These acts range from simple examples such as making a spontaneous motor movement, to higher cognitive control. However, the available evidence suggests that under suitable conditions, unconscious information can influence these behaviors and the underlying neural mechanisms. One possibility is that stimuli that are consciously perceived tend to yield strong signals in the brain, which makes us think that consciousness has the function of such strong signals. However, if we could create conditions where the stimuli could yield strong signals but not the conscious experience of perception, perhaps we would find that such stimuli are just as effective in influencing volitional behavior. Future studies that focus on clarifying this issue may tell us what the defining functions of consciousness are.

Keywords: volition, intention, Libet, functions of consciousness

Part III: Broader Understandings of Volition and Consciousness

10 Conscious Willing and the Emerging Sciences of Brain and Behavior …… 173-186

Timothy O'Connor

Department of Philosophy, Indiana University, Sycamore 026, Bloomington, IN 47405

Email: toconnor [AT] indiana.edu

Summary: Recent studies within neuroscience and cognitive psychology have explored the place of conscious willing in the generation of purposive action. Some have argued that certain findings indicate that the commonsensical view that we control many of our actions through conscious willing is largely or wholly illusory. I rebut such arguments, contending that they typically rest on a conflation of distinct phenomena. Nevertheless, I also suggest that traditional philosophical accounts of the will need to be revised: a raft of studies indicate that control over one's own will among human beings is limited, fragile, and ― insofar as control depends to an extent on conscious knowledge ― admitting of degrees. I briefly sketch several dimensions along which freedom of the will may vary over time and across agents.

Keywords: Free will, choice, consciousness, self-awareness, intention, willing, reasons, automaticity, Libet 

11 Contemplative Neuroscience as an Approach to Volitional Consciousness …… 187-197

Evan Thompson

Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, 170 St. George Street, 4th floor, Toronto, ON, M5R 2M8, Canada

Email: evan.thompson [AT] utoronto.ca

Summary: This chapter presents a methodological approach to volitional consciousness for cognitive neuroscience based on studying the voluntary self-generation and self-regulation of mental states in meditation. Called contemplative neuroscience, this approach views attention, awareness, and emotion regulation as flexible and trainable skills, and works with experimental participants who have undergone training in contemplative practices designed to hone these skills. Drawing from research on the dynamical neural correlates of contemplative mental states and theories of large-scale neural coordination dynamics, I argue for the importance of global system causation in brain activity and present an "interventionist" approach to intentional causation.

Keywords: volition, consciousness, neurodynamics, neurophenomenology, contemplative neuroscience, meditation

12 Free Will Top-Down Control in the Brain …… 199-209

Chris D. Frith1,2

(1) Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, 12 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom

Email: cfrith [AT] fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk

(2) CFIN, University of Aarhus, Aarhus University Hospital, Nørrebrogade 44, Building 30, 8000-Århus C, Denmark

Summary: I suggest that the physiological basis of free will, the spontaneous and intrinsic selection of one action rather than another, might be identified with mechanisms of top-down control. Top-down control is needed when, rather than responding to the most salient stimulus, we concentrate on the stimuli and actions relevant to the task we have chosen to perform. Top-down control is particularly relevant when we make our own decisions rather then following the instructions of an experimenter. Cognitive neuroscientists have studied top-down control extensively and have demonstrated an important role for dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. If we consider the individual in isolation, then these regions are the likely location of will in the brain. However, individuals do not typically operate in isolation. The demonstration of will in even the simplest laboratory task depends upon an implicit agreement between the subject of the experiment and the experimenter. The top of top-down control is not to be found in the individual brain, but in the culture that is the human brain's unique environmental niche.

Keywords: top-down, control, attention, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, culture

13 Thinking beyond the Bereitschaftspotential: Consciousness of Self and Others as a Necessary Condition for Change …… 211-223

Sean A. Spence

Academic Clinical Psychiatry The Longley Centre, University of Sheffield, Norwood Grange Drive, Sheffield, S5 7JT, United Kingdom

Email: s.a.spence [AT] sheffield.ac.uk

Summary: The electroencephalographic (EEG) studies of Benjamin Libet and col leagues, published in the early 1980s, served to focus scientific and philosophical attention upon the processing constraints of the human brain, with respect to the question of how much (or how little) a human actor could be said to know about the genesis of their own acts, in real time. If taken at face value, Libet's findings (and those of others) seem to radically constrain the extent to which any actor may be said to be the "author" of his or her own voluntary acts, in the short-term present. Hence, there is a potential problem for traditional accounts of human agency and moral responsibility (i.e., if we learn of our intentions-to-act only after action-initiation has commenced, can we really be held responsible for what we have done?). However, such a problem is susceptible to solution if we adopt a longer-term perspective, one that focuses upon the "meanings" of acts for their agents and the latter's pursuit of certain states of consciousness. For although consciousness does not initiate action, conscious states nevertheless provide the motive for much of what it is that humans "do" (for good or ill). An organism lacking consciousness would fail to constitute a moral agent; an unconscious being would be incapable of "sin." Furthermore, an overly simplistic interpretation of Libet's findings faces stern tests in certain areas of psychiatric and forensic practice. While we continue to uphold a legal distinction between murder and man slaughter it is highly likely that we shall imbue consciousness with some (long-term) influence over voluntary acts. Finally, conscious awareness of our "selves," our patterns of behavior (e.g., our habits), and our effects upon others provides us with necessary data, should we wish to change our behaviors, our characters, in the future.

Part IV: Human Implications of the Debate

14 Criminal Responsibility, Free Will, and Neuroscience …… 227-241

David Hodgson

Supreme Court of New South Wales, Queens Square, Sydney, NSW 2119, Australia

Email: raeda [AT] tpg.com.au

Summary: This chapter identifies retributive and consequentialist purposes of the criminal law, and it outlines arguments that retribution should be abandoned, including arguments, based on philosophy and neuroscience, that free will and responsibility are illusions. The author suggests that there are good reasons to retain retribution, and identifies ways in which this might be supported, including compatibilist and libertarian views of free will. The author gives reasons for preferring libertarian views, and concludes by considering the role that neuroscience may be expected to play in the future development of the law.

Keywords: free will, responsibility, retribution, criminal law, neuroscience, justice, consequentialism, guilty mind, punishment, compatibilism, determinism, reasons, gestalt experiences, consciousness, folk psychology

15 Law, Responsibility, and the Brain …… 243-260

Dean Mobbs1,2,*, Hakwan C. Lau2,3, Owen D. Jones4, and Chris D. Frith2

(1) MRC-Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, CB2 2EF, United Kingdom

* Corresponding author: Email: dmobbs [AT] gmail.com

(2) Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, London

(3) Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford

(4) School of Law and Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Summary: In perhaps the first attempt to link the brain to mental illness, Hippocrates elegantly wrote that it is the brain that makes us mad or delirious. Epitomizing one of the fundamental assumptions of contemporary neuroscience, Hippocrates' words resonate far beyond the classic philosophical puzzle of mind and body and posit that our behavior, no matter how monstrous, lies at the mercy of our brain's integrity. While clinicopathological observations have long pointed to several putative neurobiological systems as important in antisocial and violent criminal behavior, recent advances in brain-imaging have the potential to provide unparalleled insight. Consequently, brain-imaging studies have reinvigorated the neurophilosophical and legal debate of whether we are free agents in control of our own actions or mere prisoners of a biologically determined brain. In this chapter, we review studies pointing to brain dysfunction in criminally violent individuals and address a range of philosophical and practical issues concerning the use of brainimaging in court. We finally lay out several guidelines for its use in the legal system.

Keywords: brainimaging, prefrontal cortex, free will, responsibility, violence

16 The Controversy over Brain Research …… 261-270

Hans Küng

Global Ethic Foundation, Waldhäuser Strasse 23, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany

Email: office [AT] weltethos.org

Summary: All mental processes are closely connected with the electro-chemical processes between the nerve cells in the brain, and these function in accordance with the natural laws of physics. But is free will therefore an illusion? The more precisely the neuroscientists can describe the ways in which our brain functions, the clearer it becomes that none of their measurements and models embraces the central aspect of consciousness: how we become subjectively aware of qualities such as color or smell, a reflection or an emotion. The discussion between the "scientists" and the "philosophers" in our symposium has shown that at present brain research seems not to have an empirically demonstrated theory to offer about the connection between brain and mind, between consciousness and the nervous system. In any case, chemistry and physics seem not to explain the experience of freedom of choice which is however universal and undeniable.

Keywords: Brain, determinism, free will, responsibility, self

Author Index …… 271

Index …… 273

Original Source Materials for this posting:





2009. 10. 17. 토요일. 밤 11시 16분. 맑음 [10. 18. 일. 아침 06시 33분 입력]
책 표지 사진 바로 아래에 적은 서지 사항 중 “Nancey, Nancey”는 “Murphy, Nancey”의 오타였으므로 바로잡는다(10. 30. 금. 맑음. 밤 7시 50분).

콸리아 / 퀄리아 / qualia

댓글(1) 먼댓글(0) 좋아요(0)

From the Nature ― International Weekly Journal of Science 

Is free will an illusion? 


Martin Heisenberg1 

1. Martin Heisenberg is professor emeritus in the department of biology at the University of Würzburg, Germany.

Email: heisenberg [AT] biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de 

Scientists and philosophers are using new discoveries in neuroscience to question the idea of free will. They are misguided, says Martin Heisenberg. Examining animal behaviour shows how our actions can be free.



Our influence on the future is something we take for granted as much as breathing. We accept that what will be is not yet determined, and that we can steer the course of events in one direction or another. This idea of freedom, and the sense of responsibility it bestows, seems essential to day-to-day existence.

Yet it is under attack as never before. Some scientists and philosophers argue that recent findings in neuroscience ― such as data published last year suggesting that our brain makes decisions up to seven seconds before we become aware of them ― along with the philosophical principle that any action must be dependent on preceding causes, imply that our behaviour is never self-generated and that freedom is an illusion1, 2, 3.

This debate has focused on humans and 'conscious free will'. Yet when it comes to understanding how we initiate behaviour, we can learn a lot by looking at animals. Although we do not credit animals with anything like the consciousness in humans, researchers have found that animal behaviour is not as involuntary as it may appear. The idea that animals act only in response to external stimuli has long been abandoned, and it is well established that they initiate behaviour on the basis of their internal states, as we do.

Before going into behaviour, I would like to take a step back and look at the nature of freedom and determinism at a more fundamental level. Almost 100 years ago, quantum physics eliminated a major obstacle to our understanding of this issue when it disposed of the idea of a Universe determined in every detail from the outset. It uncovered an inherent unpredictability in nature, in that we can never know precisely at a given moment all properties of a particle ― such as both its position and its momentum.



Philosopher Immanuel Kant defined free will as moral, not selfish. 

How is this reflected at the level of everyday experience? At the scale of planets, quantum effects give way to the deterministic laws of classical mechanics. At an intermediate scale, however, they are occasionally amplified to become observable, for example when we measure radioactive decay. In general, life is an interplay between the deterministic and the random. There is plenty of evidence of chance at work in the brain: take the random opening and closing of ion channels in the neuronal membrane, or the miniature potentials of randomly discharging synaptic vesicles. Behaviour that is triggered by random events in the brain can be said to be truly 'active' ― in other words, it has the quality of a beginning.

Evidence of randomly generated action ― action that is distinct from reaction because it does not depend upon external stimuli ― can be found in unicellular organisms. Take the way the bacterium Escherichia coli moves. It has a flagellum that can rotate around its longitudinal axis in either direction: one way drives the bacterium forward, the other causes it to tumble at random so that it ends up facing in a new direction ready for the next phase of forward motion. This 'random walk' can be modulated by sensory receptors, enabling the bacterium to find food and the right temperature.

What this tells us is that behavioural output can be independent of sensory input. This is in line with the fact that in the early development of individual organisms the motor system slightly precedes the sensory system. The same may have been true in evolution, as merely being dispersed in space should have been advantageous and should have favoured mobility.

What of more complex behaviour? With the emergence of multicellularity, individual cells lost their behavioural autonomy and organisms had to reinvent locomotion. Behaviours in complex organisms typically come in modules: the grasp reflex of the newborn, the syllables of birdsong, the rhythmic motion of the legs during walking. Some modules, such as the heartbeat, last from embryonic development until death; others, such as the snapping of a crocodile's jaw, last just fractions of a second. Some can take place in parallel, like walking and singing; others are mutually exclusive, such as sleeping and playing the piano. Some necessarily follow one another, like flight and landing. From beginning to end, the lives of animals and humans are an ongoing interweaving of these behavioural modules.

As with a bacterium's locomotion, the activation of behavioural modules is based on the interplay between chance and lawfulness in the brain. Insufficiently equipped, insufficiently informed and short of time, animals have to find a module that is adaptive. Their brains, in a kind of random walk, continuously pre-activate, discard and reconfigure their options, and evaluate their possible short-term and long-term consequences.

"There is plenty of evidence that an animal's behaviour cannot be reduced to responses."


The physiology of how this happens has been little investigated. But there is plenty of evidence that an animal's behaviour cannot be reduced to responses. For example, my lab has demonstrated that fruit flies, in situations they have never encountered, can modify their expectations about the consequences of their actions. They can solve problems that no individual fly in the evolutionary history of the species has solved before. Our experiments show that they actively initiate behaviour4. Like humans who can paint with their toes, we have found that flies can be made to use several different motor outputs to escape a life-threatening danger or to visually stabilize their orientation in space5.

Does this tell us anything about freedom in human behaviour? Before I answer that, let's establish what I mean by freedom. One acknowledged definition comes from Immanuel Kant, who resolved that a person acts freely if he does of his own accord what must be done. Thus, my actions are not free if they are determined by something or someone else. As stated above, self-initiated action is not in conflict with physics and can be demonstrated in animals. So, humans can be considered free in their behaviour, in as much as their behaviour is self-initiated and adaptive.

Some define freedom as the ability to consciously decide how to act. I maintain that we need not be conscious of our decision-making to be free. What matters is that our actions are self-generated. Conscious awareness may help improve our behaviour, but it does not necessarily do so and is not essential. Why should an action become free from one moment to the next simply because we reflect upon it?

Kant's famous 'Third Antinomy' in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) sees us on the one hand determined by natural law and on the other free because of our capacity to obey moral law. He would have been delighted to see this dilemma solved by quantum physics and behavioural biology.


1. Soon, C. S. Nature Neurosci. 11, 543-545 (2008).

2. Libet, B. Behav. Brain Sci. 8, 529-566 (1985). | ISI |

3. Wegner, D. M. The Illusion of Conscious Will (MIT Press, 2002).

4. Heisenberg, M. Naturwissenschaften 70, 70-78 (1983). | Article | PubMed | ADS | ChemPort |

5. Heisenberg, M. & Wolf, R. Vision in Drosophila in Studies of Brain Function Vol. XII, (ed. Braitenberg, V.) (Springer, 1984). 


SOURCE: Nature 459(7244), Issue of 14 May 2009

▷ Heisenberg, Martin (May 2009). Is Free Will an Illusion? Nature 459(7244): 164-165. (doi:10.1038/459164a). 






Martin Heisenberg (born 7 August 1940) is a German neurobiologist and geneticist. As of 2006[update], he is the chair for genetics and neurobiology at the bio centre of the University of Würzburg.

The son of Werner Heisenberg, who is best known for the uncertainty principle, Heisenberg studied chemistry and molecular biology in Munich, Tand Pasadena. In 1975 he became Professor of genetics and neurobiology at the University of WHeisenberg's work has focused on the neurogenetics of Drosophila (the fruit fly), with the aim of investigating the genetic foundations of the Drosophila brain by studying the effect of genetic mutations on brain function. (More Info: See ⇒ Wikipedia entry on Martin Heisenberg)


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Free Will


The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Free Will


Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Free Will


Wikipedia entry on Free will


Scholarpedia entry on Awareness of intention



▷ Atlan, Henri (1998). Intentional Self-Organization. Emergence and Reduction: Towards a Physical Theory of Intentionality. Thesis Eleven 52(1): 5-34. (DOI: 10.1177/0725513698052000003).

ABSTRACT: This article addresses the question of the mechanisms of the emergence of structure and meaning in the biological and physical sciences. It proceeds from an examination of the concept of intentionality and proposes a model of intentional behavior on the basis of results of computer simulations of structural and functional self-organization. Current attempts to endow intuitive aspects of meaningful complexity with operational content are analyzed and the metaphor of DNA as a computer program (the 'genetic program') is critically examined in relation to an alternative metaphor of DNA as data. It is argued that relatively simple networks of boolean automata can classify and recognize patterns of binary strings on the basis of non-programmed, self-generated criteria, but lack a capacity for self-observation and interpretation. To overcome this problem it is necessary to clarify the relationships between the goals and underlying mechanisms of a process and between a system and its environment. It will be shown that memory devices that record the histories of interactions are essential for models of conscious and unconscious intentional behavior and that the possibility of infinitely sophisticated ― and therefore unprogrammable ― machines cannot be avoided. It will be argued that the notion of infinite sophistication allows the ideas of self-organization and physical determinism to be reconciled. These models will be used to suggest how the voluntary aspect of decision-making in general can emerge out of functional self-organizing processes. The conclusion will introduce the notion of 'underdetermination' of theories, which imposes an intrinsic limitation on models of complex natural systems ― a limitation that, at the same time, may be precisely what makes possible mutual understanding and intersubjectivity.

KEY WORDS: functional self-organization · meaningful complexity · sophistication · underdetermination · understanding


▷ Baer, John, James C. Kaufman, Roy F. Baumeister (eds.) (Jan. 2008). Are We Free? Psychology and Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Hardback: 368 pages; 20 line illus.

Publication Date: January 2008

ISBN-10: 0-19-518963-9

ISBN-13: 978-0-19-518963-6

Trim Size: 9-1/4 x 6-1/8

List Price: $39.95 


Do people have free will, or this universal belief an illusion? If free will is more than an illusion, what kind of free will do people have? How can free will influence behavior? Can free will be studied, verified, and understood scientifically? How and why might a sense of free will have evolved? These are a few of the questions this book attempts to answer.

People generally act as though they believe in their own free will: they don't feel like automatons, and they don't treat one another as they might treat robots. While acknowledging many constraints and influences on behavior, people nonetheless act as if they (and their neighbors) are largely in control of many if not most of the decisions they make. Belief in free will also underpins the sense that people are responsible for their actions. Psychological explanations of behavior rarely mention free will as a factor, however. Can psychological science find room for free will? How do leading psychologists conceptualize free will, and what role do they believe free will plays in shaping behavior?

In recent years a number of psychologists have tried to solve one or more of the puzzles surrounding free will. This book looks both at recent experimental and theoretical work directly related to free will and at ways leading psychologists from all branches of psychology deal with the philosophical problems long associated with the question of free will, such as the relationship between determinism and free will and the importance of consciousness in free will. It also includes commentaries by leading philosophers on what psychologists can contribute to long-running philosophical struggles with this most distinctly human belief. These essays should be of interest not only to social scientists, but to intelligent and thoughtful readers everywhere.

About the Editors

John Baer, Professor of Educational Psychology, Rider University

James C. Kaufman, Assistant Professor of Psychology, California State University

Roy F. Baumeister, Francis Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology, Florida State University


▷ Balaguer, Mark (Dec. 2009). Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Publisher: The MIT Press

Cloth: 208 pages

Publication Date: December 2009

ISBN-10: 0-262-01354-1

ISBN-13: 978-0-262-01354-3

Trim Size: 6 x 9

List Price: $35.00 / £25.95

In this largely antimetaphysical treatment of free will and determinism, Mark Balaguer argues that the philosophical problem of free will boils down to an open scientific question about the causal histories of certain kinds of neural events. In the course of his argument, Balaguer provides a naturalistic defense of the libertarian view of free will.

Balaguer claims that the compatibilism debate (the question of whether free will is compatible with determinism) is essentially irrelevant to metaphysical questions about the nature of human freedom, most notably "Do humans have free will?" The questions "What is free will?" and "Which kinds of freedom are required for moral responsibility?" are likewise argued to be irrelevant to substantive questions about the metaphysics of human free will. The metaphysical component of the problem of free will, Balaguer argues, essentially boils down to the question of whether humans possess libertarian free will. Furthermore, he argues that, contrary to the traditional wisdom, the libertarian question reduces to a question about indeterminacy ― in particular, to a straightforward empirical question about whether certain neural events in our heads are causally undetermined in a certain specific way; in other words, Balaguer argues that the right kind of indeterminacy would bring with it all of the other requirements for libertarian free will. Finally, he argues that because there is no good evidence as to whether or not the relevant neural events are undetermined in the way that's required, the question of whether human beings possess libertarian free will is a wide open empirical question.

About the Author

Mark Balaguer is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles. He is the author of Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics.


▷ Bargh, John A., Ezequiel Morsella (Jan. 2008). The Unconscious Mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science 3(1): 73-79. (DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00064.x).

Published Online: Jan 18 2008 12:00AM

John A. Bargh and Ezequiel Morsella : Yale University

Address correspondence to John A. Bargh, Department of Psychology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208205, New Haven, CT 06520; e-mail: john.bargh [AT] yale.edu.

ABSTRACT: The unconscious mind is still viewed by many psychological scientists as the shadow of a "real" conscious mind, though there now exists substantial evidence that the unconscious is not identifiably less flexible, complex, controlling, deliberative, or action-oriented than is its counterpart. This "conscious-centric" bias is due in part to the operational definition within cognitive psychology that equates unconscious with subliminal. We review the evidence challenging this restricted view of the unconscious emerging from contemporary social cognition research, which has traditionally defined the unconscious in terms of its unintentional nature; this research has demonstrated the existence of several independent unconscious behavioral guidance systems: perceptual, evaluative, and motivational. From this perspective, it is concluded that in both phylogeny and ontogeny, actions of an unconscious mind precede the arrival of a conscious mind ― that action precedes reflection.


FULL TEXT: http://inside.bard.edu/~luka/documents/UnconsciousMind.pdf

▷ Baumeister, Roy F. (Jan. 2008). Free Will in Scientific Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science 3(1): 14-19. (DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00057.x).

Published Online: Jan 18 2008 12:00AM

Roy F. Baumeister :  Florida State University

Address correspondence to Roy F. Baumeister, Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306; e-mail: baumeister [AT] psy.fsu.edu.

Homepage: http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/baumeister.dp.html

ABSTRACT: Some actions are freer than others, and the difference is palpably important in terms of inner process, subjective perception, and social consequences. Psychology can study the difference between freer and less free actions without making dubious metaphysical commitments. Human evolution seems to have created a relatively new, more complex form of action control that corresponds to popular notions of free will. It is marked by self-control and rational choice, both of which are highly adaptive, especially for functioning within culture. The processes that create these forms of free will may be biologically costly and therefore are only used occasionally, so that people are likely to remain only incompletely self-disciplined, virtuous, and rational.


FULL TEXT: http://www.lawandneuroscienceproject.org/filerepo/data/%5B0802201245%5Dbaumeister_FreeWill08.pdf

▷ Desmurget, Michel, Karen T. Reilly, Nathalie Richard, Alexandru Szathmari, Carmine Mottolese, Angela Sirigu (May 2009). Movement Intention After Parietal Cortex Stimulation in Humans. Science 324(5928): 811-813. Issue of 8 May 2009. (DOI: 10.1126/science.1169896).

ABSTRACT: Parietal and premotor cortex regions are serious contenders for bringing motor intentions and motor responses into awareness. We used electrical stimulation in seven patients undergoing awake brain surgery. Stimulating the right inferior parietal regions triggered a strong intention and desire to move the contralateral hand, arm, or foot, whereas stimulating the left inferior parietal region provoked the intention to move the lips and to talk. When stimulation intensity was increased in parietal areas, participants believed they had really performed these movements, although no electromyographic activity was detected. Stimulation of the premotor region triggered overt mouth and contralateral limb movements. Yet, patients firmly denied that they had moved. Conscious intention and motor awareness thus arise from increased parietal activity before movement execution.

Michel Desmurget,1,2 Karen T. Reilly,1,2 Nathalie Richard,1,2 Alexandru Szathmari,3 Carmine Mottolese,3 Angela Sirigu1,2,*

1 Centre de Neuroscience Cognitive, CNRS, UMR 5229, 69500 Bron, France.

2 Université Lyon 1, 69100 Villeurbanne, France.

3 Neurosurgery Unit 500, Hôpital Pierre Wertheimer, Hospices Civils de Lyon, 69003 Lyon, France.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: sirigu [AT] isc.cnrs.fr



See also Patrick Haggard's review article in Science: The Sources of Human Volition

ScienceNow Daily News: When Your Brain Doesn't Know What Your Body Is Doing 

▷ Fischer, John Martin, Robert Kane, Derk Pereboom, Manuel Vargas (Aug. 2007). Four Views on Free Will. Wiley-Blackwell.

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publication Date: August 2007

ISBN-10: 1-4051-3485-2

ISBN-13: 978-1-4051-3485-9

Trim Size: 9.1 x 6 x 0.8 inches

List Price: US $92.95

Paperback: 240 pages

Publication Date: September 2007

ISBN-10: 1-4051-3486-0

ISBN-13: 978-1-4051-3486-6

Trim Size: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches

List Price: US $33.95


Focusing on the concepts and interactions of free will, moral responsibility, and determinism, this text represents the most up-to-date account of the four major positions in the free will debate.

* Four serious and well-known philosophers explore the opposing viewpoints of libertarianism, compatibilism, hard incompatibilism, and revisionism

* The first half of the book contains each philosopher's explanation of his particular view; the second half allows them to directly respond to each other's arguments, in a lively and engaging conversation

* Offers the reader a one of a kind, interactive discussion

* Forms part of the acclaimed Great Debates in Philosophy series

Author Information

John Martin Fischer is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, where he is a holder of a UC President's Chair. He is the author of The Metaphysics of Free Will: An Essay on Control (Blackwell 1994); Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility (with Mark Ravizza, 1998); and My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility (2006). He has written extensively on free will, moral responsibility, the metaphysics of death, ethics, and the philosophy of religion.

Robert Kane is University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Free Will and Values (1985), Through the Moral Maze (1994), The Significance of Free Will (1996), A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (2005) and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (2002) and a collection of readings, Free Will (Blackwell, 2002). He is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University of Texas at Austin.

Derk Pereboom is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Vermont, where he has been since 1985. He will join the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University in 2007. His book, Living Without Free Will (Cambridge University Press) appeared in 2001, and he has published articles on free will, philosophy of mind, history of modern philosophy, and philosophy of religion.

Manuel Vargas is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco. He has published articles on a range of topics, including free will and moral responsibility, practical reason, evil, and Latin American philosophy.


▷ Gallagher, Shaun (Dec. 2005). Intentionality and Intentional Action. Synthesis Philosophica 20(2): 319-326.

Date of publishing: December 2005.

ABSTRACT: Those who argue that free will is an illusion are wrong. They base their argument on scientific evidence that tests the wrong level of description for intentional action. Free will is not about subpersonal neuronal processes, muscular activation, or basic bodily movements, but about contextualized actions in a system that is larger than many contemporary philosophers of mind, psychologists, and neuroscientists consider. In this paper, I describe the kind of intentionality that goes with the exercise of free will.  



FULL TEXT: http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/3902

▷ Gallagher, Shaun (2006). Where's the action? Epiphenomenalism and the problem of free will. In Susan Pockett, William P. Banks, Shaun Gallagher (eds.) Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? (pp. 109-124). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Shaun Gallagher : Department of Philosophy, University of Central Florida

Email: gallaghr [AT] mail.ucf.edu

Homepage: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~gallaghr

The first two paragraphs of this paper:

Some philosophers argue that Descartes was wrong when he characterized animals as purely physical automata ― robots devoid of consciousness. It seems to them obvious that animals (tigers, lions, and bears, as well as chimps, dogs, and dolphins, and so forth) are conscious. There are other philosophers who argue that it is not beyond the realm of possibilities that robots and other artificial agents may someday be conscious ― and it is certainly practical to take the intentional stance toward them (the robots as well as the philosophers) even now. I'm not sure that there are philosophers who would deny consciousness to animals but affirm the possibility of consciousness in robots. In any case, and in whatever way these various philosophers define consciousness, the majority of them do attribute consciousness to humans. Amongst this group, however, there are philosophers and scientists who want to reaffirm the idea, explicated by Shadworth Holloway Hodgson in 1870, that in regard to action the presence of consciousness does not matter since it plays no causal role. Hodgson's brain generated the following thought: neural events form an autonomous causal chain that is independent of any accompanying conscious mental states. Consciousness is epiphenomenal, incapable of having any effect on the nervous system. James (1890, 130) summarizes the situation:

To Descartes belongs the credit of having first been bold enough to conceive of a completely self-sufficing nervous mechanism which should be able to perform complicated and apparently intelligent acts. By a singularly arbitrary restriction, however, Descartes stopped short at man, and while contending that in beasts the nervous machinery was all, he held that the higher acts of man were the result of the agency of his rational soul. The opinion that beasts have no consciousness at all was of course too paradoxical to maintain itself long as anything more than a curious item in the history of philosophy. And with its abandonment the very notion that the nervous system per se might work the work of intelligence, which was an integral, though detachable part of the whole theory, seemed also to slip out of men's conception, until, in this century, the elaboration of the doctrine of reflex action made it possible and natural that it should again arise. But it was not till 1870, I believe, that Mr. Hodgson made the decisive step, by saying that feelings, no matter how intensely they may be present, can have no causal efficacy whatever, and comparing them to the colors laid on the surface of a mosaic, of which the events in the nervous system are represented by the stones. Obviously the stones are held in place by each other and not by the several colors which they support.1


FULL TEXT: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~gallaghr/gall05epiphen.pdf

▷ Haggard, Patrick (June 2005). Conscious intention and motor cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9(6): 290-295. (doi:10.1016/j.tics.2005.04.012).

Patrick Haggard : Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK

Email: p.haggard [AT] ucl.ac.uk

Homepage: http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/Staff-Lists/MemberDetails.php?Title=Prof&FirstName=Patrick&LastName=Haggard

Available online 4 May 2005.

ABSTRACT: The subjective experience of conscious intention is a key component of our mental life. Philosophers studying 'conscious free will' have discussed whether conscious intentions could cause actions, but modern neuroscience rejects this idea of mind-body causation. Instead, recent findings suggest that the conscious experience of intending to act arises from preparation for action in frontal and parietal brain areas. Intentional actions also involve a strong sense of agency, a sense of controlling events in the external world. Both intention and agency result from the brain processes for predictive motor control, not merely from retrospective inference.


FULL TEXT: http://cmbi.bjmu.edu.cn/news/report/2005/neuro/10.pdf

▷ Haggard, Patrick (May 2009). The Sources of Human Volition. Science 324(5928): 731-733. Issue of 8 May 2009. (DOI: 10.1126/science.1173827).

Patrick Haggard : Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London WC1N 3AR, UK.

E-mail: p.haggard [AT] ucl.ac.uk

Homepage: http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/Staff-Lists/MemberDetails.php?Title=Prof&FirstName=Patrick&LastName=Haggard

ABSTRACT: Every day we make actions that seem to depend on our "free will" rather than on any obvious external stimulus. This capacity not only differentiates humans from other animals, but also gives us the clear sense of controlling our bodies and lives. It therefore forms a key element of our personal identity. However, such voluntary actions are a puzzle for modern neuroscience. Where do they come from? A study by Desmurget et al. (1) on page 811 of this issue reveals how the brain may produce our experience of initiating voluntary action.



See also Desmurget, Michel, et al. (May 2009). Movement Intention After Parietal Cortex Stimulation in Humans. Science 324(5928): 811-813. 

ScienceNow Daily News: When Your Brain Doesn't Know What Your Body Is Doing

▷ Haggard, Patrick, Benjamin Libet (Nov. 2001). Conscious Intention and Brain Activity. Journal of Consciousness Studies 8(11): 47-63.

ABSTRACT: The problem of free will lies at the heart of modern scientific studies of consciousness. An influential series of experiments by Libet has suggested that conscious intentions arise as a result of brain activity. This contrasts with traditional concepts of free will, in which the mind controls the body. A more recent study by Haggard and Eimer has further examined the relation between intention and brain processes, concluding that conscious awareness of intention is linked to the choice or selection of a specific action, and not to the earliest initiation of action processes. The exchange of views in this paper further explores the relation between conscious intention and brain activity.


FULL TEXT: http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/~hezy/Vision%20Seminar/haggard%20free%20will.pdf

▷ Heisenberg, Martin (1983). Initiale Aktivität und Willkürverhalten bei Tieren. Naturwissenschaften 70(2): 70-78. (DOI: 10.1007/BF00365500).

Martin Heisenberg : Institut für Genetik und Mikrobiologie der Universität, D-8700 Würzburg

Email: heisenberg [AT] biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de

Wikipedia Entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Heisenberg

ABSTRACT: Initiation as a basic property of behavioral activity is functionally analyzed and discussed at the level of voluntary behavior. Fixed action patterns often are not released by stimuli but are generated by the animal itself through brain processes of the Darwinian type. Analogous to mutations, behavioral "subroutines" are brought up by chance and are subjected to selection either by the change in the situation (trial and the elimination of error) or by mental activity suppressing inappropriate behavior even before it is executed. Initiation improves the chance of survival. It is a prerequisite of goal-oriented behavior, an essential constituent of operant conditioning and presumably the first step in the evolution of thought. According to I. Kant a person is free if, by following his own directive, he does what has to be done. This definition meets the two central criteria of initiation: the independence of releasing stimuli and the adaptive value of the behavior generated.


▷ Heisenberg, Martin (May 2009). Is Free Will an Illusion? Nature 459(7244): 164-165. Issue of 14 May 2009. (doi:10.1038/459164a).

Martin Heisenberg1

1. Martin Heisenberg is professor emeritus in the department of biology at the University of Würzburg, Germany.

Email: heisenberg [AT] biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de

Wikipedia Entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Heisenberg

ABSTRACT: Scientists and philosophers are using new discoveries in neuroscience to question the idea of free will. They are misguided, says Martin Heisenberg. Examining animal behaviour shows how our actions can be free.



▷ Klein, Stanley (June 2002). Libet's Research on the Timing of Conscious Intention to Act: A Commentary. Consciousness and Cognition 11(2): 273-279. (doi:10.1006/ccog.2002.0557).

Stanley Klein : School of Optometry, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California

Available online 16 August 2002.

ABSTRACT: S. Pockett (Consciousness and Cognition, this issue) and G. Gomes (Consciousness and Cognition, this issue) discuss a possible bias in the method by which Libet's subjects estimated the time at which they became aware of their intent to move their hands. The bias, caused by sensory delay processing the clock information, would be sufficient to alter Trevena and Miller's (Consciousness and Cognition, this issue) conclusions regarding the timing of the lateralized readiness potential. I show that the flash-lag effect would compensate for that bias. In the last part of my commentary I note that the other target articles do not examine the most interesting aspect of Libet's unfashionable views on free will. I point out that Libet's views are less strange than they at first appear to be.


FULL TEXT: http://cornea.berkeley.edu/pubs/ccog_2002_0580-Klein-Commentary.pdf

▷ Lau, Hakwan C., Robert D. Rogers, Patrick Haggard, Richard E. Passingham (Feb. 2004). Attention to Intention. Science 303(5661): 1208-1210. Issue of 20 February 2004. (DOI: 10.1126/science.1090973).

ABSTRACT: Intention is central to the concept of voluntary action. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we compared conditions in which participants made self-paced actions and attended either to their intention to move or to the actual movement. When they attended to their intention rather than their movement, there was an enhancement of activity in the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA). We also found activations in the right dorsal prefrontal cortex and left intraparietal cortex. Prefrontal activity, but not parietal activity, was more strongly coupled with activity in the pre-SMA. We conclude that activity in the pre-SMA reflects the representation of intention.

Hakwan C. Lau,1,2* Robert D. Rogers,3 Patrick Haggard,4 Richard E. Passingham1

1 Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

2 Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

3 Department of Psychiatry and University of Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

4 Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Psychology, University College London, UK.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: chris.lau [AT] psy.ox.ac.uk




▷ Libet, Benjamin (Dec. 1985). Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8(4): 529-566.

▷ Libet, Benjamin (1992). The neural time-factor in perception, volition, and free will. Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 2: 255-272.

▷ Libet, Benjamin (1996). Neural time factors in conscious and unconscious mental functions. In Stuart R. Hameroff, Alfred W. Kaszniak, Alwyn C. Scott (eds.) Toward a Science of Consciousness: The First Tucson Discussions and Debates. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

▷ Libet, Benjamin (Aug.-Sep. 1999). Do we have free will? Journal of Consciousness Studies 6(8-9): 47-57.

ABSTRACT: I have taken an experimental approach to this question. Freely voluntary acts are preceded by a specific electrical change in the brain (the 'readiness potential', RP) that begins 550 ms before the act. Human subjects became aware of intention to act 350-400 ms after RP starts, but 200 ms. before the motor act. The volitional process is therefore initiated unconsciously. But the conscious function could still control the outcome; it can veto the act. Free will is therefore not excluded. These findings put constraints on views of how free will may operate; it would not initiate a voluntary act but it could control performance of the act. The findings also affect views of guilt and responsibility.

     But the deeper question still remains: Are freely voluntary acts subject to macrodeterministic laws or can they appear without such constraints, non-determined by natural laws and 'truly free'? I shall present an experimentalist view about these fundamental philosophical opposites.


FULL TEXT: http://pacherie.free.fr/COURS/MSC/Libet-JCS1999.pdf

▷ Libet, Benjamin (Nov.-Dec. 1999). How does conscious experience arise? the neural time factor. Brain Research Bulletin 50(5-6): 339-340. (doi:10.1016/S0361-9230(99)00143-4).

Benjamin Libet a

a Department of Physiology, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, CA, USA

Wikipedia Entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Libet

Received 28 April 1999; accepted 8 May 1999. Available online 14 December 1999.

The first paragraph of this paper:

How does the brain "produce" conscious subjective experience, an awareness of something? This question has been regarded as perhaps the most challenging one facing science. Penfield et al. [9] had produced maps of where responses to electrical stimulation of cerebral cortex could be obtained in human neurosurgical patients. Mapping of cerebral activations in various subjective paradigms has been greatly extended more recently by utilizing PET scan and fMRI techniques. But there were virtually no studies of what the appropriate neurons do in order to elicit a conscious experience. The opportunity for me to attempt such studies arose when my friend and neurosurgeon colleague, Bertram Feinstein, invited me to utilize the opportunity presented by access to stimulating and recording electrodes placed for therapeutic purposes intracranially in awake and responsive patients. With the availability of an excellent facility and team of co-workers, I decided to study neuronal activity requirements for eliciting a simple conscious somatosensory experience, and compare that to activity requirements for unconscious detection of sensory signals.


FULL TEXT: http://communistvoice.googlepages.com/Libetsummary.pdf

▷ Libet, Benjamin (Dec. 2003). Can conscious experience affect brain activity? Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(12): 24-28.

The first paragraph of this paper:

The chief goal of Velmans' article (2002) is to find a way to solve the problem of how conscious experience could have bodily effects. I shall discuss his treatment of this below. First, I would like to deal with Velmans' treatment of my own studies of volition and free will in relation to brain processes.


FULL TEXT: http://www.imprint.co.uk/pdf/Libet.pdf

▷ Libet, Benjamin (Mar. 2004). Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness. Harvard University Press.

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Hardcover: 272 pages, 21 line illustrations

Publication Date: March 2004

ISBN-10: 0-674-01320-4

ISBN-13: 978-0-674-01320-9

Trim Size:

List Price: $29.95 / £22.95 / E27.00

Paperback:  272 pages, 21 line illustrations

Publication Date: October 2005

ISBN-10: 0-674-01846-X

ISBN-13: 978-0-674-01846-4

Trim Size:

List Price: $21.00 / £15.95 / E18.90


Our subjective inner life is what really matters to us as human beings ― and yet we know relatively little about how it arises. Over a long and distinguished career Benjamin Libet has conducted experiments that have helped us see, in clear and concrete ways, how the brain produces conscious awareness. For the first time, Libet gives his own account of these experiments and their importance for our understanding of consciousness.

Most notably, Libet's experiments reveal a substantial delay ― the "mind time" of the title ― before any awareness affects how we view our mental activities. If all conscious awarenesses are preceded by unconscious processes, as Libet observes, we are forced to conclude that unconscious processes initiate our conscious experiences. Freely voluntary acts are found to be initiated unconsciously before an awareness of wanting to act ― a discovery with profound ramifications for our understanding of free will.

How do the physical activities of billions of cerebral nerve cells give rise to an integrated conscious subjective awareness? How can the subjective mind affect or control voluntary actions? Libet considers these questions, as well as the implications of his discoveries for the nature of the soul, the identity of the person, and the relation of the non-physical subjective mind to the physical brain that produces it. Rendered in clear, accessible language, Libet's experiments and theories will allow interested amateurs and experts alike to share the experience of the extraordinary discoveries made in the practical study of consciousness.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Stephen M. Kosslyn


1. Introduction to the Question

2. The Delay in Our Conscious Sensory Awareness

3. Unconscious and Conscious Mental Functions

4. Intention to Act: Do We Have Free Will?

5. Conscious Mental Field Theory: Explaining How the Mental Arises from the Physical

6. What Does It All Mean?




Libet only dared switch to the study of consciousness after he got tenure. It is fortunate for us that he did, and that he has presented us here with what amounts to a retrospective exhibition of his work...The refreshing result is that we are immediately engaged in an earnest one-to-one tutorial with [him]...In [his] work, philosophers have found grist for what they do best. Indeed, his experiments...must rank as one of the major contributions of experimental psychology to modern philosophy of mind...[W]hether or not one agrees with his thesis or not, one must acknowledge that his pioneering experimental work has certainly been stimulating.

― Kevan Martin, Nature

What makes Benjamin Libet different from all the others writing on [consciousness]...is that he has actually spent the past 40 years experimenting on the topic. His findings have played a central role in others' speculations. Now he has put his life's work into a single short book.

― Steven Rose, New Scientist

[Libet's] book is greatly to be welcomed because it provides the first full and detailed account of his famous experiments, explaining how and why he carried them out, and how he came to his conclusions...What is new is Libet's 'conscious mental field theory,' which is startlingly different from any other current theory of consciousness.

― Susan Blackmore, Times Higher Education Supplement

Mind Time makes for extremely interesting, engaging reading. Its discussions of consciousness, subjectivity, free will, and perception will intrigue anybody in philosophy or psychology interested in those topics. This is a valuable book to have available.

― David Rosenthal, Philosophy and Cognitive Science Graduate Center, City University of New York

Benjamin Libet's discoveries are of extraordinary interest. His is almost the only approach yet to yield any credible evidence of how conscious awareness is produced by the brain. Mind Time endeavors to clarify these startling observations for the general public, set them in proper framework of neuroscientific knowledge, and probe their philosophical meaning. Libet's work is unique, and speaks to questions asked by all humankind.

― Robert W. Doty, PhD, Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Rochester

This book is strikingly different from most of the other books on consciousness in one key respect: it focuses on empirical discoveries, not speculation or argument.

― From the Foreword by Stephen Kosslyn


▷ Libet, Benjamin, Curtis A. Gleason, Elwood W. Wright, Dennis K. Pearl (1983). Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential): The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain 106(3): 623-642.


Neurological Institute, Department of Neuroscience, Mount Zion Hospital and Medical Center, the Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, CA 94143, Department of Statistics, University of California Berkeley, CA

Correspondence to: 1 Present address: Department of Statistics, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.

Correspondence to: Reprint requests to Dr B. Libet, Department of Physiology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


The recordable cerebral activity (readiness-potential, RP) that precedes a freely voluntary, fully endogenous motor act was directly compared with the reportable time (W) for appearance of the subjective experience of 'wanting' or intending to act. The onset of cerebral activity clearly preceded by at least several hundred milliseconds the reported time of conscious intention to act. This relationship held even for those series (with 'type II' RPs) in which subjects reported that all of the 40 self-initiated movements in the series appeared 'spontaneously' and capriciously.

Data were obtained in at least 6 different experimental sessions with each of 5 subjects. In series with type II RPs, onset of the main negative shift in each RP preceded the corresponding mean W value by an average of about 350 ms, and by a minimum of about 150 ms. In series with type I RPs, in which an experience of preplanning occurred in some of the 40 self-initiated acts, onset of RP preceded W by an average of about 800 ms (or by 500 ms, taking onset of RP at 90 per cent of its area).

Reports of W time depended upon the subject's recall of the spatial 'clock-position' of a revolving spot at the time of his initial awareness of wanting or intending to move. Two different modes of recall produced similar values. Subjects distinguished awareness of wanting to move (W) from awareness of actually moving (M). W times were consistently and substantially negative to, in advance of, mean times reported for M and also those for S, the sensation elicited by a task-related skin stimulus delivered at irregular times that were unknown to the subject.

It is concluded that cerebral initiation of a spontaneous, freely voluntary act can begin unconsciously, that is, before there is any (at least recallable) subjective awareness that a 'decision' to act has already been initiated cerebrally. This introduces certain constraints on the potentiality for conscious initiation and control of voluntary acts.

Received July 20, 1982. Revised December 14, 1982.


▷ Libet, Benjamin, Elwood W. Wright, Curtis A. Gleason (1982). Readiness-potentials preceding unrestricted 'spontaneous' vs. pre-planned voluntary acts. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 54(3): 322-35.

▷ Libet, Benjamin, Elwood W. Wright, Curtis A. Gleason (1983). Preparation- or intention-to-act, in relation to pre-event potentials recorded at the vertex. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 56(4): 367-72.

▷ Pockett, Susan, William P. Banks, Shaun Gallagher (eds.) (Mar. 2006). Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Publisher: The MIT Press

Cloth: 372 pp., 14 illus.

Publication Date: March 2006

ISBN-10: 0-262-16237-7

ISBN-13: 978-0-262-16237-1

Trim Size: 9 x 7

List Price: $50.00 / £37.95

Paperback: 376 pp., 14 illus.

Publication Date: March 2006

ISBN-10: 0-262-51257-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-262-51257-2

Trim Size: 9 x 7

List Price: $26.00 / £16.95

Table of Contents and Sample Chapters 

Our intuition tells us that we, our conscious selves, cause our own voluntary acts. Yet scientists have long questioned this; Thomas Huxley, for example, in 1874 compared mental events to a steam whistle that contributes nothing to the work of a locomotive. New experimental evidence (most notable, work by Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner) has brought the causal status of human behavior back to the forefront of intellectual discussion. This multidisciplinary collection advances the debate, approaching the question from a variety of perspectives.

The contributors begin by examining recent research in neuroscience that suggests that consciousness does not cause behavior, offering the outline of an empirically based model that shows how the brain causes behavior and where consciousness might fit in. Other contributors address the philosophical presuppositions that may have informed the empirical studies, raising questions about what can be legitimately concluded about the existence of free will from Libet's and Wegner's experimental results. Others examine the effect recent psychological and neuroscientific research could have on legal, social, and moral judgments of responsibility and blame ― in situations including a Clockwork Orange-like scenario of behavior correction.


William P. Banks, Timothy Bayne, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Suparna Choudhury, Walter J. Freeman, Shaun Gallagher, Susan Hurley, Marc Jeannerod, Leonard V. Kaplan, Hakwan Lau, Sabine Maasen, Bertram F. Malle, Alfred R. Mele, Elisabeth Pacherie, Richard Passingham, Susan Pockett, Wolfgang Prinz, Peter W. Ross

About the Editors

Susan Pockett is Visiting Scientist in the Physics Department at the University of Auckland.

William P. Banks is Professor of Psychology at Pomona College and editor-in-chief of the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Shaun Gallagher is Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Central Florida and coeditor of the journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.


▷ Proust, Joëlle (2003). How voluntary are minimal actions? In Sabine Maasen, Wolfgang Prinz & Gerhard Roth (eds.) Voluntary Action: An Issue at the Interface of Nature and Culture (pp. 202219). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ABSTRACT: This book chapter aims at exploring how intentional a piece of behavior should be to count as an action, and how a minimal view on action, not requiring a richly intentional causation, may still qualify such a behavior as voluntary.

KEYWORDS: intention · awareness of agency · will · irreflexive action · second-order desire


▷ Soon, Chun Siong, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze, John-Dylan Haynes (May 2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience 11(5): 543-545. (doi:10.1038/nn.2112).

Published online: 13 April 2008

ABSTRACT: There has been a long controversy as to whether subjectively 'free' decisions are determined by brain activity ahead of time. We found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.

Chun Siong Soon1,2, Marcel Brass1,3, Hans-Jochen Heinze4 & John-Dylan Haynes1,2

1. Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstrasse 1A, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.

2. Charité ― Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Haus 6, Philippstrasse 13, 10115 Berlin, Germany.

3. Department of Experimental Psychology and Ghent Institute for Functional and Metabolic Imaging, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.

4. Department of Neurology II, Otto-von-Guericke University, Leipziger Strasse 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany.

Correspondence to: John-Dylan Haynes1,2 e-mail: haynes [AT] bccn-berlin.de


FULL TEXT: http://www.rifters.com/real/articles/NatureNeuroScience_Soon_et_al.pdf

PRESS RELEASE: Unconscious decisions in the brain


▷ Wegner, Daniel M. (Apr. 2002). The Illusion of Conscious Will. The MIT Press.

Publisher: The MIT Press

Cloth: 419 pp., 57 illus.

Publication Date: April 2002

ISBN-10: 0-262-23222-7

ISBN-13: 978-0-262-23222-7

Trim Size: 9 x 6

List Price: $40.00 / £29.95

Paperback: 419 pp., 57 illus.

Publication Date: September 2003

ISBN-10: 0-262-73162-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-262-73162-1

Trim Size: 9 x 6

List Price: $21.95 / £13.95

Table of Contents and Sample Chapters 


Do we consciously cause our actions, or do they happen to us? Philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, and lawyers have long debated the existence of free will versus determinism. In this book Daniel Wegner offers a novel understanding of the issue. Like actions, he argues, the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain. Yet if psychological and neural mechanisms are responsible for all human behavior, how could we have conscious will? The feeling of conscious will, Wegner shows, helps us to appreciate and remember our authorship of the things our minds and bodies do. Yes, we feel that we consciously will our actions, Wegner says, but at the same time, our actions happen to us. Although conscious will is an illusion, it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality.

Approaching conscious will as a topic of psychological study, Wegner examines the issue from a variety of angles. He looks at illusions of the will ― those cases where people feel that they are willing an act that they are not doing or, conversely, are not willing an act that they in fact are doing. He explores conscious will in hypnosis, Ouija board spelling, automatic writing, and facilitated communication, as well as in such phenomena as spirit possession, dissociative identity disorder, and trance channeling. The result is a book that sidesteps endless debates to focus, more fruitfully, on the impact on our lives of the illusion of conscious will.

About the Author

Daniel M. Wegner is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.


"Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways."

― David Brizer, M.D., Psychiatric Services

"Fascinating...I recommend the book as a first-rate intellectual adventure."

― Herbert Silverman, Science Books & Films

"...Dr. Wegner's critique ... is less philosophical than empirical, drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology."

― John Horgan, The New York Times

"Wegner has finessed all the usual arguments into a remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy.... [He] writes with humour and clarity."

― Sue Blackmore, TLS

"...well worth reading for [the author's] interesting analysis and insights."

― David Wilson, American Scientist

"...very convincing."

― David Wilson, American Scientist


▷ Wegner, Daniel M. (Feb. 2003). The mind's best trick: how we experience free will. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7(2): 65-69. (doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00002-0).

Daniel M. Wegner : Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 1470 William James Hall, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

Email:wegner [AT] wjh.harvard.edu

Homepage: http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/

Available online 16 January 2003.

ABSTRACT: We often consciously will our own actions. This experience is so profound that it tempts us to believe that our actions are caused by consciousness. It could also be a trick, however ― the mind's way of estimating its own apparent authorship by drawing causal inferences about relationships between thoughts and actions. Cognitive, social, and neuropsychological studies of apparent mental causation suggest that experiences of conscious will frequently depart from actual causal processes and so might not reflect direct perceptions of conscious thought causing action.


FULL TEXT: http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/Mind's_Best_Trick.pdf

▷ Wegner, Daniel M., Thalia Wheatley (July 1999). Apparent Mental Causation: Sources of the Experience of Will. American Psychologist 54(7): 480-492.

Daniel M. Wegner and Thalia Wheatley : University of Virginia

ABSTRACT: The experience of willing an act arises from interpreting one's thought as the cause of the act. Conscious will is thus experienced as a function of the priority, consistency, and exclusivity of the thought about the action. The thought must occur before the action, be consistent with the action, and not be accompanied by other causes. An experiment illustrating the role of priority found that people can arrive at the mistaken belief that they have intentionally caused an action that in fact they were forced to perform when they are simply led to think about the action just before its occurrence.


▷ Zhu, Jing (Nov. 2003). Reclaiming volition: An alternative interpretation of Libet's experiments. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (11): 61-77.

ABSTRACT: Based on his experimental studies, Libet claims that voluntary actions are initiated by unconscious brain activities well before intentions or decisions to act are consciously experienced by people. This account conflicts with our common-sense conception of human agency, in which people consciously and intentionally exert volitions or acts of will to initiate voluntary actions. This paper offers an alternative interpretation of Libet's experiment. The cause of the intentional acts performed by the subjects in Libet's experiment should not be exclusively attributed to special cerebral processes; conscious intentions formed at the beginning of the experiment, when the subjects received experimental instructions, must be taken into account. In addition, what the subjects were required to report was not a conscious intention or decision to act that conventionally figures in the etiology of voluntary action, but rather a perceived effective urge to move induced by specific experimental instructions. According to the alternative interpretation, the most suitable mental term correlated with the specific brain activity that precedes conscious, self-initiated voluntary bodily movements is volition. This account is supported by recent theories of function of the supplementary motor area (SMA). Therefore, the notion that we are the authors or originators of our own actions, which is fundamental to our common understanding of free will, moral responsibility and human dignity, can be preserved.

Correspondence: Jing Zhu, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 19(A) Yu Quan Road, Beijing, 100039, China.  Email: humanwill [AT] yahoo.ca




Immanuel Kant 



2009. 05. 14. 목요일. 새벽 04시 21분(맑음) ~ 05. 20. 수요일. 아침 06시 23분(흐릿한 하늘. 맑게 개기 전, 전형적인 이른 아침 하늘 모습이다). 

콸리아 / 퀄리아 / qualia 

댓글(1) 먼댓글(0) 좋아요(0)