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Do human beings have free will?
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Neuroscientific research has disproved the existence of free will

Benjamin Libet conclusively proved that we decide to carry out actions after it has already been determined.
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The Argument

Philosophers have spent millennia debating whether we have free will without reaching a conclusive answer. Neuroscientists optimistically entered the field in the 1980s, armed with tools they were confident could reveal the origin of actions in the brain.[1] At the University of California, Benjamin Libet conducted experiments that looked at the electroencephalogram outputs of volunteers who were told to make random motions, such as pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock. Libert found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.[2] The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on, a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurs after the brain has already set the act in motion.[3] Libet’s so-called readiness potential (RP) was taken as evidence that free will is an illusion, since it seems that specific brain areas activate before we are aware of the onset of the movement.[4][1] Libet introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will, which many had already claimed at a theoretical level based on the argument of the incompatibility between determinism and freedom.[4][5] It seemed as though neuroscience had produced empirical evidence against free will, so that the century-long debate on it could be considered solved.[4]

Counter arguments

The concept of free will relevant to our moral, legal, personal and social practices is much more complex than that captured by Libert's experiments.[4] Three decades later, neuroscientists have reached the same conclusion as philosophers: free will is complicated.[1] Libet’s experiments have been criticized, with many arguing that “there was no evidence of stronger electrophysiological signs before a decision to move than before a decision not to move, so these signs clearly are not specific to movement preparation.”[6][4] Recent studies also point to a different interpretation of the RP, namely that the apparent build-up of the brain activity preceding subjectively spontaneous voluntary movements may reflect the ebb and flow of the background neuronal noise, which is triggered by many factors.[4][5] These subsequent studies argued that Libert’s was a flawed interpretation, and that the results said little about free will.[1] This interpretation seems to bridge, at least partially, the gap between the neuroscientific perspective on free will and the intuitive, commonsensical view of it.[4] On top of this, Libet himself did not think that his research proved free will to be an illusion. Libet instead argued for the idea of a "free won't". Libet thought whilst the brain did not have capability to perform an uncaused action, it did have the power to veto caused actions, therefore making the case that humans are free not to act in certain ways even if they are not able to perform an uncaused action[7]


[P1] It has been scientifically proven that our actions are not determined by our own free will.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] The 'science' that demonstrates this is flawed.

Further Reading

Lavazza, A. (2016) Free Will and Neuroscience: From Explaining Freedom Away to New Ways of Operationalizing and Measuring It. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 262 Libet, B. (1985). Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 8 (4): 529–566. doi:10.1017/s0140525x00044903 Schurger, A., Sitt, J, & Dehaene, S. (2012) An accumulator model for spontaneous neural activity prior to self-initiated movement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Stated of America (PNAS) October 16, 2012 109 (42) E2904-E2913;


This page was last edited on Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 19:11 UTC

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