Carter & Tallis - Has Neuroscience Demonstrated that We Do Not Have Free Will?

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Carter, Rita & Tallis, Raymond
Year 2012

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Neuroscientific research into decision-making processes in the brain suggest that people's apparently voluntary actions are initiated unconsciously. Those unconscious processes are in turn initiated by stimuli such as environmental challenges and antecedent states of mind. Our actions could therefore, in theory, be traced back and back along the causal chains that have brought us to this, here, now. They are part of the unfolding universe in much the same way as the passage of a raindrop from sky to earth. Yet most people have a strong sense of agency. This may come about because the first we know of what we are going to do is the conscious thought "I am going to......" and we mistake that privileged glimpse of our own about-to-happen actions for a decision. This in turn creates the illusion that our conscious will can some spring free of the causally bound universe. Unlike a raindrop, it can direct its own course. The illusion of free will is itself causative. Recent psychological studies suggest that those in whom it is undermined are less inclined than others to take responsibility for their actions. The debate about free will is therefore of practical as well as academic interest. Should the idea of free will be fostered in the hope it will encourage people to behave better? Or should we acknowledge our natural place in the scheme of things, even at our own cost?