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01/04/2016

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The title should have been "free won't", since they are demonstrating Libet's hypothesized veto power. It's cool that someone finally got around to testing it. The science *reporting* on the other hand, left something to be desired - the implied definition of "determinism" made me cringe.

I'm reading the paper now (hat tip to Jeff Johnson), so I may have more to say, but one has to appreciate John Dylan Haynes' (and his group's) willingness to change positions based on their findings, not to mention the impressive experimental design. While I am not surprised by what they found, I suspect they were, since my conversations with some of them about a more complicated version of this experiment suggested that they were expecting (perhaps hoping) to find that the computer could always predict what the subject would do based on brain activity that occurred before the subject was aware of making a choice. I suspect that the brain activity involved in a conscious decision to change one's mind occurs *as* the person is consciously aware of changing her mind, so it will be hard to predict it ahead of time (though with very simple decisions there might be prior 'change-mind' activity that regularly precedes any such change). I think I've already posted here the cool study by the Churchlands' son on detecting the brain activity correlated with decision changes in monkeys: http://www.kurzweilai.net/how-to-read-a-monkeys-mind

Happy New Year!

Great comments, Eddy. I was quite surprised as well to see that John Dylan Haynes was part of this study. I think the only thing that would have surprised me more as if Patrick Haggard was part of it and was voicing these conclusions. Maybe this seems a bit harsh, but for several years it seemed Haynes and Haggard had written off Free Will in the interpretations they gave to various free will experiments. To me (a relative layperson), they seemed almost gleeful. Haynes himself seemed like he had written off free will after his famous 2008 MRI study where a Libet-type task was used with an MRI machine.

Thanks Manuel--love your new Bond tagline BTW.

Seems to me that the failure to predict decisional outcomes based on unconscious predilections only entails that some other factor--perhaps luck (indeterministic or some error)--is involved. But that of course signals nothing about free will as a defensibly stable concept--which I take it is what the Spectre of Manuel's post is all about.

Happy New Year to all--and Thomas, we're with you, and here for you.

I'm sure both Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris are semi-livid about the results of this study!

I've often felt that the idea of consciousness having NO ROLE IN ANYTHING (as some "like" to believe) is even more far-fetched and ludicrous than the idea of Libertarian Free Will. So on a personal level, I'm not surprised by the results of this study. I would love it if Peter Tse chimed in here at some point since the Haynes study mentions the 2012 study of Peter's colleague Aaron Schurger.

Prof Haynes: "A person's decisions are not at the mercy of unconscious and early brain waves. They are able to actively intervene in the decision-making process and interrupt a movement."

Hmmmm.... As a conscious decider, I'm not in a position to intervene in my decision-making process since I consist of it. What the good professor means is that the outcome of the process - the decision - isn't necessarily determined at the readiness potential stage but can be a function of later stages.

On a physicalist view of being a decider, I of course consist of my brain doing its thing, and as Eddy suggests, conscious awareness of changing one's mind supervenes on (is the same thing as?) the later stage brain processes. In which case consciousness isn't in a position to intervene either.

The freedom here is that my decision isn't predictable too much in advance such that I can be controlled or outguessed by an external agent (the computer in this case), which is perfectly consistent with my decision being completely determined. Not exactly the article's spin on this experiment, and nothing that would make Coyne or Harris semi-livid.

Sophisticated materialists have never relied on Libet. Indeed, they'd be surprised if choices were so vulgarly predictable. They contend, as always, that the material antecedents of observable brain behavior are too chaotic to track (which, given the brain's complexity, is no surprise).

It's surprising how ungenerous some of you are being towards Coyne and Harris, whose rejection of compatiblism is based more on source incompatiblis than their occasional nods to Libet.

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