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I believe the Libet experiments present a challenge to free will, but I think the experiments may be understood with the following explanation: Instead of your consciousness *driving* your free will, you are simply conscious *of* your free will. Until recently, mankind has always believed (and naturally so) that his consciousness is what controls (i.e., drives) his free will, because we’ve never been aware of any time delay from when a thought first emerges in our physical brain to the time when we’re conscious of the thought. The short time delay doesn’t mean that “you” don’t have free will, and here’s why I say that: There’s a short propagation delay from the time that you touch something with your fingertip, until the time when you’re conscious of the sensation. I don’t think anyone would say that means your fingertip isn’t part of “you”. In a similar manner, the free will that emerges within your physical brain is also part of "you".

If we’re able to prove that agent causation is true (i.e., new emergent forces exist within a physical human brain and those forces don’t result from a direct sum of preexisting forces), then wouldn’t we be able to resolve many of these kinds of philosophical issues? I believe we can prove new emergent forces exist within a physical brain, by realizing that the intelligence associated with one thought is able to interact with the intelligence associated with another thought within a brain, and since intelligence isn’t innate to the laws of physics, there *must* be new emergent forces associated with our intelligent thinking. I believe that’s the fundamental argument that mankind will use to prove free will exists, and thereby prove that predeterminism is false. Yes, determinism is true, because new emergent forces add into the mix and are part of what *determines* the path forward. As soon as mankind adopts that point of view, we’ll have defined a new kind of compatiblism – one wherein freewill and determinism are truly viewed as compatible ideas.

This is an interesting perspective, James. I can agree with a lot of this. Can I ask you a question?

Forget about free will for a minute. Do you think that the actions performed during Libet experiments are free actions? Are they the kinds of actions that could potentially satisfy the freedom-relevant condition for moral responsibility?

Yes, I believe the actions performed by the subjects during the Libet experiments had components of freedom (i.e., new life); their actions were partially related to new emergent forces within the subjects’ brains. In other words, their actions were therefore effectively “free actions”, as you’ve referred to them.

I’m thinking that there are *many* different kinds of forces that emerge in reality, and they propagate through and add with one another in different types of media. Some forces (i.e., those related to life) are able to transcend multiple force fields (e.g., the forces which result from the interaction of my thoughts – a conclusion if you will – are able to transcend from the “thought level” and mix/interact with forces in the electro-chemical level, thereby causing my body to move according to my conclusion).

To me, any force that emerges from my thoughts is attributable to “me”, and “I” am therefore responsible for those forces. It all gets down to how you want to define an “I” or an “individual”. I believe that an individual is associated with a “point of emergence”, and individuals are responsible for the living forces associated with their point of emergence. I also believe there are many other sources of responsibility (i.e., other than the individual), since forces are exerted from *many* different emergent systems. Two quick examples: TV is partially responsible for the forces exerted by children. Drugs may exert strong forces that are responsible for certain behavior.

Hopefully my response isn’t too wishy washy and abstract. I’ve written a website named, and I honestly think the website has a couple of new ideas along these lines. We need a new twist to resolve the free will vs. determinism problem, and there may be a couple of twists on the website that could spark better ideas in others.

Hi Joe--

Your really are off and running this month! Good for you and all of us.

Define N as you say. Now if Po-->P is a causal relation and not a logical relation, then it seems prima facie that N(Po-->P) is false: there are a number of possible scenarios where someone (maybe not the individual involved; think manipulation) could have rendered ~P given Po: causality is a temporal relation (at least in Libet terms) and thus interference is possible. So no-choice closure as some sort of purely logical principle is irrelevant here I'd say.

Hi Joe, on the one hand I think you are right that the Libet challenge may be using a transfer-like principle. Other scientific skeptics (willusionists, as I call them), like Sam Harris, are even more explicitly using such principles--he basically presents a warmed-over Basic Argument, with a patina of neuroscience, to conclude that we have no FW because we cannot control which thoughts come to mind when they do.

But, as I argue in various papers, Libet and other willusionists are typically unclear about what they take the challenge to FW to be, sometimes presenting it in the guise of determinism (or a Basic Argument), but more often in terms of some more explicit bypassing challenge. For instance, Libet was a dualist who understood conscious will as something that could not be identified with neural activity, so he thought the problem was that if brain activity (like RPs) caused action, that left no room for (non-physical) conscious activity to play a role. Daniel Wegner and others sometimes suggest a similar sort of bypassing of a non-physical consciousness, but when more careful, seem to suggest what I call "modular epiphenomenalism"--the idea that the neural correlates of "conscious will" are caused by earlier brain activity but then are on a side-route such that they do not cause motor activity (perhaps only spinning a story about how we are the cause of our actions). Such a story may be accurate regarding some of our intentional actions, but there's no evidence it is accurate for actions that follow periods of conscious deliberation about general action plans, etc.

In any case, if the Libet-challenge took the sort of form you suggest, both premises would be false (or at least unfounded given current evidence). NPo would be unfounded, since there is every reason to think that conscious activity involved in choice (or its neural correlates) plays a role in whether RPs occur, since the RPs would not occur unless the experimental participants chose to participate in the experiment and followed Libet's instructions (do we find ourselves forming urges to flex our wrist without having formed the distal intention to flex whenever the urge--decision?--occurs to us?).

And Alan explains why N(Po-->P) is false too. Consider also the contemporary version of Libet, John Dylan Haynes' fMRI group that finds brain activity that predicts a choice to press right or left button (or add or subtract two numbers) up to 10 sections before the choice (the 'prediction' is a 10% above chance correlation). It would be crazy to think that the earlier brain activity *ensures* the action (e.g., that no one has a choice about whether, if that activity occurs, the action will occur), since the experimenter could (choose to) say after the early brain activity occurs, "OK, now don't make any choices for the next 20 sections," and the participant could follow his instructions. Presumably, the participant could also decide, after the initial brain activity, to stop doing what they'd earlier agreed to do, and make no choice on a given round. The early brain activity is, at best, the beginning of a ramp up a decision. There is no reason (yet) to think that the neural activity that subserves conscious deliberation plays no causal role in action.

(Philosophers can use these results as useful thought experiments--notice that the Libet-style results are essentially what David Blumenfeld and other early Frankfurt responders created to make the F-cases work--i.e., early non-conscious brain activity predicting choices that Black can see to determine whether or not he needs to intervene. But for what it's worth, there's lots of evidence, including a paper that just came out [Jo et al., in Exp Brain Research], that RPs are nothing close to a sure sign that a specific movement will occur.)

Thanks all! Very helpful comments!

Here's another related question to the one I initially asked. If Al and Eddy are correct about the transfer version of the Libet argument (and it seems that they are), what conclusions do we draw from this? On the one hand, we could say that thinking of the argument in this way helps to reveal its faults and is thus helpful. On the other hand, I could imagine someone saying that the fact that the argument is so clearly fallacious given the transfer model shows that the transfer model doesn't really capture the argument's structure, that it leaves something out.

I guess I'm fishing around for suggestions about how the willusionists (love that word!) arrive at their conclusions. It seems like they'd need something like a transfer principle to do so but that seems to work against their accomplishing their own goals. Also, one's background metaphysical assumptions seem to play a huge role. If you go into the issue assuming dualism, it is no big surprise that you might come out endorsing epiphenomenalism.

Hmmm, seems my first attempt at commenting disappeared into the aether. I think that when people find Libet style arguments threatening, this is for one or more of many reasons. For Haggard, it is determinism. For others, there are at least three:
1. A commitment to substance dualism (there is experimental evidence for dualist intuitions in most people);
2. A worry that Libet shows that our consciousness deliberation is epiphenomenal;
3. Some kind of commitment to the claim that freedom consists in a power to choose in a way that is not determined by one's reasons (rather than not determined by causes).

Libet is no evidence at all for 2 (Soon et al. 2008 is *some* evidence for it). As regards 1 and 3, people should just get over it. I've argued that the role that Libet denies consciousness can play in deliberation and action is not a role that we have any reason to want it to play.

I wish, though, people would shut up about Libet. Al has shown that his data is not reliable. More empirically Schurger et al. 2013 and Schlegel et al. 2013 have given us good reason to ignore the data.

Joe -

I think you're right that Libet-type arguments rely on transfer-type principles. I hadn't realized this parallel before, and it's interesting.

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