Topics: Free will, Causality, Benjamin Libet Pages: 7 (2427 words) Published: February 5, 2014
Assessment 1: Article Review – Ru K

Do We Have Free Will? Benjamin Libet

There are several definitions to the question of free will that could be considered. However from a scientific point of view, the argument leans towards whether free will should be a neurological element, or the conception of conscious thinking and decision making; a process that although has a biological aspect, the actual cause of the act is done by choice, and the free will is the decision maker; within the limits and boundaries set by society. In essence, it is the assuring option that free will is something that means one can be the agent that causes one’s own fate and destiny. This allows a sense of control and power to the individual. O’Connor (2013) posed the question, freedom of action or freedom of will? Free Will can only truly be analysed or argued, if the definition of free will were to be accurately defined.

Roskies (2006) suggested that Free Will could be defined through various disciplines. The philosophical perspective applies the Agent Causation in which ‘will’ is caused by the agent’s choice while Compatibilism and Determinism state that Free Will is a state of the universe and caused by physical/natural laws of the universe); Epiphenomenalism proposes that mental states are physically caused, but not considered as having physical effects; Hard Determinism suggests that the universe is deterministic and freedom is simply an invisible notion. The theological stance cannot be denied either; fate and destiny is the product of will, and the will could cause the fate. These definitions are to name a few. Zhu, (2003) defined Free Will in the ‘common sense’ terms of ‘human agency’ that individuals are the authors of their actions, posing the ‘moral responsibility’ point of view as the influence.

“The will is the power or faculty of choice, to choose is to will; voluntary action involves free will, free will produces voluntary action” (Barnes, 1999). If free will were a choice allowed to be exercised without consequences, would will power be something that is chaotic and detrimental to human kind? Would Man ‘will’ himself into undertakings that could essentially destroy human existence just because he had no control over his will? This seems to be unviable as man would not have evolved into civilisation and certainly would not have achieved the world that has advanced impressively since early man, regardless of the setbacks; world wars, galactic or environmental factors that may have obstructed will and choice.

Libet (1999) simulated an experiment that was first carried out by Kornhuber and Deecke (1965). Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), they monitored electrical signals at the vertex of the skull, which showed a RP (readiness potential) of 800ms before movement. They reported, “voluntary motor acts were preceded by a characteristic type of negative electrical signal”. Libet replicated this experiment and the results were interpreted to be that the brain is ultimately in control of each action that one takes and that the voluntary process is initiated unconsciously suggesting that there are neurological variables that have precedence over each action one takes and that these aspects could change how free will is viewed. Libet (1999) proposes that his experiment is based on two “common operational definitions” of Free Will; “no external common cues, or cues to affect the voluntary act, and that the subject should feel that they ‘wanted’ to do the action. Zhu,(2003) criticised that being a participant in such a study may be at their own free will, however the participant is to follow specific instruction. It is fair to say that this criticism is quite valid, and from this point of view, the foundations of the actual experiment are already starting to crumble.

Libet states that the voluntary act is preceded by a specific electrical change in the brain, which he calls the readiness potential. It is unclear how...
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