free will

Here you can put questions to Tom or criticize some aspect of his view.

Moderator: tomtalbott

free will

Postby Kaviraj » Thu Feb 26, 2009 5:41 pm

Tom, can you give me your thoughts on the research by Benjamin Libet (and others)?


- Pat
Posts: 148
Joined: Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:06 pm

Re: free will

Postby tomtalbott » Thu Mar 05, 2009 8:59 am

Kaviraj wrote:Tom, can you give me your thoughts on the research by Benjamin Libet (and others)?

Thanks for your question, Pat. Interestingly, I just returned from a conference (the Central Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association in Chicago) that included a session on Libet’s work. But unfortunately, as I explain in my announcement, I have little time to post right now, so my response to your question must be brief and inadequate.

Be that as it may, I seriously doubt that Libet has interpreted correctly his own experiments concerning the matter of forming intentions, of making decisions, and of consciously controlling our actions. For a close examination of these experiments and a devastating critique of Libet’s own interpretation of them, see Alfred R. Mele, Free Will and Luck (Oxford University Press), pp. 30-46. See also Mele’s forthcoming book Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will (Oxford University Press) to be published within a month or two. As Mele points out, we must distinguish carefully between the experimental data or the actual results of experiments, on the one hand, and the concepts used to represent the data, on the other. In particular, Libet’s failure to distinguish an intention to do something from wanting to do it or even from having an urge to do it results, according to Mele, in a lot of confusion about when an intention supposedly appears on the scene. Mele thus concludes: “Attention not only to the data but also to the concepts in terms of which the data are analyzed makes it clear that Libet’s striking claims about decisions, intentions, and free will are not justified by the data” (p. 45).

Incidentally, I thought the discussion at the URL you provided was pretty good, and the following quotation, which coheres nicely with Mele’s discussion, seems to me right on target:
Libet often seems to take it for granted that every free act is preceded by a specific act of will: but that isn't really the case. Often the conscious mind sets a general plan, on which we then act more or less automatically. A tennis player has thought in general terms about how to play the next stroke long before the need for actual action: drivers have a kind of running rule in the back of their mind to the effect that if something suddenly appears in front of them, they hit the brake. Free will operates at this higher level, with all our actions being managed in detail by unconscious processes. I don't have to think about where I want to hit the ball at the very moment of decision in order to control my game of tennis any more than I have to think separately about each of the individual muscles I am implicitly proposing to contract.

Thanks again for your question, and sorry for the brevity of my reply.

Posts: 180
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 9:58 am

Re: free will

Postby JasonPratt » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:46 am

Incidentally, when I was teaching people to fence, one of the things I focused on was the relationship between action and reaction (not least because the scoring of two of the weapons heavily relies on this distinction), and the subsequent relationship between consciously intended action, trained habits (which occur automatically but which don't start off that way) and instincts (which occur automatically without conscious direction, or not at first anyway).

Fencing is great as a sport-illustration for this, because so many of its practices in a martial-art sense are built on suppressing faulty instincts (to overparry, for example; or to cover one's chest with the unweapon'd hand, which can actually be very useful in other sword styles but not in Olympic fencing); building new habits (such as keeping the body rotated to present a minimum target section, and rotating the sword-wrist over palm-up in order to help minimize parrying and keep the tip on/near target); encouraging helpful instincts (not much of this compared to other martial-art forms, but the overhead sabre parry would be an example); and consciously planning and putting into operation strategies and tactics.

There's a lot to be said in favor of designing martial art forms which encourage and direct already-existent instincts, too, of course. But the purpose is still to shape instincts and to create habits which can be relied on to occur more-or-less automatically in mental subprocessing.
Cry of Justice -- 2008 Novel of the Year (CSPA retailer poll).
Sword To The Heart -- metaphysical argument to orthodox trinitarianism (and thence to universalism)
Trinitarian universalist exegetics, on internet radio, or here in forum posts.
User avatar
Posts: 9666
Joined: Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:08 pm
Location: Dyer, TN

Re: free will

Postby Kaviraj » Wed Mar 21, 2012 11:15 pm

Since it's relevant, here's a link to Sam Harris' new book on free will: ... _itm_img_1
Posts: 148
Joined: Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:06 pm

Re: free will

Postby TotalVictory » Sat Mar 24, 2012 2:33 pm

Here's a link to an article in Nature magazine titled "Taking Aim at Free Will by Kerri Smith which nicely summarizes the issues being talked about here.

This topic continues to be one of the most intriguing for me as a UR believer...

-- on a tombstone in a quiet cemetery near Savannah Georgia...
Posts: 955
Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 4:30 pm
Location: Altamonte Springs, Florida

Re: free will

Postby Kaviraj » Fri Jun 09, 2017 9:07 am

Hey guys! Long time! Just wanted to update this thread with a link to Christof Koch describing experiments that allow scientists to (to some degree) accurately predict what your next move will be-- before you're aware of it!

I can link to peer reviewed papers and longer talks, but here's a teaser for now.

This seems much more difficult to deal with than Libet's work. Or maybe not?


- Pat
Posts: 148
Joined: Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:06 pm

Return to Questions and Critical Comments

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest