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QUESTION Study tackles neuroscience claims to have disproved 'free will'

Think neuroscience has proven free will doesn't exist?
Not so fast!

TheMiddleWay 8 Mar 12

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Free will, is more like common sense and experience have made you choise wiser. Well some cases.


I dIsagree!

With the study? On what grounds?

@TheMiddleWay of my own opinion, what else ?


Sorry; just wasn't clear exactly what you were disagreeing with or why.


If Neuroscience says it doesn't exist then I guess that's what I'll believe. LOL

Be careful; the point is that neuroscience's conclusion are based more on researcher bias than actual science. It doesn't prove. It doesn't disprove. It's basically saying nothing except for what the researcher wants it to say! LOL


Well, for one, most studies use fMRI which tracks blood flow to the brain. They then correlate that with action. The problem is that the timing of said effect only corrleate, they don't predict. In other words, I can predict what part of the brain will activate if I choose left over right but I can't predict whether I'll choose left over right by looking at activity in the brain.

There are other points brought up in the article; anything you want to discuss in particular?

I not sure I understand your question... could you rephrase?


Logic disproves free will quite well. Using Neuroscience to explain free will is like using grammar to explain poetry.

I agree with you up to a point. I like to add a further qualifier, that of absolute vs. conditional free will.

Absolute free will is clearly debunked: I can't do anything I want merely cause I will it... I can't fly nor breathe underwater by shear force of will.

But conditional free will I accept: within certain conditions or parameters, I'm free to do as I will. I can't fly but I can jump "when I want to", within the conditions of gravity . I can't breath underwater, but I can go to the beach "when I want to", within the conditions of my bank account for example.

We make decisions based on previous experience and expectations that result from experience.

Try this thought experiment....

Think of a time you made a significant decision.

Now, imagine you were to go back in time to the moment just before you made that decision, and that all of the preceding history was exactly the same, and you have no foreknowledge of the future.

Could you have made a different decision the second time around?

If you answer Yes, then you make your decision irrationally and at random.


Yes. I'll present an example: If that decision were to flip a coin and accept it's results, then that decision would have been rationally made and not at random.

By choosing to flip a coin, I conditionally limited my outcome to two: either heads or tails. There is not a infinitely random set of decisions nor are the decisions themselves random. The final decision was chosen at random, yes, but it was my choice, my free will, to choose to make the decision via that random event.

Thus I have conditional free will: I had the free will to set the conditions (decide by a random event) but then I did not have the free will as I am bound to accept which ever choice came up... that's conditional free will, free will but only under certain conditions.

I use this argument all the time. Its one of my favorites. It's also worth noting that if they say "Yes" they would could differently, you ask them why. They'll probably say something like "because I can" or "because I wanted to be random" or some such. Each one of those is a reason. Desire to buck the trend or "choose whichever" is still a thought process brought on by certain conditions. Even changing ones answer doesn't really escape it unless one can prove that absolutely nothing had an input. And in the unlikely event someone can name an example of choosing something with absolutely no influence upon it, then you're right. And to go one step further. Either A) We don't have free choice because our decisions are influenced in such a way that we could not do otherwise, or B) Our choices can be completely random and not subject to rationality (like you said)

If our decisions are out of our control due to influences there's no free choice. If we're choosing randomly without any desire or reason to do so, and it's literally just a die roll, that's not really free choice either. So either way we don't have that control over our actions

But, the coin would land the same way or would not be part of the experiment by definition of the experiment that all history would be the same since you went back to the moment prior to your decision and had no knowledge of the future.

BINGO, you get it. It is a bit "disheartening" to realize how little control we have over our "free will". We all want to think we are Masters Of Our Destinies, but no. But then think of what life would be like if people did make random decisions. It would be utter chaos!

The funny thing about randomness is that it too, like Free Will, does not truly exist. What we call "random" is actually only an approximation of the imaginary concept of randomness. Any event is totally predictable if you know ALL the factors that lead to an outcome. Think of the "Psychohistorians" in Foundation by Issac Asimov.

@Reignmond yup! Of course it's practical to assume/act line there is free will in day to day life. When someone tries to act in accordance with there being no free will, life becomes a hit fatalistic. The lack of free will to me is mostly academic. I mean besides, we do make our own choices, after weighing costs and effects etc. They're just not necessarily free choices


Not at all. At this point, I invoke chaos theory which says that no matter how precisely I try to replicate the conditions of the coin flip, there is variance enough such that it could be heads or tails under the same conditions based on subtle change.

And where do those subtle changes come from? We need look no further than quantum mechanics.

Adding to the problems of exact replication, quantum mechanics indeterminacy means that you can never set up the same situation the same way twice since if you try to replicate the position exactly, there is uncertainty in velocity and vice versa, if you try to replicate velocity exactly, there is uncertainty in position.


"But, the coin would land the same way or would not be part of the experiment by definition of the experiment that all history would be the same since you went back to the moment prior to your decision and had no knowledge of the future."

But then you are begging the question insofar as saying that history has to be the same otherwise history is not the same. 😉

The point of this thought experiment is to see if we can think of ways in which past history can be changed without being illogical or random and thus make a case for free will, in which case by design future history would be changed.


"The funny thing about randomness is that it too, like Free Will, does not truly exist. What we call "random" is actually only an approximation of the imaginary concept of randomness. Any event is totally predictable if you know ALL the factors that lead to an outcome. Think of the "Psychohistorians" in Foundation by Issac Asimov."

That's another question all together. If by randomness doesn't existing meaning that there is always an underlying deterministic reason, then science says no. For example radioactivity... we have a pretty good grasp of the standard model and the role that the weak force plays in it and radioactivity... however, a radioactive event remains a statistical certainty, not a deterministic one. I can't calculate WHEN a radioactive event will occur with the standard model even as I can predict statistically what the chances are that it will occur within a half life.

The same can be said about quantum mechanics and the double slit experiment. According to the copenhagen interpretation (what the majority of physicists subscribe to), a single electron passes through both slits at the same time yet if we were to through millions of electrons through the slit, the distribution on the board would be as if they randomly went though either slit, interfered with each other, and gave us the pattern on the board. Again, there may be a deterministic viewpoint (for example, the bohmian interpretation) but it is not accepted by the majority of physicists (as to why, that is a whole other story!)

Now you may argue, "well, we just haven't found the deterministic reason yet but it is there" and I would say that is akin to the "god of the gaps" argument again insofar as you claim that there must be a deterministic reason to everything but we just haven't found it yet much like the religious claim that there must be a god but we just haven't found it yet (it lives in the gaps of our ignorance).

It is not strictly wrong to believe the randomness can be explained away IMO but, as of right now, there are random events that are part of nature and we have no insight, no clue, no way of determining what the underlying cause are and thus, as long as radioactivity remains random, randomness remains "real".

As I used to tell some students; Go back and re-read the explanation of the problem. We are not replicating anything! It is a definite history repeated precisely in ALL its nuances, no matter how slight. Invoking Chaos theory or Quantum Mechanics is a violation of the very definition of the experiment.


Again, reread the experiment. Sorry to sound like a teacher. Old habits...

What we have, at the risk of invoking Einstein, is a limited understanding of reality.


IF we could always recreate a moment precisely, then it might be true that everything is a deterministic "clockwork universe". However, given that we cannot always recreate a moment precisely (due to chaos and QM), then it cannot be true that everything is a deterministic "clockwork universe".

Remember, in order to dismiss a universal claim, one only need come up with a singular particular counterexample and the universal claim is denied. In this case, it is the very inclusion of chaos and quantum theories (i.e. modern physics) that creates an exception to your experiment and thus an exception to a deterministic "clockwork universe"


I've said it before -- including here on

The ancient Greek Stoics had it right.
If you can't tell if you have free will or not you might as well assume that you have it.
Take responsibility -- and credit -- for your own decisions. I don't see any gain in behaving any other way.

Apply that same philosophy to the god hypothesis and you end up with an unpalatable conclusion:

If you can't tell if you have a god or not, you might as well assume that you have it.

But it is pretty easy to prove that there is no god, or at least none of relevance.

Or not -- take responsibility.
'If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice' -- Rush.


LOL If it were that easy, there would be no theists like others or agnostics like myself... merely a world full of atheists.

After all, it's not easy to prove that which you have no evidence as proof or disproof. 😉


As we live in a social system with others we all surrender our free will for the benefit of society.

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