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12/12/03


Home______John Horgan, Scientific American writer, on Daniel Wegner & free will

"When I woke this morning, I stared at the ceiling above my bed and wondered: to what extent will my rising really be an exercise of my free will? Let's say I got up right . . . now. Would my subjective decision be the cause? Or would computations unfolding in a subconscious neural netherworld actually set off the muscular twitches that slide me out of the bed, quietly, so as not to wake my wife, and propel me toward the door? . . . "

"[According to Dr Daniel M Wegner, Harvard psychologist, the chief offender is the Illusion of conscious will.] What makes Dr. Wegner's critique more effective than others I've read over the years is that it is less philosophical than empirical, drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology. . . . "

"We think of will as a force, but actually, Dr. Wegner says, it is a feeling — "merely a feeling," as he puts it — of control over our actions. I think, "I'm going to get up now," and when I do a moment later, I credit that feeling with having been the instigating cause. But as we all know, correlation does not equal causation. . . . Wegner calls the idea of free will intention invention." More
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In regard to what Horgan says about Wegner, think about this. In 1927, puzzled by the behavior of quantum particles, Werner Heisenberg wrote, "The ‘path’ comes into existence only when we observe it." (Also click here for my 8 November article on Benjamin Libet's pioneering experiments which have free will implications.)

A founder of modern physics, Heisenberg questioned the classical view of an objective observer. We can also say the paths of our lives do not exist until observed. As concept, a determined future assumes an objective observer. If we cannot know the perceiver, how can there be an objective observer? How, then, can one ever say that the future is predetermined? Read the 8 December article on Perception.

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