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6/30/09

Against Benjamin Libet & Free Won't

Benjamin Libet provided a simple model of repeatable experiments to verify his findings which reveal that, so to speak, things seem topsy turvy. His findings are widely interpreted to mean that we can veto our actions but we do not decide when to initiate them. In other words, we have veto power but not decision power. (Libet said this is in keeping with the Ten Commandments as most of them are Do Nots.)

I found an interesting review of Libet's book. The review argued against the standard interpretation. I do not know the writer's credentials, nor do I know if he has professionally published--not that the questions must matter--but I did find Carlos Camara informative and intelligent in the points he makes. (English is not his first language, revealed by his spellings, which I corrected below.) Here is an excerpt from his review of Benjamin Libet's book, Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness:

"Nor does Libet consider the fact of epilepsy, where brain activity is quite long in duration, but different in amplitude and frequency, and the patient is unconscious. Time cannot be the only factor. If it is, proving so requires more than what Libet offers.

Libet also famously found that brain activity precedes the conscious will to act for about 200 milliseconds. He also proposes that the notion of free will can be maintained, because there is time to veto consciously willed actions. You do not begin your actions, but you modulate them.

Again, his evidence is strong, robust and significant. But what about his 'veto' speculation. It is unnecessary. Firstly, materialists should not be surprised with the fact that conscious will comes late in the game. If conscious will is the result of brain processes, it cannot antedate these processes. Secondly, the obvious question arises if the veto function is not preceded by unconscious brain activity in turn. Libet here argues that it must not, for even if the awareness of the decision to veto requires brain activity, the content of that awareness (the actual decision to veto), need not. This reply depends of course, on the independence of consciousness from its content, an assumption that Libet gives us no reason to accept." More

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