Picture:  clock on screen. One of the most frequently visited pages on Conscious Entities is this account of Benjamin Libet’s remarkable experiments, which seemed to show that decisions to move were really made half a second before we were aware of having decided. To some this seemed like a practical disproof of the freedom of the will – if the decision was already made before we were consciously aware of it, how could our conscious thoughts have determined what the decision was?  Libet’s findings have remained controversial ever since they were published; they have been attacked from several different angles, but his results were confirmed and repeated by other researchers and seemed solid.

However, Libet’s conclusions rested on the use of Readiness Potentials (RPs). Earlier research had shown that the occurence of an RP in the brain reliably indicated that a movement was coming along just afterwards, and they were therefore seen as a neurological sign that the decision to move had been taken (Libet himself found that the movement could sometimes be suppressed after the RP had appeared, but this possibility, which he referred to as ‘free won’t ‘, seemed only to provide an interesting footnote). The new research, by Trevena and Miller at Otago, undermines the idea that RPs indicate a decision.

Two separate sets of similar experiments were carried out. They resembled Libet’s original ones in most respects, although computer screens and keyboards replaced Libet’s more primitive equipment, and the hand movement took the form of a key-press. A clock face similar to that in Libet’s experiments was shown, and they even provided a circling dot. In the earlier experiments this had provided an ingenious way of timing the subject’s awareness that a decision had been made – the subject would report the position of the dot at the moment of decision – but in Trevena and Miller’s research the clock and dot were provided only to make conditions resemble Libet’s as much as possible. Subjects were told to ignore them (which you might think rendered their inclusion pointless). This was because instead of allowing the subject to choose their own time for action, as in Libet’s original experiments, the subjects in the new research were prompted by a randomly-timed tone. This is obviously a significant change from the original experiment; the reason for doing it this way was that Trevena and Miller wanted to be able to measure occasions when the subject decided not to move as well as those when there was movement. Some of the subjects were told to strike a key whenever the tone sounded,  while the rest were asked to do so only about half the time (it was left up to them to select which tones to respond to, though if they seemed to be falling well below a 50-50 split they got a reminder in the latter part of the experiment).  Another significant difference from Libet’s tests is that left and right hands were used: in one set of experiments the subjects were told by a letter in the centre of the screen whether they should use the right or left hand on each occasion, in the other it was left up to them.

There were two interesting results. One was that the same kind of RP appeared whether the subject pressed a key or not. Trevena and Miller say this shows that the RP was not, after all, an indication of a decision to move, and was presumably instead associated with some more general kind of sustained attention or preparing for a decision. Second, they found that a different kind of RP, the Lateralised Readiness Potential or LRP, which provides an indication of readiness to move a particular hand, did provide an indication of a decision, appearing only where a movement followed; but the LRP did not appear until just after the tone. This suggests, in contradiction to Libet, that the early stages of action followed the conscious experience of deciding, rather than preceding it.

The differences between these new experiments and Libet’s originals provide a weak spot which Libetians will certainly attack.  Marcel Brass, whose own work with fMRI scanning confirmed and even extended Libet’s delay, seeming to show that decisions could be predicted anything up to ten seconds before conscious awareness, has apparently already said that in his view the changes undermine the conclusions Trevena and Miller would like to draw. Given the complex arguments over the exact significance of timings in Libet’s results, I’m sure the new results will prove contentious. However, it does seem as if a significant blow has been struck for the first time against the foundations of Libet’s remarkable results.


  1. 1. Matt says:

    Considering that usually in science, extraordinary claims need to be backed-up with extraordinary evidence, it’s always seemed strange to me that Libet’s findings – which were clearly open to interpretation – were taken by so many, so quickly, to be such strong evidence for the highly counter-intuitive, and counter-experiential idea that free will is an illusion.

    For me, in accepting that materialism (as currently understood)is almost certainly wrong, and looking towards some kind Chalmers-like monism, or even dualism, as an alternative, it’s never actually been necessary to appeal to the supernatural, rather only accept that there’s so much that we are yet to fully grasp. Yet the materialist mainstream generally seem bent on denial of alternatives, in what appears to me to be some latent overreaction to the threat of returning to a world dominated by non-scientific superstition. For example, I’d argue that it’s not so much Descartes’ dualism they really object to as so much the belief system behind the idea.

    The over-ready acceptance and use of Libet’s evidence was symptomatic of this state of affairs.

  2. 2. 2bsirius says:

    I’ve wondered about the connections made around Libet’s research in the past, even before these new findings were published. The determinists are looking at Miller and Trevena’s research and claiming that it does not contradict Libet’s preferred conclusion [at least, they claim, it’s not an outright contradiction]. Only time and more data will determine this, I guess.

  3. 3. DATY says:

    Libet would be rolling in his grave if he could- and he’d have no choice about it.

    Anyway, it is curious that many people were quick to claim and cling to Libet’s work and its most popular interpretation for support of the idea that human beings had no free-will.

    But I’m a materialist and I don’t believe the cleft caused by Libet’s work divides materialists and dualists — or Chalmer monists (everything is consciiousn). I think the divide has been between i) people who accept Libet because they think it’s bad ass to do so; and 2) others who understand that the folk in prior category are trying to be trendy, in an academically needy, carelessly hipster sort way.

    So much for pop-culture trends in psychological “science.”

  4. 4. Gary Williams says:

    To borrow a metaphor from Hofstadter, looking for freewill on the sub-second neural level is like looking for a traffic jam inside of a single car. You simply won’t find what you are looking for. One must zoom out to a higher order of organization in order to find voluntary action.

  5. 5. Alex says:

    Some of you seem like you’ve been waiting for a good reason to talk about why people who look at Libet’s results and claim that they make a good case against free will are going about it all wrong. Let’s not forget that if you’re convinced that we have free will, you must be holding out for some pretty major revolutions in the physical sciences. You’re counting on some kind of data to be generated that can only be dealt with by a major reworking of some of the most basic(and experimentally successful in the sense that they can be used to make accurate predictions) principles of modern science. I think for the most part people who accept Libet’s results do so because free will doesn’t really make sense under current scientific paradigms, and because of that it’s easier to accept that free will is an illusion than it is to be certain that a major scientific revolution is on its way that will account for free will and make everyone confortable about being in control of their own lives again.

    It’s not about “trying to be trendy, in an academically needy, carelessly hipster sort way,” its about accepting the view of the world that actual working theories and data provide. Being so certain that free will can be proven seems to be based more on faith and motivated by your discomfort with the alternative than by any actual evidence.

  6. 6. Doru says:

    After looking carefully into the experiment, it appears to me that the RP moment is still the moment when the decision is made. Even as is described as the preparation to take a decision, I would argue that is the moment when the brain does a little rehearsal of what is going to become conscious of. The LRP appears to be a moment of decision, but is an illusory one, the decision is taken prior to the moment of consciousness about it. Libet is still right in my opinion.

  7. 7. David says:

    If physicists or chemists conduct an experiment and observe a new relationship between the observed behaviour of things and the data, they try to explain it as was done here, but they do so in terms of models that have a reasonable foundation and proven record of explanation.

    Here, I see people doing some decent experiments but drawing some facile and worthless conclusions talking about “free will” and “free won’t” and “decision”… what does any of this mean? Of course we understand these terms in an everyday sense, but to rely on these as a scientific explanation is unbelievable.

    This is an unfortunately common example, in this field, of people running before they can crawl; there needs to be a reasoned and logical foundation for the language and concepts used before the results of such experiments can be interpreted scientifically.

  8. 8. Vicente says:

    Free-will is probably one of the most important topics for philosophy, since it is a core building-block for any attempt to contruct ethics. All these experiments, although very interesting, seem to be far too simple to be used in the free-will discussion. Most decisions that really matter need to be taken in much longer periods (yes, sometimes humans are forced to make up their minds in a few seconds in emergencies). Could be that simple decisions like pressing a button, are left to random processes in the brain, since there is no need at all for reasoning or considerations. Would it be possible to make a similar experiment where asking the subject to buy a new car, or accept or reject a job offer?

  9. 9. DATY says:


    I believe that free-will is an illusion if by free-will one means to refer to a super or meta-causal force that works above and beyond the deterministic framework of classical physics. But when I refer to free-will I am referring to Ego, to some sort of centralized locus or source for behavioral modulation or neuromuscular change–to the self that causes and is aware of such a change. No scientific revolution would need to take place in order to accommodate such a notion. But to the contrary, it took Libet’s work to make the contrary (ie, the self is illusory) considerable in the first place.

    As for my contention that supporters of Libet and his conclusions about the human mind make up a gang of hipster dolts who don’t think hard and criticize the scientific literature enough, well, in my experience it’s true, not neccesarily true of course, but simply, informally speaking, true of every person I’ve ever come across who makes a reference to Libet’s work, who does so always in that air of a person speaking in facts and never without even a hint of refrain or suggestion that such research is not undeniable, may be incomplete, the data itself provided by such research questionable and interpretable in different ways. Simply put, a lot and a lot more is needed to prove Libet is even basically right. Yet one wouldn’t sense that from wading through the opinions of the folk who follow these issues.

    Anyway, let’s not forget that Trevena and Miller are not doing revolutionary work. Nobody here is proposing new a paradigm.

  10. 10. vakibs says:

    If you identify brain as the “agent” of consciousness, then Libet’s experiments obviously prove that free-will doesn’t exist. This is the position of the physicalists.

    However, idealists don’t consider the brain to be the “agent” of consciousness, but rather the “instrument” of consciousness. I’ll clarify this position. Like in a remotely controlled robot, the brain is receiving instructions from elsewhere to execute choices. Only a part of these instructions are recorded (in a memory backup facility) and this act of backup happens after these instructions race down the neural highway. What Libet’s experiments prove is the latency between the backing up and the execution of these instructions. They say nothing about the origin of these instructions, even though Libet himself jumped the gun in drawing his conclusions about free-will.

    In my opinion, free-will is tied to the notion of determinism in physics. Our universe is not deterministic, even though many scientists (and philosophers) desperately want it to be. Personally, I consider consciousness to be universal and singular. It has no seat in space and time. It is something even more fundamental than space and time, its nature should be investigated in the very question of “why existence”. Consciousness pervades this universe as a field, different objects are capable of interacting with it at different levels. Animal and human brains are just some of some of sharpest antennas that have evolved so far, to interact with this field.

  11. 11. vakibs says:

    I think a good perspective on free-will is present in the writings of Erwin Schrodinger, particularly in the epilogue of his legendary book “what is life” named freewill and determinism.

  12. 12. Vicente says:

    Hi Vakibs

    If the brain is just an interface between the “spiritual” world and the material world then, does it matter wether the laws of physics are deterministic or not in the free will discussion?

    If the brain is just an interface, by what mechanisms brain chemistry has such an influence in perception, reasoning, behaviour, mood and other “states of mind”.

    If mind has no seat in space and time, how does it interact with “objects” in space and time?

    Unless everything is mind, idealism seems incoherent.

  13. 13. vakibs says:

    Hi Vicente
    There are no two different worlds : spiritual and material. There is just one single universe, and it is independent of anything outside it (if there exists anything beyond it). Whether there exists a finite (or even countably infinite) set of physical laws that determine the behavior of the universe is the question. I believe the answer is no : the universe is non-deterministic and this non-determinism cannot be resolved away at any scale of looking at it.

    Brain is no different from any other physical (material) object in the way it is influenced by the laws of physics. It is subject to deterministic laws, and at the same time it has “access” to break away from this determinism. Any object in this universe (whether that be an electron or a brain) has a “free-will” (non-determinism) that is defined by the scale of the environment that can be sensed by it (or equivalently, the amount of information about surroundings that can be represented by that object). Without knowledge, there is no meaning for freedom.

    If mind has no seat in space and time, how does it interact with “objects” in space and time?
    I’d use the word “consciousness” instead of “mind”. My take on this problem is that consciousness is universal. It is the reason why space and time exist, to begin with. Take a piece of space-time in the universe, and consciousness will have to be present in it. The author of this blog uses the word “pan-psychism” or “pixies everywhere” to describe this. But I don’t want to use these words, because I’d like to highlight my position which is that consciousness is not only universal but also singular. This is best described by the word “monism”.

  14. 14. Vicente says:

    It is confussing to use the mathematical/physical concepts of determinism, that are well defined in terms of the mathematical properties of the set of differential equations we use to model a particular system, and the properties of its solutions. Then we have, deterministic systems that allow us to predict the evolution up to a certain extent, or chaotic systems in which boundary conditions require too much presion and accuracy in practical terms, therefore predictions are almost impossible, or quantum systems in which solutions are understood in terms of probability derived from the wave function. And all these concepts are well defined.

    I don’t believe these concepts can be “directly” used in the free-will problem. Even if modelling the brain as a physical system, the problem is too complex too understand the decision making process in neurophysiological terms, irrespective of the nature.

    If you toss a coin, wether you find head of tails, does not mean that the coin has made a decision. In a quantum system, once you measure a particular value (amongst a possible set) for a variable, does not mean that the system has “made the decision” to have that value.

    Before using Libet-like experiments we should defined what kind of processes could be supporting decision making, and what do we really mean by making a decision. I believe there is a big range from compulsive actions to analytical decisions and cannot be treated in the same fashion. Free will has to terms. First, let see what do we really mean by “will”, and then if is is free or fully conditioned.

    Moreover, if the free-will problem is ever solved, we would need to analyse the moral implications.

    Up to what extent is a man responsible for his acts?

  15. 15. vakibs says:

    If you toss a coin, whether you find head of tails, does not mean that the coin has made a decision.

    No, it is not the “coin” which made the decision. But clearly a decision has been made here and a symmetry has been broken to a clearly defined outcome. If this decision is the outcome of a previously defined set of laws, then this outcome can be called deterministic. Otherwise, it will be called a “free” outcome, something that is beyond the set of laws of physics (as they are defined up till that point).

    Stochastic determinacy is just a different level of looking at things. Things which are random or chaotic (like molecules in an ideal gas) usually present an order at a grander scale. My take is that the universe is not even stochastically deterministic, at any scale. There shall never be a finite (or countably infinite) set of laws that can completely define the universe (or a piece of it). This limitation is not just with respect to our current understanding of the universe, which is indeed woefully incomplete. But about the very nature of this universe.

    The probabilistic nature of quantum systems need not be called non-deterministic. What is non-deterministic about quantum systems is the step where this probability is broken and where the wave function collapses into a fixed state. As we understand, this step cannot be explained today by any (countably infinite) set of physical laws. My take is that this shall forever remain so, no countably infinite set of physical laws shall *ever* describe this. This pure non-deterministic nature is the source of freedom in the universe.

    It is a philosophical perspective whether you look upon this non-determinacy as due to an “agent” (in which case, these outcomes will be due to the “free-will” of that agent), or whether you look upon it as a split of the whole universe into parallel universes. I take the former perspective, because I don’t want to create a multitude of additional variables (parallel universes) to explain our current universe.

    In a quantum system, once you measure a particular value (amongst a possible set) for a variable, does not mean that the system has “made the decision” to have that value.

    I am not arguing about “what” made the decision about this value. But clearly, a decision has been made about this. I believe that there exists one *single* agent in this universe who makes decisions. Whether that decision is recorded in a particular physical object in this universe (whether that be the brain of a human being, or the molecular arrangement of a gas etc) is immaterial and secondary.

    Up to what extent is a man responsible for his acts?
    Up to the extent to which he is conscious of his decisions. In simpler words, up to the extent to which he has a recorded knowledge of his decision process (this information being stored either neurologically in the brain, or linguistically in an external region).

  16. 16. Vicente says:

    OK vakibs,

    I could get along with your points. Could be that this “agent” exists, and for the case of the quantum system is even more reasonable, once hidden variables are discarded… there must be a “cause” for the observations. Then we can get recursive and ask the same questions about that prior agent, and so on.

    In the last point, I completely disagree, being conscious of decisions implies no responsibility. The question is why a certain decision is made? In the same situation one man would chose to push the trigger, while other not. Why? At the end of the day free will could be an illusion, or not, I don’t know.

    As Soppenhauer said, a man might not do what he wants but cannot not want what he wants (this statement gave peace of mind to A. Einstein in his own words) and this is all about intencionality.

    I somehow disagree from Soppenhauer, I believe that through enough reflection and meditation a man can change what he wants. Then again, why some peoble chose to reflect and meditate trying to improve themselves why others “in similar conditions” don’t… you see, back to square one.

  17. 17. vakibs says:

    I like very much that quote from Soppenhauer 🙂 But I don’t know what it actually means.

    A man might not do what he wants but cannot not want what he wants

    But does the man really “know” what he wants ? Otherwise, it could just be a mechanical thought that is induced into his brain by repetitive exposure, just like how modern politics and advertising work.

    For example, a man who keeps on walking in a circle might have an artificial choice between walking clockwise and walking counter-clockwise. If you ask such a man what he wants, he might tell you an answer. But does this answer really mean what he “wants”. Until the man is “aware” of the possibility that he can break away from the circular path, and choose a different path, a desire to choose this possibility wouldn’t germinate in his mind. Right ?

    I think understanding what I want (or equivalently) understanding what I “am”, in itself, is the biggest desire of all. This, at a fundamental level, is what man wants : freedom and knowledge. Both of them come hand in hand; neither of them is meaningful without the other.

    I think this desire is universal and present in every human being, and indeed in every object in this universe. But the strength with which this desire is felt varies between different objects. I think this is why there is a variance in the level of consciousness that is present in different people.

  18. 18. Ivo says:

    To some this seemed like a practical disproof of the freedom of the will – if the decision was already made before we were consciously aware of it, how could our conscious thoughts have determined what the decision was?

    This argument wrongly presupposes that you have to be consciously aware of something before free will can come into play. A slight variant of the argument insists that we actually do not have rational reasons for the decisions we make and that we just make them up afterwards. That variant wrongly presupposes that unconscious processes cannot work in a rational fashion.

    When we become consciously aware of a decision and introspectively try to reconstruct the process leading to that decision, we may very well be reconstructing the unconscious process that led to the decision. On that view, the unconscious process has all the properties of the conscious process, such as room for rational arguments and free will. This doesn’t prove anything about the existence of free will, but it does rule out that Libets experiment could possibly say anything about free will.

  19. 19. Doru says:

    Hi Vakibs,
    Great quote indeed.
    “A MAN WANTS”, implies he is the one with a purpose and is something that our unconscious autopilot cannot have outside of whatever that purpose is.
    Libet was right because when talking about 300 millisecond decisions, that purpose looses it’s meaning and we really have no choice but trust that our autopilot that is trained through repetitive practice will take the right decision for us in a split of a second.

    I always say to myself:
    When the moment of fast action comes, never trust your consciousness to take the right decisions, but always practice in advance and prepare. Don’t try to be conscious or understand, but be prepared! I learn this from Bruce Lee. He was the one that was able to reduce the lagging between the unconscious/conscious decision almost to zero by practicing and learning how not be conscious. In other words, we are not naturally machines, but is helpful to become like one.

  20. 20. Luis García says:

    There is a naive idea:
    We know that any single mechanical action is reversible, while any complicated enough mechanical system can’t escape the second principle and behaves in an irreversible fashion.
    We know that atoms are not alive by themselves, but systems composed of atoms and organized in a certain way display that amazing property we call life.
    Why should it be that we, human beings, can’t have free will even if the tiny, elemental decisions that build up our behavior are not “free” in the sense that Libet’s experiments supposedly demonstrate?. In the end, the subject of the experiment could have not move her hand at all, just because she has decided beforehand to kid the experimenter a bit…

  21. 21. John says:

    The design of experiments on conscious volition must take into account several factors.

    Firstly we know that after training a person can react reflexly to events – decisions do not even require conscious intervention. Ask any fighter pilot or footballer. So experiments on decisions in response to tones are in danger of being confounded by training. The experiement could well just be measuring a trained reaction time.

    Secondly, whenever you know that you have decided to do something the decision has, by definition, already been made. So, if an experiment shows that the brain activity associated with a conscious decision occurs AFTER the conscious knowledge of the decision the experiment would simply be wrong. The readiness potential (RP) demonstrates that there is always the expected brain activity BEFORE a decision but does not reveal the result of the decision.

    Thirdly, if an action occurs after a decision of which I am conscious then the action has been delayed relative to a reflex action. Any test that shows a delay just shows that subjects can indeed delay an action until after they have confirmed that they are conscious of the decision to act.

    What I would conclude from this is that the experiments described above are in the third category, they were set up to demonstrate that people can wait until they are sure that they have made a decision before acting. The new categorisation of readiness potentials is interesting however, from a physiological rather than philosophical perspective, the LRP may be an indicator of withholding an action or may be a normal preparation for action.

    I really do not understand why it is counterintuitive to say that I cannot consciously decide to do something “now!”.

    When is “now”? Say “now!”. The “now” that is encapsulated in the word and the sound of the word is in the past – Aristotle spotted this problem of the present always being past over two millennia ago. You cannot do, or know anything in no time at all, in the real, physical “now”. Machines cannot do anything now either.

    If I sit down and think “I’ll move a finger” when do I actually consciously decide to move that finger? Well, it can’t be now because “now” is no time at all. It must have been “then” so whenever I am conscious of a decision being made I have already made it! Is that “free will”? Clearly there is something weird about “time” in conscious experience here. (See Presentism and the denial of mind).

  22. 22. Jens says:

    Hello there. I have a simple question.

    I haven’t thoroughly investigated this webpage, but I’ve hastily read your conclusions and general content. To me, you seem to be missing one very interesting field of science (and philosophy as well, I will claim). Read about what and why here:


    If you’re honest in your search for the truth, read it thoroughly and with an open mind.

    Peace 😉

  23. 23. Peter says:

    Thanks, Jens. I don’t at all dismiss the introspective evidence gleaned from near-death experiences, but it does seem to me that we need to distinguish between its validity as evidence (evidence that conscious experience is something different from physical existence) and its veridicality (it feels as if I’m existing without a body, therefore I am existing without a body). The second case is clearly weak; in dreams it seems as if all sorts of nonsensical things are true, so we can’t put much faith in the direct truth of a simple feeling that we are not in our body. However, the unique feeling of consciousness and the sense that nothing physical could possibly account for it is something we can experience even without a near-death experience (though perhaps with less intensity), and something that many people since Brentano have considered unanswerable evidence against monist materialism.

    I plan to post a discussion of Metzinger’s new book soon: he devotes a large section to out-of-body experiences – he has had them himself – but he comes to a sceptical conclusion (perhaps a bit too sceptical, I think).

  24. 24. jesus olmo says:

    “What’s expected of us” by Ted Chiang, an ultra-short story inspired by Benjamin Libet’s experiments…


  25. 25. John Davey says:

    I have seen other experiments which appear to have shown that the nature of a decision can be predicted with great accuracy four or five seconds before the decision was consciously “made”. That would appear to be a confirmation of Libet’s findings.

    But the real aim, I suspect,of undermining the idea of free will is to support the theory that the brain is deterministic. Of course, these results do not support that conclusion : they merely support the conclusion that some decisions, when made, originate at a subconscious level. This makes perfect sense to me, and reflects the fact that most of my actions are just initiated by the brain without much reflection or analysis : and thank god for that, as life is too short.

  26. 26. Ronald K. Olson says:

    December 31, 2009
    5:18 p.m.

    As of April, 2008, with the paper presented by Chun Siong Soon titled, “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain,” which explained the findings of Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze, and John-Dylan Haines; as of 2008, Libet’s ideas are ancient history and irrelevant. According to the Soon and colleagues’ paper, the initiation of preparatory brain function occurred anywhere from seven to ten seconds before the subject was consciously aware of the already thoroughly choreographed activity. As has been mentioned in earlier comments, an individual is often called upon to respond to a situation rather immediately. It is worth noting that within the realm of quantum physics, the concept of “immediately” describes a rather precise and unimaginably grand period of time. Still, in such circumstances, the luxury of seven to ten seconds to prepare a response is not to be.

    Soon and colleagues’ paper, along with Libet’s, described the brain’s ability to terminate a prepared action after it has entered the realm of conscious awareness. The concept of “don’t,” or, “stop,” is a neurological function which is embedded deep within the brain in our earliest years and practiced at the quantum level to the point of reflexive redundancy. This one basic concept has a well developed neurological trunk line affording it almost mindless accessibility. Pain is often the stimulation, but verbal command is equally common. Steve Pinker has described pre-conscious brain activity as a maelstrom of competing voices of which only one ultimately becomes the behavior, and that behavior can be either mental or physical. Another professor in southern California, I have yet to find his name, explained brain behavior as being “surprise intolerant.” Brain function is dynamically anticipatory. It strives to prepare for as many potentialities as its genetically engineered machinery is capable of preparing for. The greater a brain’s ability to function is, the more potentialities it is able to sustain. At any one point in time, the brain can have innumerable scenario strings surging for their moment, vying for the opportunity to become the action. As data comes in revealing the circumstance’s precise needs, this multitude of scenario strings is “gradually” reduced to one. For this purpose, each scenario string is programmed with a “self-destruct” trigger. Putting all this together, when conscious awareness is achieved and the command to “stop” is given, the trigger is pulled and the action ceases. To a human’s rather sluggish concept of time, this appears to happen instantaneously. However, within the time constraints of quantum physics precision, the stretch of time is eonic.

    Driving is a good example of an activity that doesn’t allow for the luxury of a seven to ten second period of time to prepare for an action. It demands a constant, ongoing flow of behavior. To this end, the brain must have a massive amount of information. This data bank of driving information begins as a child observes others driving and proceeds on through driving school and behind the wheel practice. Often times when confronted with immediate demands to avoid an accident, the driver feels like they have acted instinctively; without conscious thought, and quite frankly, they have. It isn’t authentic instinct because the data is not innately present but placed there via experience. This is why an individual needs to practice. This is why some people are better able to avoid accidents. Genetics has given some better hardware to work with, and some have taken more time and have been given more encouragement to develop programs, mental disciplines, and are thus able to provide substantially more data. This same principle is why some become great tennis players, great musicians, great scientists, et. cetera. That the brain is an incredible manipulator of data is considerable understatement.

    One can go on confusing the issue by talking about mind and conscious will and other mindboggling minutia, but the two profound bits of Knowledge gleaned from these studies are:
    • conscious awareness is a function of the brain, and
    • brain function precedes conscious awareness.

    Unfortunately, as soon as free-will and self-autonomy are inserted into the discussion, the discussion becomes emotional. [This phenomenon itself is a piece of valuable information. ] It begs a disciplined empiricism to hold these emotions at bay and accept what science is telling us. The following is an except from a prose piece exploring this free-will/determined universe dilemma.

    Because man cannot explain the complexity of the physics,
    or harness it with interrelated mathematical equations and formulas,
    do we just assume the cloud is deciding to move here,
    changes its mind and then moves over there,
    and then to another place, and another, and another?
    Do we assume the cloud is making decisions?

    We quite understandably assume there is some magical difference,
    some supernatural anointing,
    some gift given by the gods or god,
    that differentiates between the natural phenomenon of clouds,
    and the natural phenomenon of human experience.
    If clouds are beyond man’s ability to explain,
    how much more is man beyond his own ability to explain?
    Because man cannot explain the complexity of the physics,
    or harness it with interrelated mathematical equations and formulas,
    do we just assume humans are deciding to move here,
    changing their minds and then moving over there,
    and then to another place, and another, and another?
    Do we assume the human is making decisions?
    is human behavior simply an exponentially more complex,

    All of this is exciting and intriguing, but when laid along side mankind’s race towards extinction it is rather akin to arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Fairly soon, if mankind does not seriously address the foundations of its dysfunctional, un-natural behavior, the number of angels and the conscious-mind distraction really won’t matter. Nothing; absolutely nothing will matter! Polar bears be damned! Very soon it will be our heads that roll!

    Following are five provocative and substantial realities regarding determined universe philosophy. Taken together, they don’t leave much wiggle room.

    • Soon and colleagues paper: By all means, read the paper yourself. Following are some excerpts from the concluding paragraph of this paper. “Taken together, two specific regions in the frontal and parietal cortex of the human brain had considerable information that predicted the outcome of a motor decision the subject had not yet consciously made. This suggests that when the subject’s decision reached awareness it had been influenced by unconscious brain activity for up to 10s… Our results go substantially further than those of previous studies by showing that the earliest predictive information is encoded in specific regions of frontopolar and parietal cortex, and not in SMA. Also, in contrast with most previous studies, the preparatory time period reveals that this prior activity is not an unspecific preparation of a response. Instead, it specifically encodes how a subject is going to decide. This substantially extends previous work that has shown that BA10 is involved in storage of conscious action plans and shifts in strategy following negative feedback. Thus, a network of high-level control areas can begin to shape an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.”
    • History: Historically, mankind’s societies, civilizations and institutions have been grounded in an intuitive free-will social mindset, fraught with unconscionable dysfunction and a dependable example of cyclic collapse. About all that can be guaranteed regarding Homo sapiens social constructions is that they will not last.
    • Stability of mathematic disciplines and the natural and physical sciences as opposed to the instability of the social sciences: When mankind’s mathematic and science disciplines submitted to determined universe principles, (aka. natural and physical laws, The Scientific Method, provable Knowledge, empirical Truth), they each experienced dynamic stability, and while the social structures around them could be guaranteed to crumbled, they remained constant and intact.
    • Natural sequencing: Really; how can you be aware of an event before it happens? And remember, thought is just as much a physics-based event as wiggling your big toe is. How can one be conscious of something before there is something to be conscious of?
    • The lesson of pain: We’ve all heard it said, “Pain is the great teacher.” A child touches a hot stove. Pain tells the child to stop touching stoves. A man hits his thumb with a hammer. Pain tells the man not to hit his thumb with a hammer. In a thoroughly basic sense, the existence of pain is informing us that something within our experience should not be done again; that something is wrong; that we need to examine our past experience and seek to discover the source of our pain. For the child and man mentioned above, the source of pain is fairly obvious. When the pain involves the complex interacting of communities, states and nations, the source is not as obvious, but the principle is just as true. Mankind’s social relationships have been saturated in pain and agony from the get-go! They have also been saturated with an intuitive free-will social mindset from the get-go! The source of our social pain is embedded so deeply within our social psyche, we have come to believe it belongs there; it’s just a part of life; it simply must be accepted. That kind of reasoning would keep a child’s hand on a hot burner and a carpenter’s fingers would be so mangled he would have no ability to hold a nail. Taken to extremes over centuries and millennia, the man and the child would be destroyed. This is the point at which mankind finds itself today. As a global society, we can either learn the simple lesson of pain, or follow the buffalo ahead of us over the cliff. Soon and Libet, historical patterns, a brief tallying of those structures that are stable and those structures that are not, simple logic, and the lesson of pain; taken together, they are offering us a path away from the brink of global extermination; the extinction of life on this planet, if not the universe. If they could scream, they would be screaming. Unfortunately, they cannot. The cacophony of a society addicted to their disease easily drowns out the soft voice of hope. For the life of me, I cannot get anyone to listen. Dr. John Bradshaw, while standing on the shore of the St. Lawrence River in Toronto Canada, watched a grand flock of geese flying north. It was late fall. He made this observation: “It is possible for everyone to be going in the wrong direction.”
    • the intuitive nature of free-will: What does free-will offer in its defense? Boil all the convoluted arguments down to their essence and this is the driving force behind what they are saying: Dang! It sure seems like I’m in control!

    Transforming our societies from a free-will social mindset to a determined universe mindset has incredibly beneficial potential. Determined universe philosophy has had considerable bad press. In reality, determined universe philosophy is much more protective than its acidic counterpart. The realities of a determined universe are the subject of my website: http://www.beneficentparentalism.com. I’ll give you two quotes from Albert Einstein and then I’m gone.

    “Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free, but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” Albert Einstein

    “I do not believe in free-will. Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free-will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men [and women] too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.” Albert Einstein, My Credo

    I apologize. My footnotes didn’t survive the transfer from my word processor. However, just about everything I have expressed is a part of my website in one form or another.


    Ronald K. Olson

  27. 27. Ronald K. Olson says:

    January 3, 2010
    9:14 a.m.

    In this website’s biography of Francis Crick I ran across this parapgraph:

    “Often when we make a complex decision or draw up an explicit plan, we weigh the factors and consider possible events consciously in our minds, and it seems very hard to believe that this kind of process, which surely bears a remarkable resemblance to decision-making, is not ultimately responsible for the plan or decision which is eventually arrived at. Indeed, I think most people believe that making decisions and plans, and allowing human beings to rise above the influence of their immediate current environment, is exactly what consciousness is for.”

    The mistake here is thinking that mental processes, thinking thoughts, are somehow different from wiggling our big toe. They aren’t. The only difference is the end product. In the case of the big toe, brain function creates the choreography, conscious awareness is informed and the big toe wiggles. In the case of thoughts, brain function inspired mental processes juggle and organize the data one packaged thought at a time, awareness is informed, and we mentally visualize the thought. In each case the velocity of quantum level physics causes the individual to “feel” like they are the instigator of the behaviour. Thinking is a bit more confusing due to the fact the end product lies somewhere inside our head. However, both are equally determined before they enter conscious awareness.

    That people “believe” they are making decisions is the crux of our social dysfunction. This “belief” allows an individual to “assume” social inequalities, assign culpability, condemn, punish, and victimize. When one reads this, the natural inclination is towards an outward focus; how this phenomenon infects our relationships with others, but the real devastation occurs within the person’s relationship with him, or herself. The former causes social strife; the latter causes mental illness. If free-will were a valid mindset, we would just have to learn how to live with it, which is what mankind has unsuccessfully been doing throughout its history. Aligning ourselves with determined universe principles eliminates inequalities, culpability, condemnation, punishment and thus, victimization. If the determined universe mindset is valid, we will just have to learn how to live with it, and the sooner the better.


    Ronald K. Olson

  28. 28. John davey says:

    “In each case the velocity of quantum level physics causes the individual to “feel” like they are the instigator of the behaviour.”

    Forgive, me, but this statement makes no sense scientifically – or for that matter in any sense. There is no proven theory that links a specific quantum physics phenomena to consciousness outside of the normal quantum activity of the brain’s constituent cells. Quantum physics is I fear now a ‘weird box’ into which all inexplicable events get thrown.

    We are tied down by the idea of free will – but we are also tied down by the idea of reductive physics. Both have holes in them. It is not possible to generate semantic from a reductive and de facto syntactical reductionism – in other words, reductive physics is all about numbers but the universe is made of stuff. Physics and the universe have no conjunction and shall remain forever apart, making physics at least an infinite discipline.

    And there is certainly no leap from reductionism to conscious mental phenomena – another hole in reductionism, perhaps its biggest one. Hence the willingness of so many otherwise sane, educate people to pretend that somehow it doesn’t exist. The best bet is that currently we know nothing about brain function and science and time will elucidate for us. Free will(or the sense of it), consciousness – reductive physics has to accomodate them – not the other way about !

  29. 29. Ronald K. Olson says:

    January 31, 2010
    7:37 p.m.

    The clinical study of Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze, and John-Dylan Haynes presented in April of 2008 [rifters.com/real/articles/NatureNeuroScience_Soon_et_al.pdf] in which they used state of the art imaging technology to detect electrical pulses in specific regions of the brain, historically accepted to be evidence of brain activity; their conclusions established an exact sequence. Quoting from their concluding paragraph, the numbering is mine: “(1.) …the earliest unconscious precursors of the motor decision originated in frontopolar cortex, (2.) from where theyinfluenced the buildup of decision-related information in the precuneus and (3.) later in SMA, where it remained unconscious for up to a few seconds.” (4.) Conscious awareness comes next and (5.) the behavior concludes the sequence. A whole lot of specific and predictive physiological activity occurs within the brain before an individual becomes conscious of the upcoming behavior. The time between conscious awareness and behavior is a fraction of a second. In Libet’s study it was .327 sec. There is nothing sluggish about the whole affair. That the intricacies of brain function, dynamic quantum level activity, are able to operate at such extraordinary speeds, when behavior occurs a third of a second after the individual becomes consciously aware of the already thoroughly encoded behavior there is produced an irresistible sense of control, a tantalizing impression that one possesses self-autonomy. This sense of control is intuitive and not physiologically supported. In the twenty-five years separating Libet’s study and Chun Siong Soon and colleagues’ study, imaging technology has advanced to a level that thoroughly addresses the loose ends Libet left hanging in the wind.

    I guess what I would like to ask is: What empirical evidence is there that provides factual support for free-will to the same extent Libet’s and Soon and Colleagues’ studies provide factual support for a determined universe? Before Libet and, more profoundly, Soon and his three colleagues, free-will and determine universe paradigms were equally dependent on convoluted philosophical arguments. Ones bias pretty much predicted how one would interpret existing arguments. That is no longer the case. Or is it? Is there any hard authoritative evidence supporting free-will?

  30. 30. Ronald K. Olson says:

    February 1, 2010
    5:42 p.m.

    If conscious awareness is merely a product of brain function, what is the causal mass that is the driving force behind mankind’s behaviors?

    The driving force behind mankind’s behaviors, behind all universal experience, is the existential totality of all previous universal experience. No inconsequential mass! This is true for all universal elements, intricacies, single unit subsets, the gargantuan and the subatomic, as well as mankind. A free-will mindset will receive this and feel demeaned, compromised, minimized, puppetized. However, this reality is anything but demeaning.

    Mankind tends to view itself in isolation; as a species and individually. However, within the context of our universe, nothing functions in isolation. There is an inescapable delightfully intimate connectedness. The closest metaphor I can imagine is the hair on our head. Each hair has a singular expression, but each hair is an extension of the body. It functions in relationship to the functioning body and though the hair might believe otherwise, not as an autonomous self. A body’s dietary history and general health can be traced by examining a hair on our head, the length of the hair being the only limitation. In accord with determinist concepts, each of us is a singular function of the functioning whole; a hair on a universal head.

    All previous universal experience is funneled into the individual at conception and then ongoing universal experience forms the individual from that point on. The totality of universal experience is the driving force within the whole of our body. Our thoughts and behaviors as well as our life sustaining bodily functions are the product of all previous universal experience. The linkage is inexorable. It is the will of the universe and not an autonomous free and independent human will that drives our thoughts and our actions. Like a plodding behemoth, the universe is going somewhere. Nothing can inhibit its progress; not even mankind’s notion of a free and independent will. To be a part of this journey is exhilarating! It is not demeaning in the least. It is excruciatingly fantastic! That every moment of our singular existence is the culmination of eons of universal experience establishes each and every one of us as irreplicably unique, special, perhaps even sacred! Venerable majesty is ours by simply being.

    There is a sense of awareness present in many advanced species. It is a primitive form of conscious awareness, but indeed, mankind’s sense of conscious awareness could itself be described as primitive. Evolutionary processes being what they are, the “desired” purpose for this developing sense of consciousness is yet to be realized. Perhaps it will just be an entertaining evolutionary trail road that ends in some future slough; its skeletal remains housed beside those of the dinosaurs in museums of a humble, and therefore, successful species. Or, perhaps it will some day allow life to blossom into some extravagant never before imagined flower. We now stand on the experiential cusp which will determine mankind’s potential. Presently, conscious awareness just seems to be getting in the way, but my ability to decipher laid along side this plodding behemoth’s ability to cipher is really quite laughable!

    Of course, no birth is without its terrors. No era of metamorphic change is welcomed with open arms regardless of how unequivocally benevolent that change may be. Mankind has invested all that it is; has established its every security institution and social structure on the belief that unlike all other entities it possesses a free and independent will. Arrogance has never been our weak suit! Many of nature’s parental systems demand the sacrificial exhaustion of the parent: salmon, octopus, grasses, etc. For mankind, this may be the case. However, in the case of mankind, the irony is: The present generation’s parental behavior is cannibalistically intent on destroying its progeny. To survive, some near future generation of mankind must escape the soul felt intent of its parent generation. The present parental mindset must die for future generations to have even the hope of life. This is no small task. Indeed, it may be an impossible task!

    What is the root of this unintentioned parental malevolence? Why is it that mankind so intensely demands the demise of its children? Each of us, as is true of all universal entities, is the sum total of all previous universal experience. This means each of us is an expression of the greater universal intent. Which means every one of our behaviors is determined by external forces and not by some imagined sense of self-determination. Each of us is dependent on external realities for our thoughts and actions. A hair does not wag the head. The head wags the hair. Only external realities affect our experience. The only entity having no dynamic impact on an individual’s experiential reality is the individual him, her, or itself. All that an individual is results from external forces and not from any smidgeon of internal inertia. Not even the whiff of self-autonomy exists.

    This is incomprehensible and anathema to contemporary grown-up thinking. This reality annihilates all culpability driven belief systems. It castrates those who derive their sense of accomplished personhood from their gift of a superiorly disciplined mind. It makes thieves and paupers of those who sit pompously on great mountains of insane wealth. It calls into question our methods of dealing with individuals who default and terrorize society. It damns our educational practices. It turns the present and all past parental human generations in-side-out and up-side-down and leaves them gasping as fish caught in a shrinking tidal pool. This is old hat for all but Homo sapiens. It is holy terror for mankind as it presently exists!

    Do our progeny; do our children have a future? Probably not! Unless this plodding behemoth has a last minute trick up its sleeve, mankind’s future generations of children most definitely do not have a future. Mankind’s only hope rests in the minds of those able to rein in their emotions and calculatedly discuss these realities.

    I feel a need to apologize for seemingly monopolizing this particular blog. As you can tell from what I have shared, I see this particular issue as being critical for the survival of our species and if nuclear proliferation continues its present course, possibly all life forms on our planet. I am an optimist! No! Really! Universal experience has invested so much getting us to where we are. We simply need to respond intelligently to the Knowledge that already exists. We will. That’s what websites like this one are intent on doing.


  31. 31. John davey says:

    “What empirical evidence is there that provides factual support for free-will to the same extent Libet’s and Soon and Colleagues’ studies provide factual support for a determined universe”

    But even if this science is accepted ( and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be) they don’t provide any evidence for a determined universe, at least not as you have explained it.They indicate that consciousness follows after the brain’s lower level ‘decision’ has been made but they make no claim as to the deterministic status of the initial subconscious decision. This science says absolutely nothing about freewill or determinism, but it does provide interesting information about the position of consciousness in the scheme of the human brain. My own appreciation of my own consciousness is that just about every action I take in the course of a day, from typing an individual letter of a keyboard to drinking a cup of tea, I inject very little conscious effort into I merely watch these events as my brain just does them. That still doesn’t mean I am predetermined in everything I do, or I couldn’t have done things some other way.

    And e-m radiation, even in non-quantum scope, travels at 3×10^8 m/s. That is more than adequate to account for the speed of the brain and requires no magic ‘quantum’ effects. I’m not arguing that there are no quantum effects, incidentally – merely pointing out there isnt the remotest piece of evidence suggesting it.

  32. 32. Vicente says:

    Libet and similar experiments address very simple decision making schemes, like pushing or not a button in which the brain might be forced to use “toss a coin” like mechanisms. For which reason should or should I not press the button. I understand the main point is the time lag between the decision is observed by the instrument (that in not very clear by the way), and the individual is aware of it. This could be due to the activation of brain mechanism for “toss a coin” cases.

    Anyway, my point is that these experiences cannot be necessarily extendeded to real life scenarios, were very complex decisions have to be made, with many factors to consider, sometimes in very short time. This are the cases were free will is interesting, were intentionality makes sense, were responsibility might have a meaning.

    I don’t know if there is something like free will for human beings, but I don’t think that Libet kind of experiments are of any use for this question. Better read Spinoza.

  33. 34. Ronald K. Olson says:

    I tried to give the website address for Soon and colleagues’ 2008 paper “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain” earlier, but I missed a couple letters. This one should do the trick! http://rifters.com/real/articles/NatureNeuroScience_Soon_et_al.pdf You may be more familiar with clinical papers than I am, so you may be able to digest the clinical explanations. I tended to draw more from the extract, the introductory paragraph and the concluding paragraph. To me they seem to be saying that preparatory brain function and conscious awareness are caused by brain activity in specific regions of the brain. John, are you saying there is no proof that this activity within the brain is physics based; is subject to the laws of physics and therefore determined by coherent forces at the molecular level and lower? If you could explain that a little more, I’d be appreciative. Got to go…


  34. 35. John davey says:

    “John, are you saying there is no proof that this activity within the brain is physics based; is subject to the laws of physics and therefore determined by coherent forces at the molecular level and lower?”

    I said no such thing. However I would qualify that by saying I believe that “the brain is subject to all natural physics laws as they actually are, not necessarily reflecting the state of physics in year 2010”.

    There is no reason to assume that the brain doesn’t do its thing perfectly naturally : no gods are required, no ghosts, no magic. But physics has a dilemna : it can’t account for, or even remotely predict, mental phenomena. You can’t take an equation in reductionist physics and predict the possibility of the feeling of an itch. You can however take an equation such as E=mc2 and extrapolate the mathematical and syntactical consequences to a very real semantic outcome.

    Now I’m aware that a lot of otherwise sensible people have dealt with the mental world by pretending it doesn’t make exist, as it doesn’t fit into the reductionist schema. Guys like Daniel Dennett, for instance, who just can’t get their heads round the fact that physics works AND people can think of blue as a colour of absolute form.

    It strikes me somewhat obvious that both the mental word exists AND physics works, with the exception that physics currently doesn’t seem to be able to deal with mental phenomena. Maybe it won’t : maybe it can’t – but obviously its claim to be a ‘total solution’ science is therefore false.

    I think the free will argument falls into that : all arguments for and against are based upon folksy notions about how the brain works, without the benefit of a well developed body of science based upon concrete theories about how brains work and how conscious phenomena are generated. To a very real extent, and I mean no disrespect to Libet, I think their findings are almost meaningless as their tools are frankly no more subtle than poking wildlife with cattle prods. ANd they have to be like that as the science in the area is still primitive – consisting largely of maps of eletrical activity,

  35. 36. John davey says:

    sorry – page submitted for some reason I can’t explain ! An unintentional decision …

    I think the free will argument falls into that : all arguments for and against are based upon folksy notions about how the brain works, without the benefit of a well developed body of science based upon concrete theories about how brains work and how conscious phenomena are generated. To a very real extent, and I mean no disrespect to Libet, I think their findings are almost meaningless as their tools are frankly no more subtle than poking wildlife with cattle prods. ANd they have to be like that as the science in the area is still primitive – consisting largely of maps of eletrical activity, vague notions about how some areas connect to function, and inevitably, in the past 20 years, somebody talking about how ‘seratonin’ is so important in all this.

    In defence of Libet, he has to start somewhere. But I repeat my original point that his experiment shows that conscious phenomena lag unconscious ones. He seems to have made the completely unjustified decision ( a decision of definition) that free will is restricted to conscious decisions, and not unconscious ones. He is assuming that unconscious decision making is deterministic, something he is not in a position to do.

  36. 37. John davey says:

    Just making the point clear Ronald, I am not a dualist, religious or anything like that. I’m a physicalist who doesn’t agree with a lot of AI/Cognitive Science (or pseudoscience).

  37. 38. Vicente says:

    Let’s assume there is free will. Then, how is a certain decision made? about anything doesn’t matter. According to a particular decision criteria set? how? why? where is the source of intentionallity? Where are all the constraints and conditions humans have to consider. What is the original source of will?

    Let’s assume the original decision is unconscious, fine. What has triggered the decision making process? what has oriented the decision to a certain result? Random biophyisical brain mechanisms? come on.

    I feel the problem is being terribly oversimplified, and approached from the wrong angle, because the person is analysed isolated from its environment, which is essential to understand the decision making process.

  38. 39. Ron Olson says:

    February 13, 2010
    8:14 p.m.

    Dang! There’s so much to respond to! So many questions! Please be patient with me. I’m just now learning how to dialogue with others who are actually capable of dialogue! I am rather socially isolated and those I try to dialogue with are more apt to quote scripture or cross themselves and recite the Rosary!

    First: John, did you read Soon and colleagues’ 2008 paper, “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain?” [the website address I gave earlier] Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze, and John-Dylan Haynes have credentials up the wa-zoo! I respect their words, perhaps too much. (Their voice is the voice that must now be addressed. Libet’s voice no longer matters.) Collectively, they seem to be willing to declare that their recent study impacts the whole choice dilemma. However, I respect your words, too. I just have a need to reconcile the two. It may simply be a case of semantics…my inability to comprehend phrases that are being said. John, could you respond to the following sections of their paper? [I’m reminded of Denzil Washington’s lawyer character in the movie “Philadelphia” telling a witness: “Explain it to me like I’m a four year old.” I’m the four year old! I’ve already been introduced to many concepts new to me. I have an obsessive need to know because it seems mankind is soon to be caught on the short end of not knowing. In the process, I may make ask some dumb questions and make some obtuse statements. Just bear with me, please!] Here goes…

    1. The impression that we are able to freely choose between different possible courses of action is fundamental to our mental life. However, it has been suggested that this subjective experience of freedom is no more than an illusion and that our actions are initiated by unconscious mental processes long before we become aware of our intention to act

    2. Taken together, two specific regions in the frontal and parietal cortex of the human brain had considerable information that predicted the outcome of a motor decision the subject had not yet consciously made. This suggests that when the subject’s decision reached awareness it had been influenced by unconscious brain activity for up to 10 s, which also provides a potential cortical origin for unconscious changes in skin
    conductance preceding risky decisions.
    3. Also, in contrast with most previous studies, the preparatory time period reveals that this prior activity is not an unspecific preparation of a response. Instead, it specifically
    encodes how a subject is going to decide.

    4. The temporal ordering of information suggests a tentative causalmodel of information flow, where the earliest unconscious precursors of the motor decision originated in frontopolar cortex, from where they influenced the buildup of decision-related information in the precuneus and later in SMA, where it remained unconscious for up to a few seconds. This substantially extends previous work that has shown that
    BA10 is involved in storage of conscious action plans and shifts in strategy following negative feedback. Thus, a network of high-level control areas can begin to shape an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.

    What do you hear them saying and where does it land in your thinking?


  39. 40. John davey says:

    “1. The impression that we are able to freely choose between different possible courses of action is fundamental to our mental life. However, it has been suggested that this subjective experience of freedom is no more than an illusion and that our actions are initiated by unconscious mental processes long before we become aware of our intention to act”

    I have a big problem with this paragraph, the main one being the assumption that unconsious mental processes are incapable of choice. I find this frankly one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard. For instance, I would say that when I drive a car most of my mental control of the vehicle is at a subconscious level : I’ve learned how to drive a car and I don’t have to think about it. But my subconscious doesnt know when to speed up or slow down, or steer ? give me a break.

    “2. Taken together, two specific regions in the frontal and parietal cortex of the human brain had considerable information that predicted the outcome of a motor decision the subject had not yet consciously made. This suggests that when the subject’s decision reached awareness it had been influenced by unconscious brain activity for up to 10 s, which also provides a potential cortical origin for unconscious changes in skinconductance preceding risky decisions.”

    I have no problems with this at all, or the rest of it.

    They have decided what free will is, that’s all, and in their scientific way, they have sought to disprove it. It proves not that free will is necessarily disproved, but it does prove what I suspect a lot of people have come to be aware of – scientists don’t make great philosophers. These guys may be state-of-the-art when it comes to neurology (although I repeat my belief that most neuroscientists these days are at the level of 18th century leech-proscribing quacks) but they are no more proficient at philosophy of mind than anybody else. My advice is listen to them in their area of expertise, but don’t pay them any more respect than that.

  40. 41. Vicente says:

    “…My advice is listen to them in their area of expertise, but don’t pay them any more respect than that…”

    And the other way round !

    Philosophers have also to stay in their place. This point is quite connected to the neighbouring blog “instrospection”.

    And then we have philosophy of science, nobody’s land, very few guys have succeded here, for me only: K.Popper and B. Russel.

    I agree with you. The point is that consciousness (qualia) is in the middle of nowhere. We need something new, philosophy and science to mingle as they have never done before. I don’t know how. Otherwise we will remain stuck, making real progress impossible.

    We need something new.

    Probably fundamental physics are coming to a similar scenario. I wonder if the conceptual and theoretical frame breakthrough that physics is craving, will come with fresh ideas of the fundamental structure of the Universe that might help consciousness understanding, and solving big problems like free will.

    BTW: “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain” title should be revised in terms of formal consistency, to begin with.

  41. 42. Ron Olson says:

    February 15, 2010
    9:34 a.m.

    I must confess, I wasn’t certain what a physicalist was. I had to look it up.
    Physicalism is a philosophical position holding that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties; that is, that there are no kinds of things other than physical things. The term was coined by Otto Neurath in a series of early 20th century essays on the subject, in which he wrote:
    “According to physicalism, the language of physics is the universal language of science and, consequently, any knowledge can be brought back to the statements on the physical objects.”
    In contemporary philosophy physicalism is most frequently associated with philosophy of mind, in particular the mind/body problem, in which it holds that the mind is a physical thing in all senses. In other words, all that has been ascribed to “mind” is more correctly ascribed to “brain”. Physicalism is also called “materialism”, but the term “physicalism” is preferable because it has evolved with the physical sciences to incorporate far more sophisticated notions of physicality than matter, for example wave/particle relationships and non-material forces produced by particles.
    Dang again! I guess I’m a physicalist, too!

    Anyway, about driving a car; Within a lifetime of experience there are an incomprehensible number of events stored within the brain that are capable of impacting just one behavioral response. It is impossible for a human to consciously consider each and every one of these stored events at a moment’s notice. Back to driving a car: Incoming sensory data is constantly flooding our mental processes when driving a car, or otherwise. Sensory data enters through our sensory organs, checks in at the desk, is given a room key, enters its room and then gives conscious awareness a call. It is sequential and it all takes time. But once again, conscious awareness is the last to know. When driving a car, the next experiential moment can present incredible demands; some rather mundane, others critically significant. Consciously or subconsciously, the only data available to an individual making them capable of addressing these potential demands is stored experience; experiential data the brain has encrypted within its fleshy mass. This stored experience includes all our past driving practice and the incoming data. Something other than a rather sluggish conscious manipulation of data is required to produce an appropriate response within the time frame presented by a front left tire blowing out, or another car running a red light, or a deer racing into your path on a slippery winter road. This is all done by our subconscious, but it seems subconscious would be better referred to as “mind,” and even the term “mind” is a rather ghosty and nebulous concept, so perhaps brain function would be the best descriptor. With extraordinary speed, kind of like our present day search engines only much better, the brain juggles all pertinent data, throws together a response, informs conscious awareness, and zap! We maneuver the car as best our stored experience is capable of. Whatever conscious awareness is, it is dependant on physicalist relationships within the brain. All Soon and colleagues have done is provide us with a pretty good picture of what the sequence is, and the sequential position conscious awareness has is after brain function and just before the behavior. That behavior can be thought, or body movement. Either way, conscious awareness is always the last to know.

    So, “…where is the source of intentionality? What is the original source of will?” In entry #30, I stated these questions this way: “If conscious awareness is merely a product of brain function, what is the causal mass that is the driving force behind mankind’s behaviors?” The source of this personally felt intentionality is this “causal mass.” The original source of will, the driving force behind mankind’s behaviors is this “causal mass.” Simply and rather naively put, this “causal mass” is nature; Nature; the incontestable parameters of Nature; Natural Law, which is thoroughly grounded in a physicalist reality; physics. Opposition to Natural Law produces destructive cyclic collapse. Adherence to Natural Law produces a progressive stability. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic God does not rule our universe. Nature does. God’s and goddesses, imps, devils and angels do not determine or even impact human behavior. Nature does it all. Do we know much about Nature? No! Very, very little! To the little extent we do, there is a progressive stability: mathematics, the physical sciences, the natural sciences, and to an increasing extent, the psychological and medical sciences. To the greater extent that we do not, we have experienced and continue to experience cataclysmic and agonizing cyclic collapse: the social sciences; i.e., philosophy, government, theology, education, economy, personal relationships, environment, and so on and so forth.

    You’re right Vincent. We do need something new!

    I am a poet-philosopher, a singer-songwriter, an artist, a compulsively creative thinker. I am an asperger’s case. I have ADHD and sleep apnea. All lambs in wolf’s clothing! I have been focused on this question since I can remember. Everything I have observed in my fifty-eight years points towards a determined universe. In the summer of 2006, I stopped trying to convince those around me that the intuitive sense of a free and autonomous will was an illusion, and began exploring what the implications for society would be if it relinquished its fearful and egocentric grasp on self-determination. What I discovered was breathtakingly refreshing. That is what my website is all about. I am presently organizing my rather disjointed, flow of consciousness, essays into a book. My motivation is this: A species whose social constructions diametrically oppose Natural Law will in time be erased from the pages of Universal Experience; extinction. Oddly enough, the most compelling argument against a free and autonomous will and for the existence of a determined universe is the simplest. It occurred to me just recently. How can one be aware of something that does not yet exist? How can we be consciously aware of something if there is not already something to be consciously aware of? Presently and in the past, mankind has explained the oxymoron of knowing the unknowable with the supernatural; i.e., free-will. Somebody has got to come up with something better!

    Natural Law comes across as childishly simple. It is not. Mankind’s primitive mind is just barely capable of entertaining the consequential arrogance Natural Law so unassumingly possesses. Comprehend It? Not for exponential eons! Accept It? This is today’s task. There are moments when a sense of optimism is very difficult to sustain. This is one of those moments. Then the next moment screams, “It will be!”


  42. 43. Ron Olson says:

    February 16, 2010
    11:11 a.m.

    Vincent, I was thinking a little more about your statements: “We need something new, philosophy and science to mingle as they have never done before. I don’t know how. Otherwise we will remain stuck, making real progress impossible.”

    That’s the crux of mankind’s dilemma. This free-will social mindset has so permeated society that even scientists fall victim. The scientist leaves home, goes to the lab, checks in his free-will cloak and dons his determined-universe cloak. While in the lab he quite willingly subjugates all his activities to determined-universe principles and when his day in the lab is finished, he checks in his determined-universe cloak, dons his free-will cloak and goes home. A lethal dichotomy!

    Science and the preponderance of philosophical thought are like oil and water; like an English speaking individual trying to speak to a Chinese speaking individual. They aren’t speaking the same language. When in the lab, the scientist approaches their work with a determined-universe mindset, while the philosopher approaches their work with a free-will mindset. Until philosophy aligns itself with determined-universe principles, with Natural Law, science and philosophy will be incapable of mingling. Attempting to comprehend Natural Law with a free-will social mindset is akin to trying understand Chinese believing the English language is sufficient for the task. Ain’t gonna happen! Like you said, we’re stuck! I wish I could say we were just stuck and not going anywhere, but while we’re spinning our wheels the herd of buffalo just keeps getting closer and closer to the precipice!


  43. 44. Ron Olson says:

    February 16, 2010
    7:31 p.m.

    Does what I am saying make some sense? Does it hold even a little bit of water? Is it the least bit rational? Or, am I off the wall? Am I a lunatic? Am I visualizing concepts that just aren’t there? I ache for mankind. There is so much pain and suffering out there and in my heart of hearts I have to believe it doesn’t need to be. I am not grounded in science. I am not well versed in historic philosophical thinking. I’m a dabbler. I know a little bit about a lot, but not a whole lot about anything specific. Vincent, John, I guess I visualize my place in life as a mediator between science and philosophy, but I have no credentials except for my propensity to think, think, think, think and then think a whole lot more. I wouldn’t feel so desperate except that as one with a poet’s ability to visualize what others cannot, I can viscerally see the world; no matter what time of day, I am able to visualize mankind destroying itself one moment at a time. I have seen this since I was a child and have been compelled to ask why, why, why, why, why… Through the lives of my classroom students and my own experience, I have managed to piece together a semblance of an answer, and if ever in mankind’s history an answer was desperately needed, today is that day. I really need you guys to help me. Help me solidify what is Truth and dispose of what is contemporarily temporal. I need to know. I am desperate to know.


  44. 45. Vicente says:

    Well Ron, take it easy. Humankind has faced throughout its history many difficult situations, and this one is not worse than many others before.

    Things are a bit more complex that what you present in #43. It is not that scientists wear cloaks for convenience, or take schizophreniac lab hours, they are ordinary human beings, with ordinary lifes, and most of them aware of the limitations of science, and lovers of philosophy.

    The point is that the reality of consciousness, qualia, phenomenological percepation of the world is of such nature, that cannot be analysed with physical sciences methods. eg: how to measure the redness of an apple image you have in your mind. You can analyse the light reflected by the apple, but not the image in your mind. You can correlate “mental states” with “brain states” and that, trusting what the subject under investigation tells you.

    By something new, I meant some new conceptual frame that enables science to access the mind as any other object. Let me give you some science “fiction” example, imagine that multidimentional universe theories evolve and prove that we are multidimentional beings (many more that 3 plus time) constraint to a proyection in this 3-dimensional space, and mind relays on the other dimensions and brain is transfer machine to the other subspace… something like that.

    But you are right in that we behave like a buffalos herd. I believe that only through an important genetical mutation that modifies our brain structure, reducing violent reactions and strenghthening rational behaviours we’ll get out of this, ie: becoming a new better species. Is it possible, I don’t know, ask the opinion of experts in neurogenetics.

    After all, everything will end in the cold entropic death of the Universe, or that is what physics say (unfortunately if thermodynamics are right this is quite “deterministic”). We still have some credit though.

  45. 46. Ron Olson says:

    February 17, 2010
    9:00 a.m.

    Thanks Vincent…

    You’re a good friend. The poet in me got the upper hand last night! I have a whole bunch of appreciation for the position scientists are in. It just illustrates how easily we slip in and out of paradigms; creatures of habit and all. Doesn’t the strength of the Scientific Method depend on the universe being deterministic in nature? Isn’t it plausible to consider the irascible relativity of philosophy a consequence of squishy free-will foundations? Gradually, mankind’s behaviors have been stepping over the line; proceeding from an allegiance to free-will to an allegiance to determined-universe principles; from superstition to science; from belief and faith to Knowledge. There was a day when the physical and natural sciences were in the same position philosophy is in today, but slowly they crossed over and have experienced a progressive stability for their efforts. The transition hasn’t always been easy, ask Galileo, but the progression is unmistakable. If we extrapolate this progression the way Gore extrapolated the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, philosophy will be on the other side of the line with its siblings some future day. Is it possible that the era we live in is the period of time that philosophy can cross over and join the family? Yeah…sure…maybe…I suppose…but!

    Got to go…I’m gone…


  46. 47. Ron Olson says:


    You’re right about accepting Soon and his colleagues at the level of their expertise. I am making adjustments! Thanks…


  47. 48. Ron Olson says:

    February 17, 2010
    2:37 p.m.

    I read what you guys write pretty thoroughly. I really do! It stirs my mind like you wouldn’t believe. I confess I go to Wikipedia a lot! The hard part is selecting what to respond to! Sitting in a corner pub and just talking around a pint seems so attractive… thank “whatever” for blogs, but I prefer flesh and blood.

    Vincent, in your last entry one of the paragraphs said this: “But you are right in that we behave like a buffalos herd. I believe that only through an important genetical mutation that modifies our brain structure, reducing violent reactions and strenghthening rational behaviours we’ll get out of this, ie: becoming a new better species. Is it possible, I don’t know, ask the opinion of experts in neurogenetics.”

    The trigger for me was, “…reducing violent reactions and strengthening rational behaviors.” Dang! That’s it! With just seven words, you said it! You nailed what needs to be done, but, genetic mutation and evolutionary progression is an incredibly slow dance! What if the necessary vehicle already existed for this needed transformation, but mankind just doesn’t recognize it as the solution to its relational dysfunction? Wouldn’t that be great?!? We wouldn’t have to wait around for a few hundred million years sticking figurative pitchforks into each other and wondering why we keep doing it!


  48. 49. Vicente says:

    I accept I don’t have free will. Then, I have made these questions to myself:

    what would I do if I had free will?


    what are the things that the lack of free will are depriving me from?


    what are the things that the lack of free will is forcing me to do?

    I don’t have any answers. Actually the questions seem absurd to me. Could it be that to have or not free will is absolutely irrelevant in practical terms for us.

  49. 50. Ron Olson says:

    February 21, 2010
    6:30 p.m.

    Let me ask this question: If free-will is an illusion, is it wise to found our social structures on an illusion? Is it reasonable to establish our social foundations on some “thing” that does not exist? Accepting that free-will is an illusion is one humongous step, one that very, very few are capable of making. But, once the first step is completed, asking ourselves “what this means for mankind in practical terms” is sufficient fodder to occupy ones free time for the next year or two. [understatement] I’ve spent the last two decades asking these questions and I believe I have managed to make “some” sense of it all.

    One: If you had free-will your mental systems would be completely overwhelmed and they would shut down. The simplest things in life would be unmanageably demanding and we would experience a complete mental breakdown very early in life, never to recover. Our ability to consciously manipulate pertinent data is critically lacking. This is as true for clouds and galaxies as it is for man. It’s no insult. These are complex realities.

    Two: Mankind’s intuitive allegiance to the free-will mindset prevents us from being our “True Self.” During our attachment years, the stage in a child’s life when they attach to their surroundings, the period of time when the individual has established “for” them their “perceived” world via their primary caregiver relationship (roughly their first three years), the coercive elements of free-will, responsibility and culpability, eventually undermine and cause the collapse of the “True-Self” Natural Law intended every child to possess; instead of using the child’s behavior to guide their nurturing efforts, the caregiver’s “perception” of the child’s “willfulness” causes the caregiver to use coercive methods to procure the behavior society desires for the child; behavior that will allow the child to “fit in” with a society that is founded on an “illusion.” “Breaking the child’s will” is not an uncommon grown-up past time. However, this is all done with the best of intentions, but in the process, the child is consistently caused to doubt their ability to “know and express” their “real” needs. Over time, the child learns to “know and express” a set of “quasi-needs” that satisfies their caregivers’ social proclivities and not the innate reality Natural Law requires them to live by if they are to develop in a wholesome manner. [Not being allowed to develop in a wholesome manner; being required to reject their True Self in order to survive, the child has a lot of suppressed anger deep within their subconscious. This deep seated cauldron of anger is the source of mankind’s violent behaviors.] The ability of a child to satisfy this set of “quasi-needs” established by primary caregiver interaction causes the child to adopt a “false-self,” a “quasi-self,” and reject their “Natural Law True-Self.” As long as they live by this set of “quasi-needs” and don’t buck the system, as long as they are able to suppress their deep seated anger, they “fit in.” When they are unable to live by this set of “quasi-society-driven-needs,” when they are unable to suppress this deep seated anger, we put them in prison, hoping that fear of confinement will be sufficient force to cause them to completely reject their “True Self” and adopt society’s ways. In a really mind-boggling sort of way, what a “dysfunctional society,” a society whose roots are established within the nutrient deficit loam of an illusion; what such a society recognizes as a “dysfunctional behavior,” is really “dynamically functional!” This behavior is actually screaming wisdom! This behavior is desperately trying to inform mankind that its society is itself, dysfunctional! This behavior is a flashing red light on a figurative Apollo 13 capsule’s dashboard! Unfortunately, like the penguins in the movie, “Madagascar,” instead of dealing with the problem, we just smash the blinking red light! We subject the individual to increasing levels of violence in hopes that this increased threat of violence will cause the individual to suppress their violence; kinda like using gasoline to put out a fire! Rather dysfunctional! What we have is an English speaking society attempting to comprehend Chinese speaking behavior.

    Three: Everything we are doing is caused by Natural Law. Everything we are doing is precisely what, according to Natural Law, we are supposed to be doing. It is the “Universal Causal Mass” that is making things happen. In this sense, society’s adherence to free-will at this point in space and time is a means to an ends. Wherever it is that this “Universal Causal Mass” is taking us, mankind is on the verge of turning a very significant corner. I assume we will make it around the corner! I’ve got my fingers crossed! All that has been is the necessary pre-requisite for what is to be. This “Universal Causal Mass” seems to possess some kind of an “inorganic intelligence.” How mankind responds to the dynamic it is presently experiencing has already been determined! The vehicle of change is Knowledge. Mankind will continue on its present course unless something causes it to change this course. If nothing changes, nothing changes. The only dynamic capable of altering mankind’s course is the “Accumulation of Knowledge.” It has taken thus far for Knowledge to accumulate to the extent that mankind’s path can be altered. Will our path be altered? It all depends on each individual’s ability to comprehend this “accumulated Knowledge” and entertain new realities.

    The free-will, determined-universe argument is not irrelevant. For mankind, it is everything.


  50. 51. Ron Olson says:

    February 18, 2010
    8:51 a.m.

    [I’m painting this with a rather broad brush, so cut me some slack.]

    Part 1:

    Our species needs to “[reduce its] violent reactions and [strengthen its] rational behaviors,” which is to say, mankind’s society is untenably violent and irrational; senselessly violent.

    Some questions:
    • Why is mankind untenably violent?
    • What is/are the root cause/causes of this violence?
    • Why is mankind untenably irrational?
    • What is/are the cause/causes of mankind’s irrational behaviors?

    I think we can all agree that mankind’s society is violent. It’s not the necessary violence associated with food chains, but a rather senseless dysfunctional violence. This violence comes in the forms of dormant and overt aggression; from silent bigotrous attitudes, prejudice, all the way to the nuclear decimation of city populations; from angry self-rejection to the angry rejection of others; individually and collectively. This violence is not limited to the shedding of blood. Economic violence in all its nuanced forms is perhaps the most common. What drives this pervasive aggression, this violence?


    • The precursor to aggressive behavior, violence, is anger.
    • The tinder for anger is fear.
    • Fear is the product of perceived threat.
    • Ones perception of threat is dependent on ones perceived sense of vulnerability.
    • This sense of vulnerability is established by the perception of ones physical, emotional, social, mental and holistic Self in relation to ones perceived external reality, and can be summed up in the concept of “personal significance.” Ones “sense of personal significance” is the key to mankind’s violent behaviors.
    • The greater ones sense of “personal significance” is, the less vulnerable they feel.
    • The less vulnerable one perceives himself or herself to be, the less they are likely to feel threatened.
    • The less they feel threatened, the less fearful they will be.
    • The less fearful one is, the less angry that person will be.
    • The less angry one is, the less aggressive they will be.
    • The less aggressive a person is, the less violent they will be.

    Each of these sentences begs expansion; I could write ad nausium, but won’t. Mankind is untenably violent because the individual perceives himself, or herself, to be lacking “personal significance.” So, this lack of a sense of dynamic “personal significance” is the cause for mankind’s propensity to be untenably violent. A person who perceives their Self to be lacking “personal significance” will be an aggressive individual; the less significant the person feels, the more violent they will be. Since a nation’s personality is simply the sum total of its population, a nation of individuals who perceive themselves to be lacking dynamic “personal significance” will produce a nation that perceives its collective-self to be insignificant and therefore vulnerable. This collective sense of vulnerability will produce an aggressive nation. Pounding an aggressive nation or individual into insignificance is guaranteed to fuel that nation’s or individual’s sense of insignificance and thus its propensity for violence. The inverse is also true. Remember, this tendency towards aggression and violence is not merely militaristic. It is economic and relational as well. This aggression and violence can be directed at others, but it is most debilitating when it is directed at ones Self.

    To sum it up, the cause for mankind’s propensity for violence is its deeply imbedded sense of insignificance. To find the root cause of mankind’s violent nature we need to discover what it is that causes the individual to feel insignificant. If this cause is legitimate, mankind will just have to continue struggling with its insignificance. If this cause is not legitimate, then it would be wise for mankind to deal with the illegitimate cause.

    In a very broad, generalized sense, does this hold water?


  51. 52. Vicente says:

    Ron: I don’t know if being free will an illusion could make a difference in a person’s life, since I don’t know how a process for free intentional decisions would work. I suspect it is continous algorithm that takes an input processes it according to a set of rules, different for each individual, and produces and output, and as you said probably only knowledge adquisition can modify the set of rules. In fact, buddhists say that suffering is a result of ignorance. I don’t know.

    But you have made me realise that “knowing” or “being convinced” or “trully believing” that there is no free will, could really change a person’s behaviour and life. I wonder how many people have fallen into dispair and depression under the effect of such a conviction.

  52. 53. Ron Olson says:

    February 24, 2010
    9:26 a.m.

    Vincent: Even if intentionality is a “continuous algorithm that takes an input, processes it according to a set of rules, different for each individual, and produces an output,” this process still occurs independent of ones ability to be consciously aware of the process. Willfulness, intentionality is still the product of determined-universe principles, Natural Law, and the individual is only made consciously aware after the fact.

    Accumulated Knowledge is the key to change. Only with a foundation in and abundant experience with this Knowledge will ones addiction to intuition, to the free-will thinking process, melt away. Accepting the premise of determined-universe principles while still thinking with an intuitive free-will mindset is a quagmire of impossible confusion. Until someone lets loose of free-will and leaps; until someone fully commits to determined-universe principles, the attempt to mesh the two paradigms would likely be rather depressing; kind of like a bird trying to fly while still firmly grasping the branch. One must become saturated with the authority of this Accumulated Knowledge before they will be able to make the leap. I don’t know how many people have fallen into despair and depression under the effect of such a determined-universe conviction, but one doesn’t have to look far to discover people who have fallen into despair and depression under a free-will conviction.

    Albert Einstein made the leap and this is what he said: “I do not believe in free-will. Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free-will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men [and women] too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.” Albert Einstein, My Credo

    This knowledge dawned on me slowly, but since I turned the corner in 2004, my life became not only livable, but enjoyable as well. My angst and concern regardng mankind’s future does not involve me personally. I could die today quite blissfully. I am concerned that if mankind doesn’t wake up soon, they will never have the opportunity to experience what Einstein and I have; peace and contentedness, within and without.

    I’m not attached to the tails of any religion, but I have noticed that Buddhism possesses a lot wisdom. Of all the world’s religions, it seems Buddhism is the most compatible with determined-universe principles.


  53. 54. Vicente says:

    Ron: not a bad creed, no. According to this view you just stroke lottery, since all this experience of yours is just the result of natural law, that led to your blissful current state. On the other hand, mankind will wake up or not depending on another lottery ticket, so let’s relax and watch. Well, we will relax and watch if that is what natural law indicates. Bizarre, isn’t it?

    I believe that there is something more profound. Like I don’t buy selfish-gene explanations for altruist behavior, human compassion is a differente thing. Unfortunately introspection is not a valid tool to prove Dawkins explanations wrong….

  54. 55. Ron Olson says:

    February 19, 2010
    10:17 a.m.

    Part 2:

    If a “sense of insignificance” is the foundation for mankind’s propensity for violence, what is it about developmental human experience that so consistently diminishes the individual’s “sense of significance?”

    An individual’s womb experience is the quintessential model for the nurture of ones “sense of significance.” While within the womb, personal needs are expressed and immediately honored. Hey! We need some oxygen over here! Gotcha! It’s on the way. Hey! We could some nutrients over here! Gotcha! They’re on the way. Hey! There’s an infectious bug down here! Gotcha! Antibodies are on the way. Hey! There’s some waste building up under here! Gotcha! We’re revving up the filters. It’ll just take a second. Hey! The blueprints say we should start building this over here in about an hour. Gotcha! Okay everybody. You heard the man. You got an hour to get everything prepared for the big build. Get moving on it! Natural Law does not doubt the developing entity’s expression of need. Natural Law actually anticipates and prepares for these needs. Natural Law does not stop for a moment or two and ask itself whether or not the fetus is expressing some sort of an autonomous manipulatory want, or if the expression of need is authentic. Natural Law innately knows that the developing child’s expression of need is associated with compelling circumstances; very genuine reasons. [Regardless of the child’s age and regardless of how the child manages to express their need, this is always the case. “Acting-out” is simply a plea for help.] Natural Law recognizes the validity of behavior; the legitimacy of a being’s response to external and internal realities, be they stressful or pleasant and regardless of age. Natural Law simply assumes the supremacy, the dynamic significance of an individual’s developmental behavior. Natural Law functions according to determined-universe principles and is not hog-tied by an intuitive free-will social mindset. Natural Law stipulates there are only authentic reasons. There are no willful excuses.

    There’s no argument. It is understood that the embryo, the fetus, the yet to be born child is not expressing whimsical wants. These are legitimate needs and these needs must be satisfied in a timely fashion. While in the womb, there are no competing agendas. The focus is on the child. The womb machinery anticipates the individual’s needs and addresses the needs before they can even be expressed. That’s the way it should be and while the individual is in the womb, that’s the way it is. The womb recognizes that its only reason for existing is to nurture the developing child. For the individual’s first nine months the individual’s “sense of significance” is unequivocally nurtured; is unquestioned; is held sacred. Natural Law pampers them as their unquestioned significance demands they be pampered.

    It all ends at birth when the child leaves the realm of Natural Law and enters the jungle ruled by an intuitive superstition. The child exits the determined-universe realm and enters the free-will desert. It’s as simple as that! From this point on the individual’s vital “sense of personal significance” is quickly whittled away until it hardly even exists at all. Dang! How does free-will do that?

    The infant’s only means of expressing stress is crying. A child’s cry is sacred. A child’s cry is pure expression of authentic need. A child’s cry is an expression of perceived insignificance: Why was this need not anticipated? It always has been in the past. What has changed? Am I not important anymore? [As a toddler, as a young child, as an elementary aged child, as an adolescent and as a teenager, an infant’s cry evolves into the voice inherent in an individual’s behaviors. I call them Adult-informing behaviors.] Of course, these expressions are not cognitively experienced. They assume the form of physiological stress which is just a half step from genuine fear which in time is interpreted as vulnerability. When a child cries, there is a legitimate physic’s based reason; a compelling circumstance. When a child cries, their “personal significance” has already been compromised. It is too late for the caregiver to honor the child’s sense of “personal significance” with anticipatory action as the child’s womb experience has caused them to become accustomed to and expect. The need can only be addressed after the fact. This seems like just so much nit-picking until one realizes the significance of this period of time as regards brain development. At this developmental period, the brain is responding to incoming data by building neurological trunk lines and repository sites to accommodate this incoming data. Good data in, good data out! Bad data in, bad data out! It needs be noted that during this developmental period, incoming data has no competition. Individual experiences are not muffled by a generalized cacophony. The brain is empty. It’s the old “black dot on a blank sheet of white paper” thing. Infanthood experience is incredibly big time experience! This is what makes the individual’s “attachment experience years” so important. The direction a tree is going to fall is pretty much determined within the first half second of its fall.

    During this period of childhood development it is common practice to let a child cry themselves to sleep in the belief that the child possessing no rational cognitive ability is attempting to willfully manipulate the caregiver. The incredibly dependent child becomes a tag-a-long as their grown-up caregiver seeks to subsidize their own sense of “personal insignificance” by attending social gatherings, participating in amateur athletics, going to the spa, exercising at the local physical fitness gym, shopping and other comparatively insignificant activities. The child’s sense of “personal significance” is subject to their caregiver’s “personal significance” subsidizing agendas. Experience informs the child that they are second class citizens; their legitimate needs must assume second place; their personhood is relatively insignificant. It is assumed that the child will adjust to the caregiver’s dysfunctional domain and in time this assumed adjustment creates its own trunk line and data repository which will in time be interpreted as “personal insignificance.” When a child has the temerity to rebel against society’s interpretation of their value, their “personal significance,” they are punished, either physically, or sent to time-out. If they do not accept their second class version of “personal significance” and “act out,” they will be ostracized by incrementally expanding social circles. Most simply give up and capitulate, which is to say they are beaten and simply accept their stamp of “personal insignificance.” From that point on every experience within the society that established their “personal insignificance” only furthers their sense of “personal insignificance.”

    Very early in a child’s development, the individual experiments with a multitude of behaviors that artificially subsidize their shattered “sense of significance.” They seek situations and concepts that appear to enhance a sense of “personal significance” such as rewards, honors, grades, fame, “stuff,” lots and lots of “stuff,” “sex,” lots and lots of “sex,” wealth, big expensive cars, an expensive home on every continent, power, prestigious positions, group identities, nationalism, clothes, and on and on and on. Since an internal sense of “personal significance” appears to be beyond their reach, the individual spends the rest of their life attempting to satisfy this need, this insatiable itch, with superficial externals. The only problem is: How much “stuff” is enough? How much of anything is enough? One could own the whole world and it wouldn’t be sufficient to compensate the individual for their loss of an “inner sense of personal significance.”

    Having been an elementary teacher for thirty-three years, I have seen first hand what free-will can do to the innocents; to children who depend on societal norms for their nurture. I have memories and they are not pretty.

    A “sense of insignificance” is established in our earliest years, during our attachment experience years, and reinforced from then on. Thus, our “sense of insignificance” permeates all our behaviors. Assuming a “persona of insignificance,” each of us has an innate sense of vulnerability. This vulnerability translates into fearfulness. This fearfulness undermines our ability to relate in a functional manner. Being fearful we are prone to defending what dignity we imagine we have with anger and violence. As the concepts of vulnerability, fear and anger are “emotional in nature,” mankind’s development stagnates at the second of Maslow’s five developmental levels; the emotional level of human development. Frustrated at this low level of human development, this boiling caldron of vulnerability, fear and anger very naturally leads to violence. Mankind’s history is awash in this violence.

    Just briefly: When vulnerability, fear and anger lie so near the surface, rational behavior is thwarted. Clarity of thought is not a close cousin to vulnerability, fear, or anger. Irrational behavior is caused by something that is irrational. Rid society of its “sense of personal insignificance” and society’s clarity of thought problem disappears. Replace the something that is irrational with something that is rational and rational behavior will result.

    In summary, our pristine nurturing “womb experience” is the inverse of our “out of womb experience.” No one is spared. Determined-universe principles, Natural Law, define our womb experience. Free-will dogma defines our out of womb experience. Free-will is not an innocuous presence. But, how would determined-universe practices be any better?

    So, what do you think? I could fill in the holes, but it will take a book to do that, and this is too long as it is. Does it sort of hold water, make sense?


  55. 56. Ron Olson says:

    February 25, 2010
    8:53 a.m.

    Vincent: I’m still learning! I appreciate Siddhartha’s adage: “Trust nothing. Examine everything.” This is second nature for me. What I have a hard time with is what you have often encouraged me to do: Relax. Working at relaxing sounds like an oxymoron! Life is Bizarre! I guess I have won a lottery, though. I just want to share my winnings!

    I, too, believe we have yet to grasp what that “profound something” is. It’s befuddling how in spite of the Laws of Thermodynamics life seems to be increasing in sophistication, spiraling upward! Perhaps whatever is being built must be completed before it begins to disintegrate?!? Beats me! Conscious awareness seems to be one of these “life things” that is increasing in sophistication and has not yet realized its full potential?!? Again! Beats me!

    Well, I’ll get back to my relaxing work! Bizarre!


  56. 57. Vicente says:

    Ron: What I am trying to point out is that according to your view, it is like this.

    It is natural law that encourages you to relax (using me as a tool), and then you will relax or not according to natural law. Weird loop huh…

    Thermodynamic principles have no conflict with life complexity, which btw I believe has not increased much since cambrian explosion…
    Nevertheless life is in a way another nice conundrum like consciousness…

    For me the chain of mysteries is: 1) Origin of the Universe 2) Origing of life and 3) origin of consciousness… and I suspect there’s a hidden connection between the three (of course no evidence yet).

    BTW: I never encourage anyone to do anything. In critical cases I might ask someone to consider that what he is thinking of doing could have bad consecuences (unexpected to him).

    Peter: I believe that this great place of yours is not intended to provide a means for me to chat, but to share comments on the current topic (intelligent and brief if possible), and I feel a bit embarassed. I wouldn’t like that you think I believe this is a chat web. If that is the case please let me know. But if the exchange of comments is not bothering you, I find it interesting.

  57. 58. Ron Olson says:

    Vincent: You’re right. You are a part of my Knowledge loop; a piece of quality data. My ability to respond to this data depends on the quality of the brain and previous brain experience. Brain quality is largely determined by genetics. The quality of brain activity is largely determined by incoming data. Whether or not I am able to relax is determined by brain quality and all previous brain experience. I am able to be consciously aware of the produced response, but I am not capable of consciously impacting the process.

    Who is Peter?

    Perhaps that I have relegated “conscious awareness” to an isolated theater room with but one seat in it; perhaps my thoughts no longer relate to the topic of this blog…I don’t know…perhaps I should seek out a social science blog?


  58. 59. Ron Olson says:

    February 24, 2010
    1:08 p.m.

    Part 3:

    If free-will practices are so destructive, how would determined-universe practices be any better? Child psychologist Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., could better answer this question. He has spent the greater portion of his life studying the normal and abnormal development of children. Distilling what I have read of his writings, Dr. Greenspan encourages anyone working with children to approach the child as a student would, as one who seeks to learn, as a seeker exploring a virgin wilderness. Foundational to this approach is an understanding of the natural developmental sequence a child follows as they develop. It requires time and focus. It requires commitment. It requires that the child be the caregiver’s agenda. It requires the caregiver to honor at all costs the child’s “sense of personal significance.” It requires the caregiver to be an authentic Adult, and not just a needy grown-up. Ouch! That last one hurt!

    As the pervasive free-will social mindset has rendered grown-ups as needy as the child they are caring for, the caregiver must address their own dysfunctional sense of personal insignificance before they produce the child. This requires those who comprehend this critical mass of accumulated Knowledge to raise it to the level of public awareness. But that’s another story.

    Proponents of developmental education are well down the path of understanding the significance of childhood behavior. Most everyone knows the basics. Infants must be fed, clothed, diapered, held, be allowed to sleep. What the caregiver does not know will be learned through observation and relationship. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    We need a model, an example, some sort of a structure that illustrates best practices as regards the child’s wholesome development and the nurturing of the child’s “sense of personal significance.” Remember, the child must be allowed to develop in such a manner that their “sense of personal significance” is preserved intact. Natural Law provides us with the best model: The Womb. Let’s see if we can discover some principles that make the individual’s “womb experience” so wholesome. This will be a skeleton and not comprehensively developed. Also, this is going to sound “utopian” because of the severity of our own neediness. Read it as if you were the child. Actually, as you read it, think of what it is you are looking for in a life-long mate. In a figurative sense, it’s almost as if mankind wants to climb back into the womb! They want someone else to be the womb in their life! We yearn for the significance we experienced in the womb. [Just a raw thought!]

    Before I proceed I sense the need to establish that none of this is intended to “bash” anyone over the head. Each and every one of us is a victim of the overwhelming intuitive nature of free-will. Up until the present there simply has not been sufficient Knowledge for mankind to realize and adjust to any other paradigm than free-will. Now that Knowledge has accumulated to the extent we are able to put the pieces together, the residue of free-will; that our dynamically defenseless roots are imbedded within the free-will paradigm; since we have experienced all our developmental years submerged within a free-will social mindset, this will be cause for the vast majority to be unable to make the transfer. Cruise ships and passenger trains cannot turn on a dime. It all takes time. Lots of time!

    “Personal Significance” Preserving Womb Characteristics:

    • Purpose: All womb functions are focused on the developing child. The purpose for the womb’s existence is to provide all the necessities required by the developing child. This requires the womb to be a fully mature organ. A less than mature womb, a troubled womb is not capable of satisfying its purpose and if the egg does manage to attach it will likely result in a miscarriage. These are all equally true for the child’s parents. The parent should create an external womb experience for the child. Actually, in a broader sense it is also true of the society the child is a part of. A healthy functioning society’s, a mature society’s only purpose is to provide for all the necessities required to fulfill the needs of its children. As the body works to provide the womb with everything it needs to build and nurture the growing child, society should work to provide the parents with everything they need to build and nurture the developing child. Our children are why our societies exist. All other social organisms seem to instinctively know this. Mankind is the odd species out!
    • Anticipatory: The womb has a natural provisional awareness. It doesn’t wait for the child to experience stress before it provides known needs. Whether the need is oxygen, nutrients, warmth or filtering of the amniotic fluid, the womb anticipates the needs and gets the job done before stress sets in.
    • Child directed: Womb activity is directed by the needs of the child and not the needs of the womb. When the womb is a complete healthy mature organ, this is automatic. The womb’s agenda is incorporated into the child’s agenda. About now most readers are responding with, “Oh! Come on now! The parent needs to take some time out for themselves!” Today’s parent is close to as needy as the child they are caring for. While striving to protect their child’s “sense of personal significance,” their own “sense of personal significance” is incomplete, unhealthy and immature; dysfunctional. The parent’s reality represents a sick organ, an unhealthy womb. This situation needs to be addressed before a child is conceived if the child’s “sense of personal significance” is to remain intact. Children raising children is a bad situation. Insignificance attempting to sustain significance is a losing formula.
    • Developmentally sequenced: All children follow a general developmental sequence, but all children do not progress along this sequence at the same identical rate. The further along the chronological time line children are the more diverse is their individual developments. By the time children enter grade school, six chronological years means nothing developmentally. Dynamic awareness of where the child is along its developmental sequence is critical Knowledge. Putting vanilla in tapioca pudding before you boil it instead of after you boil it creates a tapioca drink instead of a tapioca pudding. Adherence to the child’s own personal timetable as it progresses along its developmental sequence is a no brainer for the womb.
    • Furnished with the child in mind: Our home environments are created with the grown-ups in mind and not the child. No doubt about it! Look at a family’s home and you will immediately know who in the family is significant and who is not. Actually, you can easily tell who is not and who will not be significant. The womb environment is child friendly to the max.
    • Close: You probably can’t get any closer to a tiger than inside its belly! The same is true for the child and the womb. Reassuring closeness is one of the wombs most “significance sustaining” qualities. When the child is awake, the womb is there. When the child is sleeping, the womb is there. When the child is falling to sleep, the womb is there. When the child is waking, the womb is there. When the child is wiggling, the womb is there. When the child is still, the womb is there. The womb remains close. The transition from the womb to the outside world is tough enough in physical terms. In psychological terms, the transition from the womb to the outside world is traumatic. The birth process is the first indication the child experiences that suggests they might not be as “personally significant” as they thought they were! It’s like Dorothy’s first words when she enters Oz. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!” Once the child is out of the womb, Dorothy’s next comment comes to mind. “Now I know we’re not in Kansas!” And sure enough! They are not!
    • 24-7: The umbilical chord and uterus lining allow the womb and the child to have vital connectedness. Morning, noon and night, the womb experiences the child’s every experience and thus, the child is “Known.” [Being Known is perhaps the womb’s most precious gift.] The smooth frictionless reassuring membrane of the womb is what the child experiences twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for their first thirty-six some odd months. A constant dependable companion. In common grade school vernacular, the womb “is always there for” the developing child.
    • 100%: Everything about the wholesome womb is 100%. No shortcuts! No cheating! No minimizing! No cutting corners! When the womb is complete, healthy and mature, the child gets nothing but the absolute best of the best all of the time. That’s just the way Natural Law does things.

    I believe each of us is capable of putting muscle and flesh on this skeleton, so I won’t.

    Free-will prepares none of us for any of this and therefore it sounds like just so much bleeding-heart idealism; utopian balderdash. It’s just so much easier to toss it aside and go back to our miserable “personal insignificance” subsidizing behaviors. And that’s what most will do, until they see someone else trying it. And even then they will have their doubts until they see the finished product…a grown-up who knows his or her “personal significance:” An Authentic Adult. It all takes time! Time takes care of it all! One way or the other, time takes care of it all.

    I may have distilled this one too much.


  59. 60. Vicente says:

    Ron: Peter is the kind gentleman that has created, keeps and supports this site that provides all of us such a good frame for sharing ideas and views on this common interest in consciousness and similars. That is why I don’t know if he will be happy with the idea of both of us using it to chat, particularly if the discussion is drifting away from the central topic.

  60. 61. Ron Olson says:

    Vincent: Gotcha… I guess I’m kinda hoping this will be read by others, exposing them to the consequences of the whole conscious awareness thing. Discussion about the whole conscious entities thing isn’t an end in and of itself. For mankind it should be a means to an end. But you’re right. At this point unless we’re encouraged by Peter to pursue the implications of the determined-universe view of conscious awareness, we should probably regress to the basic theme. I have enjoyed the trail road experience, though…


  61. 62. Peter says:

    Ron (and Vicente): thanks – happy to facilitate interesting discussion (that’s what the site is all about!) but I do wonder whether continuing this particular line of dialogue too far might be off-putting to anyone who wanted to discuss the specific issues about Libet further.

    If you’d like to pick this up on your own site, Ron, I’d be happy to put in a link for anyone who wishes to pursue discussion over there.

  62. 63. Ron Olson says:

    Peter…bless you! I had even forgotten this particular section was discussing Libet! Crazy me! I drove my teachers bonkers by zigzagging off their topic; trail roads were my specialty! Thanks for the link offer but I’m not set up to be able to handle it right now. I am deeply appreciative of your largess! I have grown because of it. Ron

  63. 64. John davey says:


    I think you are taking the cart before the horse. I’m a ‘physicalist’. I believe that the brain is governed by nature. I just don’t think its necessarily the case that the universe is deterministic – in the sense it has just one path – or that people do not exercise choices. We know nothing about the brain : or as close to nothing as it is meaningful to say so.

    Physics is a limited discipline. And the reality of physics is it is so limited – so pathetically limited – it cannot predict or deal with mental phenomena. A HUGE problem ! Monumental ! And until it does we cannot assume, not even a bit, that it is the total science it claims to be. It may be monumentally succesfull in dealing with the nice mathematically behaved elenments of the universe, but in terms of qualitative mental phenomena it is literally useless.

    As for the moral consequences of the ‘proof’ or ‘disproof’ of the existence of free will, i suggest there aren’t any. Scientific proofs are not mathematical : they are evidential. There is therefore doubt to be attached to any scientific conclusion. If we accept there is no free will, we accept the possibility we might be wrong. To produce a systematically different moral approach is unjustified given the non-logical, evidential nature of scientific beliefs.

  64. 65. Ron Olson says:

    March 2, 2010
    9:59 a.m.

    I suggest the “cart” has been before the “horse” long before any of us were even born. Bringing it back to Benjamin Libet and the furthering study of Chun Siong Soon and colleagues; what these men have given us is “evidence” of a sequence in which brain function, whatever this ends up being, “precedes” conscious awareness. Libet’s study, though hampered by the lack of advanced technology and therefore vulnerably indistinct, broke ground by placing conscious awareness .327s after what he termed SMA, which he understood to be brain function. Rather than nullifying Libet’s work, using advanced imaging technology Soon and colleagues study expanded Libet’s work by indentifying distinct areas of the brain that functioned up to 10s before conscious awareness. What their meticulous “evidence” declares is that conscious awareness is “an after-the-fact phenomenon;” that brain function, again, whatever that ends up being, actually produces conscious awareness. What has been “assumed” throughout history is that conscious awareness impacts brain function. What Libet and Soon and colleagues have gone a long way to establish is that brain function impacts conscious awareness. The only question for us is: Which is the horse and which is the cart? The “evidence” Libet and Soon and colleagues have produced suggests “conscious awareness” is the “cart” and “brain function” is the “horse.”

  65. 66. Ron Olson says:

    One more thing: “If” Libet and Soon and colleagues are accurate, the implications for mankind are radical, but I’ve written too much about that already!

  66. 67. John davey says:

    The “evidence” Libet and Soon and colleagues have produced suggests “conscious awareness” is the “cart” and “brain function” is the “horse.”

    But that ( i think i’ve said this before ) does not mean the universe is deterministic. It just means that, within the limited parameters of this experiment, conscious awareness follows what looks like the decision. This does not of course mean that conscious awareness does not impact the brain in any way – it just means that there are (at least) occasions where consciousness follows the decision. That follows quite naturally if you ask me : as I said before, almost all my actions I do without thinking about them. But the role or place of consciousness in the sequence of events within the brain has no impact on the question of determinism, which is entirely separate.

    To ‘disprove’ determinism you do not focus on the position of consciousness, but rather on the decision which led to the conscious thought. Libet, Soon et al have nothing to say about the origin of THAT event, which they need to in order to establish a completely determinstic sequence of events. But they don’t , and they don’t because they can’t. Because they don’t have a comprehensive theory of brain function, and neither does anybody. We are in the neurological dark ages.

    It seems to me that the primitive state of our understanding of the brain is key here. We have vague ideas about ‘conscious’,’subconscious’, which we understand primarily through our experience of them. I think when we have better objective knowledge of what these states represent and how they come about, it will be much easier to reach sensible and informed judgments about whether we can invert the moral order.

  67. 68. Ron Olson says:

    March 2, 2010
    3:33 p.m.

    I kind of, sort of, like, get what you’re saying…I think. I know I am rather impulsive and prone to jumping to conclusions, but, what did Albert Einstein mean when he said, “Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free, but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” When I hear the words, “causally bound,” I hear, “determined.” What do you hear? What do you think Einstein meant?

    What the sequencing evidence that Libet’s and Soon’s studies seems to infer is that conscious awareness is “causally bound” by whatever it is “Nature” is doing in the brain just as a star’s motion is “causally bound” by “Natural forces,” by what “Nature” is doing within its particular galaxy.

    Einstein left no doubt about his view of free-will when he stated: “I do not believe in free-will. Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free-will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men [and women] too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.” I would have no trouble being labeled “foolish,” but was Einstein “foolish” too?

    What Libet and Soon and colleagues presented is entirely compatible with Einstein’s view. One could say that Einstein was primarily a physicist and not a philosopher, but in Einstein’s case, that just doesn’t hold water. His expertise was broad.

    I’m probably going to regret saying this, but, if an individual is unable to entertain the idea that man lacks a free-will, there are countless ways to “keep the ghost in the machine,” as Steve Pinker would say. On the other hand, if an individual is unable to entertain the idea that there is “a ghost in the machine,” the machine ain’t never gonna’ have no ghost in it, especially after Libet, Soon and colleagues, and Al have had their say! Thus, we’ll probably just have to agree that we disagree, and let it go at that.

  68. 69. John davey says:

    “What the sequencing evidence that Libet’s and Soon’s studies seems to infer is that conscious awareness is “causally bound” by whatever it is “Nature” is doing in the brain just as a star’s motion is “causally bound” by “Natural forces,” by what “Nature” is doing within its particular galaxy.”

    I have no problem with this. I don’t see why you seem to think i do ! It seems to be the case no matter what I say you just don’t seem to think I think that consciousness is an entirely natural phenomenon with no extraneous forces necessary. I don’t belive in “ghosts in the machine” or anything like that. Its a classic argument of AI people (not saying that you are one incidentally) that if you don’t agree with what they say you have some kind of supernatural agenda. I don’t.

    Einstein’s quote was not about determinism. He also said something like “I do not at all believe in human freedom ..in the philosophical sense. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner neccessity” That expression, and the expression you give, is not an expression about free will as a product of rigid determinism but an expression of free will as a result of what might be termed ‘the human condition’. It’s difficult to disagree with – but has nothing to do with Libet et al.The ontology is most definitely not physics, and he’s saying nothing about determinism.

    In fact his use of the term ‘inner necessity’ – a reference presumably to emotional make up – would suggest to me that he saw mental states as being causal in their own right, in which case he might not have believed in complete theoretical free will, but he certainly did not think that mental states had no physical consequences.

    Einstein was a great man, but even great men are entitled to be wrong, incidentally. Give him a break ! Not everything he said had to be right, and he was sick to the back teeth with being quoted. Most famously, he lost his long battle with Neils Bohr over the nature of the UNiverse. “God does not play dice with the UNiverse”, he said – well, it looks like God (the non-personal, atheist God) does exactly that.

  69. 70. Ron Olson says:

    March 17, 2010
    6:27 p.m.

    Dang! I know I’m a source of frustration to many, just talk to my family, but most of all my Self! Really! But until I understand, I just keep thinking and asking, asking and thinking, so on and so forth! I’m hopeless, sort of, kind of, like, you know? I hope you’re grinning, because I am. Not at you! At my Self! Honestly! But you’re right. I just don’t get what you are saying!

    You refer to Einstein’s concept of ‘inner necessity’ assuming it to refer to “emotional make-up.” What is it about “emotional make-up” that is not “causally bound” to “whatever it is that Nature is doing in the brain?”

    When I speak of “whatever it is that Nature is doing in the brain,” I am referring to the laws of physics as given meaning through the cause and effect universal continuum; the unquenchable voice of “Nature;” “Natural forces,” determinism. What are you thinking when you agree that the brain is subject to “Natural forces?” These are honest questions. I am always concerned that I am missing something; that something is slipping under my radar. Honest! I hate the idea of being out in right field! I actually prefer disagreement to agreement. It makes me think. Don’t give up trying to help me understand.

    Forgive me for assuming, I may be entirely wrong, but it seems this concept of ‘inner necessity,’ “emotional make-up,” is proposed as “some ‘thing'” that exists outside the ‘realm of “Natural forces” within the brain;’ that our “emotional make-up” is not “just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” To me it seems Einstein simply provided us with two coordinates, the external causalities and the internal causalities, both of which are subject to the “Unquenchable Forces of Nature.” I’m used to playing right field! I was always the last one picked. Just point me in the right direction.

    Without the studies of Libet and Soon and colleagues, Einstein’s statement would be just a statement of belief. It no longer is. Our “thinking, feeling and acting,” take special note of the word, “feeling;” Einstein reasoned that “feeling,” our “emotional make-up,” was “just as causally bound as the stars in their motion,” and the studies of Libet and Soon and colleagues concur, and it must be understood, the studies of Libet and Soon and colleagues have much more clout than the words of Einstein. Actually, after Soon and Libet have had their say, we really don’t need Einstein. He just affords us a convenient frame of reference.

    Don’t give up. Help me to understand. Believe it or not, my mind is open.


  70. 71. links for 2010-03-31 « Marty Andrade says:

    […] Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Libet was wrong…? Quote:"There were two interesting results. One was that the same kind of RP appeared whether the subject pressed a key or not. Trevena and Miller say this shows that the RP was not, after all, an indication of a decision to move, and was presumably instead associated with some more general kind of sustained attention or preparing for a decision. Second, they found that a different kind of RP, the Lateralised Readiness Potential or LRP, which provides an indication of readiness to move a particular hand, did provide an indication of a decision, appearing only where a movement followed; but the LRP did not appear until just after the tone. This suggests, in contradiction to Libet, that the early stages of action followed the conscious experience of deciding, rather than preceding it. […]

  71. 72. Ron Olson says:

    April 2, 2010
    10:37 a.m.

    Regarding M. Andrade entry: This particular blog topic involves material that is over twenty-five plus years old. Alas, Dr. Libet is no longer even with us! As of April, 2008, Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes presented a paper titled: “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain.” You can read this paper at: http://rifters.com/real/articles/NatureNeuroScience_Soon_et_al.pdf. This presentation makes Libet’s 1983 study both pioneering and interesting, but never-the-less, irrelevant. Much has transpired in those twenty-five plus years. John, Vicente and I have blogged regarding Libet’s and Soon and colleagues’ studies in the previous forty-four entries. I don’t feel compelled to add any more here. Regarding RP and LRP, I have expressed my views in another section of this blog of which you can log on to and read if you wish at: http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=64&cpage=2#comment-131126. It is blog entry 17.


  72. 73. John says:

    I still dont get this debate. There is nothing at all mysterious in Libet’s, Soon’s or the other’s work. Consider the following points:

    1. If an entity decides that “A+B=C” then it must contain “A” and “B” prior to operating a process such as “+ and compare” and perform the process prior to producing the output “TRUE”. Any investigation of the entity will show that there is activity in the entity prior to the decision and the decision prior to the output.

    2. If an entity has asynchronous processing, for instance three processes like: “C” can be stored, “C” can cause a movement, “C” can give rise to a sound, then these processes may occur at different times.

    So what happens when an entity is challenged to make a decision and report upon it? By (1) and (2) there must be activity prior to any report and the emission of sound may be asynchronous with any actions. A person may press a button before they say they have seen something or “know” they have seen something. There will be brain activity before either pressing a button or speaking.

    There is absolutely no mystery in the work of Libet and Soon etc.

    The only mysteries lie in the ancient philosophical points: how can we know anything “now” when “now” has always gone, how can we have conscious free-will? See Conscious free will and empiricism.

  73. 75. John davey says:

    “You refer to Einstein’s concept of ‘inner necessity’ assuming it to refer to “emotional make-up.” What is it about “emotional make-up” that is not “causally bound” to “whatever it is that Nature is doing in the brain?””

    I was referring the ontological and conceptual framework in which Einstein made the comment. Even a confirmed dualist would have no problem with wording like ‘he was bound to do that’ or ‘a drunk drinks’. But those expressions do not affirm or relate to a framework of physical determinism, rather to a framework of ‘folk psychology’, a bit like ‘he’s an aggresive idiot, he’d start a fight in an empty house’ etc.

    Einstein’s language in that phrase was an expression of folk psychology – a statement saying that people are generally predictable and driven by their past histories, but in no sense fully determined in the trajectory of their behaviour.

    According to a strict interpretation of the Soong experiment, then emotion FOLLOWS a decision. Therefore emotions can have no causal consequences. The fact that Einstein refers to ‘inner necessity’ suggests that he thinks that emotions do have causal consequences, and therefore the decisions of the brain are not strictly determined.

    Incidentally I have no opinion on determinism, one way or the other. The only opnion I have is that this experiment settles nothing. There is nothing wrong with saying that you believe everything that the brain does is entirely natural whilst at the same time saying that the actions of the brain are not deterministic.

    The brain is after all the principal evidence in the matter. It is going to do what it does whether it is compatible with contemporary physics or not. The answer is not to doubt the evidence – that would be unscientific – but rather to doubt the tools you use to come to the conclusions that contradict the evidence. There is a problem with mental phenomena and physics, that is for sure. It appears nonetheless that some computer scientists – Dennett, et al – would rather that conscious mental phenomena just went away to keep physics intact. I think this is unjustifiable and plain wrong. The determinism issue is another facet of the same argument, albeit slightly different.

  74. 76. Doing The Work - Interfaithforums.com says:

    […] are all merely actors in a play that is written on a level none of us are consciously aware of. Yet, on the other hand… evangelicalhumanist: Greek "eu"=good and "angelos"=messenger. Spreading […]

  75. 77. MIchael says:

    Even prior to reading past the abstract, I’d advise for a scientific approach which demands verification and duplication…right?

  76. 78. MIchael says:

    Additionally, I’m always curious to see if the researcher has done previous work in the field, or if the paper is presented as a media grab. I fear the latter is the case.

    Trevena, Judy Arnel; Miller, Jeff. Consciousness & Cognition, Jun2002, Vol. 11 Issue 2, p162, 29p; DOI: 10.1006/ccog.2002.0548; (AN 8510706)

  77. 79. Ron Olson says:

    76. Doing The Work – Interfaithforums.com says:

    I react warmly to what I understand to be your premise. What lies within the reproducible constraints of the Scientific Method is the work of Chun Siong Soon and colleagues. [http://rifters.com/real/articles/NatureNeuroScience_Soon_et_al.pdf] What this bit of hardcore science suggests is that “brain function” precedes “conscious awareness.” Their findings reinforce the primitive, yet groundbreaking, 1985 findings of Benjamin Libet. The “reality” both studies give credence to is socially radical…personally revolutionary and convoluting…a very real threat to all who have based their personal security system on the free-will paradigm…that’s just about everybody! Brain science confirms both studies and yet the threat to personal security is so colossal, this twenty-four karat nugget of Truth, this Knowledge diamond, is so hot no one within the present intelligentsia establishment is willing to risk their career by picking it up and running with it. Heck! So overpowering was the establishment’s presence during his day, even Copernicus delayed the publication of what he knew to be Truth until he was dead and buried! What Chung Siong Soon and colleagues have unearthed will make the findings of Copernicus seem like pre-school meanderings.

    However…and this lies within the dangerously subjective realm of “belief”…it is quite possible that “The Universe” represents a “Benevolent Force” whose purpose, no matter how painful or ecstatic, is “The Good” of “The Whole;” that the purpose of “Universal existence” is the maturation of “The Universe.” That each of us is able to be a part of that sacred maturation is no indignation, as those deifying the free-will paradigm suggest. To be part and parcel of “Universal Maturation” is an honor, a privilege, a thrilling treat! If this is all there is for mountain, forest, ocean, sky and animal, none could conceivably ask for more! As ninety-five percent of “The Universe” consists of a substance which eludes sensory-based creatures, the options of Nirvana, Heaven, Shangri-La, or any other nebulous glory, lie within the realm of potential possibilities. What does not lie within the realm of potential possibilities is the Scientific Method supported reality that “The Universe” is determined; no entity within the parameters of “Universal purpose” possesses autonomous free-will. “The Universe” is subject to the will of “The Universe” and none other.

    This whole thing is like a hundred yard hurdle race in extreme slow motion. As of 1985, mankind began its approach of the first hurdle. As of 2008, mankind began the offensive stretch of its challenging limb. This is where we now are! Perhaps the first hurdle will be knocked down. Perhaps the first hurdle will be conquered. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! This particular race may be lost. Never-the-less, I guarantee you, if mankind does not cause the extinction of life on this planet, there will be another race, and another, and another, and another, until eventually, some advanced species will achieve the summit, and “The Universe” will attain some higher plateau. In our naive attempt to dictionarily contain “The Universe,” we may use the term, “God,” or “Allah,” or “Truth,” or “Love, or “Higher Power,” or “Jehovah,” or some other semantic manipulation of gesticular word formation. Our ability to cleverly manipulate our lips, tongue, cheeks, throat, and larynx hold no power over realities that are real. If we manage to somehow encapsulate the essence of the spiritual, the “gods” are mind-numbingly shocked! They are so traumatized by our achievement, they know not to applaud! Unfortunately, this is not the case for mankind. As a species, we are embarrassingly transfixed by our conceptional accomplishments. As a whole species, we are so cute! So sweet! So, so, so, darling! Only a mother could love us! And, “The Universe,” being both mother and father and author of the organic as well as the inorganic; “The Universe” dotes on our every effort.

    Yes, the script is written. Yes, it is beyond our ability to consciously manipulate. Yes, each of us is a part of something far greater than our whole. And yes, each of “us” is a breathtakingly extravagant portion of “The Maturing Whole.”

    Some day we will be able to relax within, melt into, and enjoy every moment. Until then, we will struggle.

  78. 80. Ron Olson says:


    When you get a chance log on to: http://rifters.com/real/articles/NatureNeuroScience_Soon_et_al.pdf This is Chun Siong Soon and colleagues 2008 paper introducing their findings to the science community. When you do, take note of the institutions allowing these men to present within their auspices. The reputations of these institutions are on the line. This is risk enough to offset the benefits of superficial media attention. As with all presentable studies, this study was done within the parameters of The Scientific Method. To date, no one has contradicted their findings. It takes Benjamin Libet’s work and runs with it. As far as Benjamin Libet being wrong, he was only wrong when he later mused that his findings could concieveably be compatible with an autonomous will.

  79. 81. charles coryn says:

    Wow, You guys wore it out!!! Thanks very much, I know it was a tremendous effort, but to someone like myself, trying to get up to speed on the topics discussed, it’s been a ‘godsend’, so to speak.

    And now I have your excellent references also to follow up on this winter.

    Thanks to all


  80. 82. Doug Kruss says:

    Keep it up guys, I plan on frequenting your blog weekly. You’re so comprehensive, its tough not to. Really though, you fellas are really great.

  81. 83. Noble Philipose says:

    I actually don’t understand just how i discovered your blog post as I was researching info on about the problems in Libya, but anyway I am extremely pleased I stumbled upon your blog post since I had a nice 10 mins reading your thoughts. Thanks! One last thing, would you endorse some other useful articles or blog posts in regards to the same situation?

  82. 84. Shone says:

    I want to know why ‘free won’t’ is not equal to free will. Surely, the freedom to NOT move the hand, or suppress the Readiness Potential, is an extension of free will. If this is true, Libet is wrong at the outset, and in a commonsensical way.

  83. 85. uggsusaclearance.com says:


    […]Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Libet was wrong…?[…]…

  84. 86. Free Will Believes in Sam Harris | Cathi Carol says:

    […] If the conscious self is an illusion – who is it that’s being fooled? Conscious Entities […]

  85. 87. Daniel says:

    Fix this, because I don’t get it.
    If the test infact is in mind. The realtime is mind and late. The test was in real objective realtime before as same. Shouldn’t it bee not seen any delay at all, in sence people usually think this means? How there can be delay in objective reality? I have been thinking this and it won’t make sence. Can you correct this?
    The real time is objective anyway some way. How can it detect things before time? Where do I go wrong? The test also happened in realtime as same weird way.

  86. 88. Kurt Forrer says:

    In my article, “To Test or not to Test that is the Question”, published in the Journal of International Dream Research ( Vol. 7 No 2 October 2014) I have supported Libet’s conclusion that we are deceiving ourselves when thinking that we have free will. My testing is based on the sexual content of our dreams, which Freud had rediscovered. I have interpreted the sexual content of the dream in Freudian terms and then predicted the ensuing waking manifestation of this interpretation. I have chosen the sexual content because its manifestations in such a relationship occur always on the dream day, which is the day we wake up from the dream tested. I have found that all elements of the dream were predictive, including the aetiology part of which are the ‘residues’ as Freud had called them.

  87. 89. Milo Vining says:

    Creative commentary – I was fascinated by the specifics . Does anyone know if my company would be able to get a blank IRS 706 version to use ?

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