• Mikkel Vinding
4. term, Psychology, Master (Master Programme)
The following Master’s thesis presents two articles on, how the philosophical concept of free will can be investigated within experimental neuropsychology.
Within the past few decades the philosophical concept free will has gaining serious attention within the scientific field of neuropsychology. The experimental findings from neuropsychology do however seem to clash with the common understanding of free will, in the sense that the scientific investigation seems to be undermining concept of a free conscious agent. The first article proposes that the apparent clash, between philosophy and scientific neuropsychology, not is a matter of science defying the notion free will, as much as it is an expression of different understandings of what free will entails between the two disciplines. By reviewing how free will often are operationalized in the experimental approach and comparing it to the philosophical definition of free will, it concluded that so far, merely aspects of free will, of the philosophical definition has been investigated. Based on this review a new framework is proposed for understanding free will, which is useful from both a scientific and a philosophical perspective. The aim of this framework is not to answer whether free will exists or not, nor to determine the ontology of conscious will or freedom. As far as possible this is left open for further scientific investigation. The framework proposes that free will is a highly complex phenomenon, depending on dynamics in the hierarchical organization of the brain. Connectionistic, naturalistic and contextualistic approaches are advocated. This breaks from the initial conceptualization of free will as a metaphysical property. Instead it is proposed to leave the metaphysical concept of freedom should in favor of autonomy and that conscious will is a natural occurring phenomenon belonging to the physical world.
The without doubt most influential experiment on free will, is the experiment by Benjamin Libet et al., which showed that the reported times of intention to move occurred 350 ms after the neural activity associated with the movements had begun. This has often been interpreted as being proof of that conscious intention is an illusion. Libet et al. did however only focus on intention in immediate relation to movement. Article II presents an experiment were the subjects a similar task as in the experiment by Libet et al., but instead of acting on the intentions immediately they had to delay performing the intended action. In this manner the intention to move was separated from the actual movement. The study used EEG to measure the neuroelectrical signal called bereitschafpotential, as well as activity from other areas. The results showed that the signals did differ significantly when subjects were to plan the entire movement of pressing a key in advance, compared to not planning it. The results showed what resembled a “mini-bereitschafpotential” at the time where the prior intention was formed, as well as activity in frontal areas. The results indicate that sensormotoric areas are involved in planning of behavior as well as in executing the movements.
The overall conclusion to this thesis is that simply treating the philosophical concepts regarding free will as ontological truths will lead to erroneous conclusions. Instead both science and philosophy should try to differentiate the concepts as they relate to phenomena emerging from a complex system, therefore not singular entities. The goal of a neuropsychological approach to free will is therefore not to answer if free will exists, but how and what in the brain that makes the individual autonomous emerges.
LanguageMultiple languages
Publication date2011
Publishing institutionAAU
ID: 54826981