I got to talk for with my buddy Wes today about free will for some time (your taxpayer dollars at work #fraudwasteandabuse ;P ), and we discussed that, in a world with no spiritual side, free will does not exist. In other words, there is no disembodied “consciousness” which can act on your neurons to make them fire in a way of your choosing—it just seems that way, but it’s really nothing more than every action having an equal and opposite reaction. I have discussed why I believe that this is a necessary, valid, sound conclusion for atheism in “Is Intentionality an Illusion.”
In support of a lack of free will (atheism pretty much necessitates this, as determinism would be most sound), I often see Libet’s experiment bandied about as proof that there is no free will, and I’m very glad for the thought! In the experiment, which measured brain signals and had subjects press buttons, Benjamin Libet discovered that test subjects’ brain signals had already occurred before the subjects were aware of their decision to press the button.
1.) A brain signal occurs
2.) The person being tested realizes that a decision has been made to move his finger.
3.) The finger moves.
BAM! No free will.
However, Libet discovered something more, which isn’t discussed as much. In fact, he discovered that, even after the neural signal from the brain starts traveling, and once the person was aware that they could move their finger to the button, they still had the freedom *not* to do so. As such, Libet decided that free will could in fact exist.
On the subject of free will, I would recommend the excellent book, “The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism,” by Noble Prize winner Sir John Eccles (neurophysiology) and Sir Karl Popper (various metaphysical specialties), who were respectively theist and agnostic. They take turns writing chapters and discussing the “mind,” “will,” or “spirit.” It’s a very dense, scientific read.
However, their conclusions, which one can term interactionary dualism, or just interactionism, are in line with Libet’s experiment. The soul/mind/spirit does not act independently of the brain, but instead, as Eccles noted, the mind uses the brain as an instrument to think. The spirit’s decisions would not be nor are simultaneous with the conscious awareness of them, nor could they be, given the spirit’s reliance on the brain as an instrument of thought. With the limited speed of neural-signal transmission, there is the necessity of an infinitesimal chronolag between the decisions of the mind and the awareness of them.
I personally find the work of Eccles, Popper, and Libet to support free will. Of course, if there is indeed no spiritual realm, then I never had a choice but to think this, and subsequently to write this note.
With love, always,