Does the Brain ‘Initiate’ Freely Willed Processes? A Philosophy of Science Critique of Libet-Type Experiments and Their Interpretation

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In the extensive, recent debates on free will, the pioneering experiments by Benjamin Libet continue to play a significant role. It is often claimed that these experiments demonstrate the illusory nature of freely willed actions. In this article, we provide a detailed analysis and evaluation of Libet—s experiments from a philosophy of science perspective. Our analysis focuses on Libet—s central notion of the “initiation” of freely willed processes by the brain. We examine four interpretations of the notion of initiation: in terms of a cause, a necessary condition, a correlation, and a regular succession. We argue that none of these four interpretations can be supported by the design and results of Libet—s experiments. In addition, we analyze two recent Libet-type experiments. Our general conclusion is that neither Libet—s original experiments nor later Libet-type experiments can justify the claim that allegedly freely willed processes are in fact initiated by the brain. © 2012, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-21
JournalTheory and Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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