I recall reading some article or other some time ago that it had been demonstrated that our actions are apparent before we are entirely conscious of them; and here we are not talking about fractions of a second but some significant elapse of time. I had dismissed it at the time as some clever marketing by some scientific team looking for some eye-catching anti-intuitive result. But it does appear that some people are taking this seriously.

A philsophical riposte to these claims can come from Bergson:

Our ordinary behavior, Bergson grants, may be habitual: even to the point of automatism. But this cannot always be the case. In crises in which our future and our very concept of ourselves are threatened, we may overcome our habitual lethargy and our conventional roles, and express ourselves freely. Blackwells - Companion to continental philsophy

Who ran these experiments, and in which journal was the article published in? Who has examined this critically from a philosophical point of view? For example the Bergsonian perspective alluded to above.

  • If Gugg's answer isn't what you were looking for, there is other research that comes to the same conclusion--let me know if so. Also, note that the research shows that actions can be determined before we're conscious of them, not that they must, so it doesn't follow that consciousness has no control over things, only that you must be skeptical about whether it actually was or whether you're retrodicting.
    – Rex Kerr
    May 22 '13 at 15:17
  • @RexKerr - since we act within the constantly changing framework of space/time, it would seem that the conscious mind, which is of necessity defined by the particular point in space/time in which the action takes place, must be the final arbiter of that action, regardless of predispositions. Or could "Retrodicting" be considered a manifestion of p-zombies?
    – Vector
    May 22 '13 at 18:56
  • @ReallyRational - Er, how does that make sense? Just because you're aware of what's happening at that moment (well, actually over a short temporal window about that moment) doesn't mean that you chose it consciously, even if you have the feeling that you did. How are zombies relevant? It's a simple matter of being able to be mistaken about one's own mental causal process.
    – Rex Kerr
    May 22 '13 at 19:02
  • 1
    @ReallyRational - I am speaking of the results of psychophysics experiments (and Lamme's experiments, and others). If sensory qualia are unreliable, what you can learn about physical reality is also unreliable (and you may doubt that there is one). Unfortunately, it looks like qualia regarding cognition are pretty unreliable. Introspection is thus a poor strategy. Saying, "Well, I introspected it!" regarding your accuracy w.r.t. your mental processes is hardly compelling when the evidence indicates that people are poor at introspecting such things. You need to demonstrate your competence.
    – Rex Kerr
    May 22 '13 at 21:14
  • 1
    @ReallyRational - If you understand my point, you should reply to my earlier comments. If not, what do you mean your eyes are being pulled? It's a picture on a computer monitor! How can it pull on your eyes? Clearly, your introspective feelings are out of step with our view of objective physical reality. (As are everyone else's, more or less, who views this illusion--certain kinds of color blindness or loss of peripheral vision can render it relatively ineffective.)
    – Rex Kerr
    May 22 '13 at 22:37

I am fairly sure this is (among others?) Victor Lamme and the Cognitive Neuroscience Group Amsterdam. Besides plenty of research papers (by him and/or the group), he wrote a pop-sci book in 2010, the title of which translates as Free will doesn't exist: About who really is boss in the brain.

  • "Who really is boss in the brain?" YOU ARE. Can you not change your mind at will at any given point in time? Is there anything that prevents you from doing so? Certainly not - each time you act, you have simply gone through a decision making process during which numerous ancient, old and new factors entered into your determination of your action. If you don't think it's so, try writing two opposite responses to my assertion and validating both. Will you not succeed? Is what we call "habit" relevant here?
    – Vector
    May 22 '13 at 19:04
  • @ReallyRational Let's go to chat and discuss your use of capitals and boldface and perhaps free will. :)
    – user3164
    May 22 '13 at 19:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.