Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield on Free Will

From the article…

Anyone aware of discoveries in the field of neuroscience that would change Penfield’s conclusion?

"Penfield marveled that he could stimulate all manner of movement and sensation and memory, but he could never evoke agency. He couldn’t stimulate the sense of will — he couldn’t produce a counterfeit will in the conscious patient by stimulation of the brain.

Penfield concluded that this meant that the will (he called it the “mind”) was not in the brain, or at least not in any part of the brain that he could stimulate, and that the will was not a physical thing. The will was free, in the sense that it could not be evoked by material means.

Penfield began his career as a strident materialist. He ended it as a passionate dualist — the title “Mystery of the Mind” was largely the expression of his amazement that there was a scientifically demonstrable duality to the mind. He affirmed, by pioneering surgery on the brains of over a thousand conscious patients, that man is a composite of material and immaterial mental abilities. "

EN put up a rather weak article on Free Will. The latest books on the subject are:

Dr. T are you aware of whether either of those books address the experimental result that changed Penfield’s mind? That is, are we now able to invoke the illusion of agency by mechanical manipulation of the brain’s circuits?

Both books address all the experiential results to date. While Penfield’s work is important, it is very dated being published in 1975. Neuroscience has made huge strives since then. Dan Barker’s book merges the latest scientific and philosophical finding into a fairly easy to understand view of what free will really is. You will like it as he sees free will as a beautiful improvisation of the human species like music is. He calls it harmonic free will to link the music expression of human thought to purely technical free will from neuroscience.

The reviews act like he didn’t address that part of the evidence, and that most of it is writing about what it means if he is right, but you have read it so I want to make sure here: if I spend $6.60 on this ebook you are telling me that it describes experimental results where the illusion of agency was induced by experimenters?

@Revealed_Cosmology and @Patrick:

The article by Dr. Michael Egnor in Evolution News was rather weak, but the recent article by Dr. Alfredo Metere in Cosmos magazine critiquing free will (which Egnor discussed in an earlier post) was pretty weak, too. First, it’s predicated on bad science: it assumes that space is pixellated. That reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of a Planck length: “The Planck length is sometimes misconceived as the minimum length of spacetime, but this is not accepted by conventional physics, as this would require violation or modification of Lorentz symmetry.”

Second, it naively assumes that causation can only be deterministic and not probabilistic: “If so, there is a causal relationship between the Big Bang and us. In other words, free will is not allowed, and all of our actions are just a mere consequence of that first event.”

Third, it never even attempts to address John D. Norton’s now-famous article, The Dome: An Unexpectedly Simple Failure of Determinism (Philosophy of Science, 75 (December 2008) pp. 786–798).

Finally, it implicitly assumes the truth of reductionism - in other words, bottom-up causation rules, and top-down causation (if it exists) is nothing but a consequence of some prior bottom-up arrangement. There’s no experimental evidence for this claim. If one is prepared to accept the reality of irreducible top-down causation, then even if one is a materialist, one can still believe in free will. I’ve explained why in articles I’ve previously written on the subject. See here and here.

By itself, quantum physics doesn’t imply free will, but it does leave open the possibility of free will, when it is combined with top-down causation.

As for Egnor’s article: it’s out-of-date, because subsequent studies have shown that scientists can make people not only do things, but want to do things (such as raise their right arm), by stimulating their brains. What scientists find, however, is that when asked why they suddenly raised their arm, people are at a loss and tend to confabulate - i.e. make up stuff. In other words, what scientists are still incapable of doing is making people do something willingly for a reason, while under the impression that they acted freely. Only when scientists can do that will they have refuted free will. And what’s more, they’ll need to show it not only for impulsive choices like raising your arm, but for choices that really matter in everyday life, such as a decision on where to go for a family vacation.

Re moral responsibility for one’s actions in the absence of free will: Elizabeth Anscombe argued convincingly that physical determinism and freedom were incompatible, in her Inaugural Lecture as Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University in 1971, entitled Causality and Determination. The following passage expresses her point with brevity and lucidity:

Ever since Kant it has been a familiar claim among philosophers, that one can believe in both physical determinism and ‘ethical’ freedom. The reconciliations have always seemed to me to be either so much gobbledegook, or to make the alleged freedom of action quite unreal. My actions are mostly physical movements; if these physical movements are physically predetermined by processes which I do not control, then my freedom is perfectly illusory. The truth of physical indeterminism is then indispensable if we are to make anything of the claim to freedom. (p.26)



I have both books on my bookshelf, I’ll look for “illusion of agency” in it and see what is said about it.

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The one thing I learn about free will from both Dennett and Barker is that it is always examined after the fact.
You make your chooses based on your biases and previous experiences and then the after the fact you examine those decisions to decide whether they were right or wrong. The chose is done nearly automatically (not free will) but the subsequent examination of the decisions and the assignment of right or wrong to them is free will in action.

Yes. There’s a nice double dissociation between voluntary action and the perception of agency.

That is, there have been studies in which unwilled actions are perceived as willed, and others in which willed actions are perceived as unwilled.

I can look up some citations later if you’d like. Right now I’m off to bed.

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