The Connection Between Natural Laws And Free Will

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Miguel de Cervantes once said, that “in order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” It would appear that Benjamin Libet took these words to heart when he undertook his free will experiments in the early 1980s. Kornhuber and Deecke first discovered, in 1965, that voluntary physical action is preceded by a measurable change in the electrical activity of the human brain. They dubbed this change “the ‘Bereitschaft-potential’ or ‘readiness potential’ (RP)” (Libet 47). Intrigued, Libet wondered if their discovery could aid him in answering an age old question about the connection between natural laws and free will. Using a modified version of their approach, Libet set out to determine the temporal relationship between RP, conscious will and voluntary physical action. He proposed that by establishing the position of conscious will within this timeline, he could prove that it plays an integral role in bringing voluntary acts to fruition. In this paper, I will argue that Libet’s conclusion must be rejected, as he does not succeed in adequately establishing “the time of the conscious will relative to the onset of the brain process (RP)” (Libet 49). To illustrate this point, I will examine how Libet’s control trials failed to produce a valid margin of error for his experiments. Next, I will discuss how problems inherent in the self-reporting process negatively impacted his results. I will then address how a lack of empirical data undermined his veto theory.
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