On the alleged illusion of conscious will

M. van Duijn, Sacha Bem

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    The belief that conscious will is merely ‘‘an illusion created by the brain’’ appears to be gaining in popularity among cognitive neuroscientists. Its main adherents usually refer to the classic, but controversial ‘Libet-experiments’, as the empirical evidence that vindicates this illusion-claim. However, based on recent work that provides other interpretations of the Libet-experiments, we argue that the illusion-claim is not only empirically invalid, but also theoretically incoherent, as it is rooted in a category mistake; namely, the presupposition that neuronal activity causes conscious will. We show that the illusion-claim is based on the behaviorist ‘input-output’ paradigm, and discuss the notions of ‘self-organization’ and ‘self-steering’ to provide an alternative perspective on
    the causal efficacy of conscious will. In the final sections, a tentative theoretical picture is sketched of conscious will as an instance of self-steered self-organization. We conclude that the subjective experience of conscious will is not a misguided one, but rather that the mechanisms supporting conscious will are considerably more complex than mainstream cognitive science currently acknowledges.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to) 699–714
    Number of pages15
    JournalPhilosophical Psychology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005


    • Libet
    • readiness potential
    • Consciousness


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