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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
John Herschel
Werner Heisenberg
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Stephen Kosslyn

Stephen Kosslyn is a Harvard psychologist whose specialty is mental imagery. In his foreword to Benjamin Libet's 2004 book Mind Time, Kosslyn considered the basic argument of Galen Strawson that we are determined by genes and environmental stimuli. All our decisions and choices are based on reasons, and those reasons are the results of genes and accumulated stimuli. Adding random factors would not confer free will.

So far this is the standard argument against free will.

Kosslyn then considers Daniel Wegner's analysis of Benjamin Libet's research, which implies that, "Even if one has time to override one's unconscious urges, there's no free will at work if one's conscious decisions are themselves determined."

But then Kosslyn notes that the opposite of being "determined" is not necessarily being "random," - a distinct departure from the standard logical argument. He then considers a way in which the brain may keep the door open for Libet's idea of free will.

1. Libet is right to focus on consciousness when theorizing about free will: In order to employ free will, one must evaluate information in working memory. Such information includes the alternative choices, the rationales for each, and the anticipated consequences of making each choice (although not all this information must be in working memory at the same time). If an external force coerces us, or we are operating on "automatic pilot," we are not exercising free will.

2. The rationales and anticipated consequences — and even, depending on the situation, the alternative courses of action — are not simply "looked up" in memory, having been stashed away like notes in a file after previous encounters.

Here Kosslyn considers a first stage of free creation of alternative courses of action
Rather, one constructs rationales and anticipated consequences, as appropriate for the specific situation at hand. This construction process may rely in part on chaotic processes. Such processes are not entirely determined by one's learning history (even as filtered by one's genes). By analogy, consider the path of a raindrop dribbling down a pane of glass. It zigs, it zags, tracing a path best explained with the aid of chaotic principles. The same raindrop, striking precisely the same place on that pane on a warmer day (which would cause the glass to be in a slightly different state) would take a different path. In chaotic systems, very small differences in start state can produce large differences downstream. The pane of glass is like the state of the brain at any instant. Depending on what one was just thinking about, the brain is in a different "start state" (i.e., different information is partially activated, different associations are primed) when one constructs rationales and anticipated consequences — which will affect how one decides. (Note that this idea does not simply move the problem back a step: What one was just thinking itself was in part a result of nondeterministic processes.) Our thoughts, feelings and behavior are not determined; we can have novel insights as well as "second thoughts."

3. Given the choices, rationales, and anticipated consequences, one decides what do on the basis of "what one is" (mentally speaking, to use Strawson's term, which includes one's knowledge, goals, values, and beliefs).

Here Kosslyn considers a second stage of willed decisions that are determined by our goals, values, and beliefs - "what one is"
"What one is" consists in part of information in memory, which plays a key role in the processes that construct the alternatives, rationales, and anticipated consequences. In addition, "what one is" governs how one actually makes the decisions. And making that decision and experiencing the actual consequences in turn modifies "what one is," which then affects both how one constructs alternatives, rationales and anticipated consequences and how one makes decisions in the future. Thus, with time one's decisions construct what one is.

We are not simply accumulators of environmental events, filtered by our genetic make-ups. We bring something novel and unique to each situation — ourselves. Nietzsche (1886, as quoted in Strawson, 1994, p. 15) commented, "The causa sui is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far." Maybe not.

4. This brings us back to the implications of Libet's discovery, and suggests a way in which we can exercise free will during that crucial interval between when we become aware of that action and the action begins: The sum of "what one is" leads one to make a specific decision. Such a decision can occur unconsciously, and initiate an action. However, upon realizing that one is about to perform a specific act, one can consider its likely consequences and the rationales pro and con for performing that act; this information is constructed on the spot, and is not present during unconscious processing.

Libet says we may not have "free will," but we have a "free won't"
And, based on "what one is," one then can decide not to move ahead — or, if the action has begun, one can decide to squelch it (and thus one is not limited to the 200 milliseconds Libet has measured). As Libet notes, we can in fact veto an action, and that decision is not a foregone conclusion. We make decisions for reasons, and those reasons are our reasons.

Libet has made a fundamental discovery. If the timing of mental events is as he describes, then we not only have "free will" in principle — but we also have the opportunity to exercise that free will.

The ideas I've briefly sketched are variants of many others (cf. Kane, 1996), and address issues that have been discussed (sometimes heatedly) for thousands of years. I've not mentioned the issue of "ultimate responsibility"— whether one is completely responsible for "what one is." Given that one cannot control the genetic cards one's parents dealt one, the sense of "free will" developed here seems to go only so far. However, Libet's veto idea leads us to take a step back, and reframe the question: Instead of asking whether one is "ultimately responsible" for every aspect of what one is, why not ask whether one is "proximally responsible" for the effects of every aspect of what one is on what one does? Can we choose — based on what we've chosen to become — to override some impulses and express others?

I hope these brief reflections have conveyed two essential points. The first is that these are extraordinarily knotty issues, and the question of the role of consciousness in free will is not likely to be resolved soon. And the second is that we are entering a new era in discussing such questions. No longer are we restricted to the arm chair and the silver tongue. We now have objective data. This book makes a crucial contribution in providing grist for the mill of anyone interested in consciousness, free will, responsibility, or the relation of mind and body.

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