Daniel Wegner is one of a number of modern thinkers who are supporting the old idea that free will is just an illusion. Other illusionists include Derk Pereboom and Saul Smilansky. In the introduction to his 2002 book The Illusion of Conscious Will, Wegner says
So, here you are reading a book on conscious will. How could this have happened? One way to explain it would be to examine the causes of your behavior. A team of scientific psychologists could study your reported thoughts, emotions, and motives, your genetics and your history of learning, experience, and development, your social situation and culture, your memories and reaction times, your physiology and neuroanatomy, and lots of other things as well. If they somehow had access to all the information they could ever want, the assumption of psychology is that they could uncover the mechanisms that give rise to all your behavior and so could certainly explain why you picked up this book at this moment. However, another way to explain the fact of your reading this book is just to say that you decided to pick up the book and begin reading. You consciously willed what you are doing. These two explanations are both appealing but in different ways. The scientific explanation accounts for behavior as a mechanism and appeals to that part of us that knows how useful science is for understanding the world. It would be wonderful if we could understand people in just the same way. The conscious will explanation, on the other hand, has a much deeper grip on our intuition. We each have a profound sense that we consciously will much of what we do, and we experience ourselves willing our actions many times a day. As William James put it, "The whole sting and excitement of our voluntary life ... depends on our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago" (Principles of Psychology, 1890, 453). Quite apart from any resentment we might feel on being cast into the role of mechanisms or robots, we appreciate the notion of conscious will because we experience it so very acutely. We do things, and when we do them, we experience the action in such a way that it seems to flow seamlessly from our consciousness. We feel that we cause ourselves to behave. The idea of conscious will and the idea of psychological mechanisms have an oil and water relationship, having never been properly reconciled. One way to put them together — the way this book explores — is to say that the mechanistic approach is the explanation preferred for scientific purposes but that the person's experience of conscious will is utterly convincing and important to the person and so must be understood scientifically as well. The mechanisms underlying the experience of will are themselves a fundamental topic of scientific study. We should be able to examine and understand what creates the experience of will and what makes it go away. This means, though, that conscious will is an illusion. It is an illusion in the sense that the experience of consciously willing an action is not a direct indication that the conscious thought has caused the action.In his analysis of Benjamin Libet's famous experiments that indicate considerable unconscious activity (called a readiness potential or RP) before the "conscious will" to suddenly raise a finger, Wegner suggested that causal will may simply be an "epiphenomenon."
We don't know what specific unconscious mental processes the RP might represent....The position of conscious will in the time line suggests perhaps that the experience of will is a link in a causal chain leading to action, but in fact it might not even be that. It might just be a loose end — one of those things, like the action, that is caused by prior brain and mental events.
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