It’s OK if ‘my brain made me do it’: People’s intuitions about free will and neuroscientific prediction

Cognition 133 (2):502-516 (2014)
Eddy Nahmias
Georgia State University
Jason Shepard
Agnes Scott College
In recent years, a number of prominent scientists have argued that free will is an illusion, appealing to evidence demonstrating that information about brain activity can be used to predict behavior before people are aware of having made a decision. These scientists claim that the possibility of perfect prediction based on neural information challenges the ordinary understanding of free will. In this paper we provide evidence suggesting that most people do not view the possibility of neuro-prediction as a threat to free will unless it also raises concerns about manipulation of the agent’s behavior. In Experiment 1 two scenarios described future brain imaging technology that allows perfect prediction of decisions and actions based on earlier neural activity, and this possibility did not undermine most people’s attributions of free will or responsibility, except in the scenario that also allowed manipulation. In Experiment 2 the scenarios increased the salience of the physicalist implications of neuro-prediction, while in Experiment 3 the scenarios suggested dualism, with perfect prediction by mindreaders. The patterns of results for these two experiments were similar to the results in Experiment 1, suggesting that participants do not understand free will to require specific metaphysical conditions regarding the mind–body relation. Most people seem to understand free will in a way that is not threatened by perfect prediction based on neural information, suggesting that they believe that just because “my brain made me do it,” that does not mean that I didn’t do it of my own free will.
Keywords free will  neuroscience
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DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.07.009
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References found in this work BETA

What Do Philosophers Believe?David Bourget & David J. Chalmers - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 170 (3):465-500.
Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Explaining Away Incompatibilist Intuitions.Dylan Murray & Eddy Nahmias - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88 (2):434-467.

View all 16 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Pragmatic Neuroethics: Lived Experiences as a Source of Moral Knowledge.Gabriela Pavarini & Ilina Singh - 2018 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 27 (4):578-589.

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