Why we may not find intentions in the brain

Neuropsychologia 56 (5):129-139 (2014)

Abstract

Intentions are commonly conceived of as discrete mental states that are the direct cause of actions. In the last several decades, neuroscientists have taken up the project of finding the neural implementation of intentions, and a number of areas have been posited as implementing these states. We argue, however, that the processes underlying action initiation and control are considerably more dynamic and context sensitive than the concept of intention can allow for. Therefore, adopting the notion of ‘intention’ in neuroscientific explanations can easily lead to misinterpretation of the data, and can negatively influence investigation into the neural correlates of intentional action.We suggest reinterpreting the mechanisms underlying intentional action, and we will discuss the elements that such a reinterpretation needs to account for.

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