Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How New Brain Implants Can Boost Free Will

New brain implants can restore autonomy to damaged minds, but can they settle the question of whether free will exists? 

Deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which certain areas of the brain are stimulated with high-frequency electricity, is carried out with the patient awake and communicating with the doctors during some phases of the operation. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo 

Deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which certain areas of the brain are stimulated with high-frequency electricity, is carried out with the patient awake and communicating with the doctors during some phases of the operation. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

About 20 years ago, a student in one of my courses began missing classes. After several weeks, she appeared in my office and said that she had a history of major depression, had experienced a relapse and had been committed to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. She had lost her motivation to do things, she said, and for several days her depression made even basic actions such as getting out of bed impossible. Verbatim, she said to me: ‘I did not have any free will.’

My student’s comment, and the fact that depression is caused by dysfunctional circuits in the brain, caused me to question the nature of free will itself. For millennia, philosophers have debated whether humans have free will, typically defined as the ability to choose between alternative possibilities. The main threat to free will was ‘causal determinism’ – the thesis that natural laws and past events entail only one path from present to future. This means that any action one performs at any given time is the only one possible.

For the rest of the story: http://aeon.co/magazine/psychology/how-new-brain-implants-affect-free-will/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AeonMagazineEssays+%28Aeon+Magazine+Essays%29

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