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I unfortunately don't have access to this paper but my representation uses the same terms as an interview of one of the authors, which I posted.

For example, Dubljevic: "...This led Libet to conclude that there is no ‘free will’, but that there is a ‘free won’t’. On the other hand, there were many criticisms of the study – methodological or substantive."


Dubljevic is responding to the question: What is the background for this study? In his answer, he presents both sides. That doesn’t tell you what his opinion is on the matter, and he seems to be very careful in both the interview and the paper to not delve into questions of methodological errors and bias in the original paper. In the rest of the interview where he discusses the findings of his own study, nowhere does he mention either. Why? If you read the paper, you’ll find that neither was part of the study.

Regarding the question of the “conflicting results,” there are different types of conflicting results. Some are problems with magnitude. For instance, earlier this week I read that two separate measurements of the rate of expansion of the universe have yielded significantly different rates. These are clearly conflicting results. However, no one is saying that there isn’t much one can conclude from these observations. Everyone agrees that the universe is expanding, but there are questions about what the actual rate is and whether it is constant. On the other hand, if one method said the universe was expanding and the other was contracting, you’d be in deep doggy doodoo.

In the current study, yes, there are conflicting results between studies. For studies that measured both RP and W, RP always occurred before W. However, the time between RP and W varied from study to study and were all longer than the Libet’s. Something seems to be going on in their brains that the participants are not aware of (whatever that means). On the other hand, the relationship between LRP and W was more complicated. On average, LRP occurred before W, but in at least one study, the order varied from person to person. So, it’s unclear what to make of that relationship. As the authors note in the paper, there was a lot of variation in the types of measurements, where the measurements were taken (such as different brain regions), the tasks performed, etc. So, it’s difficult to determine why different studies generate different numbers. And, as the authors conclude, “While almost all papers in our review reported a general pattern of average neural activity occurring before participants' awareness of their intention to act, the relationship of this activity to their intention still needs to be established.”

Free will requires choices, i.e., different outcomes. For the same starting conditions to give rise to different outcomes requires indeterminacy. Indeterminacy in the quantum world is random. If there is free will, then it reflects an indeterminacy that is different from quantum randomness. I call that nonrandom indeterminacy.

I think I’m losing you right after the first sentence. I think we would both agree that, for a system to achieve different outcomes given a particular input, there needs to be a source of indeterminacy. However, I don’t understand why it makes sense to only focus on one potential source or why that would be the sole distinguishing factor. We aren’t interested in the question “Does a salt crystal have free will?” We want to know if a human or a cat or an AI has free will. For at least the first two, there is no such thing as “the same starting conditions.” From your description, I think you’re looking at probability distributions. Does the probability distribution of the decisions made by the subject differ from the predictions of a model of that system? Thus, you need to pose the same set of choices multiple times to the same subject in order to measure that distribution. Because your subject has memory, you necessarily alter the system when you pose the question. So, when you pose the choices again, the starting conditions are different. I suppose you could attempt to wipe their memory or induce some sort of transient anemia, but you’d never have the same starting conditions. Their blood sugar may have dropped a little, they’re a little more tired, their biological clock has continued to advance, etc. At best, you’re “close” to the same starting conditions. As we’ve learned from chaos theory, “close” starting conditions do not necessarily lead to close outputs.

It also isn’t clear to me where “nonrandomness” naturally arises. Let’s assume you solve the starting conditions problem. Also, I’m just going to ignore the nightmare of a quantum mechanical model of the human brain and pretend that we can calculate the probability distribution for the response to any question posed to any volunteer. Let’s say that the model predicts that outcome A will occur 60% of the time and outcome B will occur 40%. You run the experiment on your volunteer, and you find something different; let’s say its 30/70. So, you know that the model is wrong. To fix the model, you add “free will” that shift the probability distribution to match the data. However, it’s not obvious to me that the “free will” factor has to be any less random than the quantum mechanics component. It just has to produce a different probability distribution.

I’m not sure that outcome would make doubters of free will change their minds.

-Anthony
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