The Illusion of Conscious Will

The Illusion of Conscious Will

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by Daniel M. Wegner
     
 

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Do we consciously cause our actions, or do they happen to us? Philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, and lawyers have long debated the existence of free will versus determinism. In this book Daniel Wegner offers a novel understanding of the issue. Like actions, he argues, the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain. Yet if

Overview

Do we consciously cause our actions, or do they happen to us? Philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, and lawyers have long debated the existence of free will versus determinism. In this book Daniel Wegner offers a novel understanding of the issue. Like actions, he argues, the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain. Yet if psychological and neural mechanisms are responsible for all human behavior, how could we have conscious will? The feeling of conscious will, Wegner shows, helps us to appreciate and remember our authorship of the things our minds and bodies do. Yes, we feel that we consciously will our actions, Wegner says, but at the same time, our actions happen to us. Although conscious will is an illusion, it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality.Approaching conscious will as a topic of psychological study, Wegner examines the issue from a variety of angles. He looks at illusions of the will -- those cases where people feel that they are willing an act that they are not doing or, conversely, are not willing an act that they in fact are doing. He explores conscious will in hypnosis, Ouija board spelling, automatic writing, and facilitated communication, as well as in such phenomena as spirit possession, dissociative identity disorder, and trance channeling. The result is a book that sidesteps endless debates to focus, more fruitfully, on the impact on our lives of the illusion of conscious will.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...Dr. Wegner's critique... is less philosophical than empirical, drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology." John Horgan The New York Times

"Fascinating...I recommend the book as a first-rate intellectual adventure."Herbert Silverman Science Books & Films

"Fascinating." Herbert Silverman Science Books and Films

"...very convincing." David Wilson AmericanScientist

"Wegner has finessed all the usual arguments into a remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy.... [He] writes with humour and clarity." SueBlackmore TLS

"Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways." David Brizer , M.D.

Psychiatric Services

"Wegner writes with humour and clarity." Sue Blackmore TLS

"...well worth reading for [the author's]interesting analysis and insights."David Wilson American Scientist

"A remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy."Sue Blackmore Times Literary Supplement

"Fascinating. This volume will appeal to a wide general audience as well as to those in the neurosciences...." Herbert Silverman Science Books &Films

The New York Times - John Horgan
... Dr. Wegner's critique... is less philosophical than empirical,drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology.

Science Books & Films - Herbert Silverman
Fascinating... I recommend the book as a first-rate intellectual adventure.

American Scientist - David Wilson
... very convincing.

Times Literary Supplement - Sue Blackmore
Wegner has finessed all the usual arguments into a remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy.... [He] writes with humour and clarity.

Psychiatric Services - David Brizer
Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262290555
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
08/11/2003
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
419
File size:
4 MB

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What People are saying about this

John A. Bargh
Wegner may well have made a historic breakthrough in the age-old,nettlesome problem of 'free will' — namely, conceptualizing it as an act of causal attribution. His recounting of the history of the issue is rich with fascinating examples and illustrations. This sets us up for what may be the first experimental approach to this nettlesome philosophical problem. Because we know a lot about how people make causal attributions, we may suddenly and for the first time, thanks to Wegner's analysis, know a lot about why people believe so strongly that they have free will. Wegner shows that by manipulating the variables underlying these attributions, one changes the feeling of having acted or thought freely. This is nothing short of 'experimental philosophy' in its application of cognitive scientific principles and methods to previously intractable issues in the philosophy of mind.

Christopher Frith
Philosophers have argues for centuries about the existence of free will.

In this exciting book Daniel M. Wegner presents the facts about our experience of controlling our own actions. He persuasively argues that our experience of will is an illusion, but that this illusions is crucial for our concepts of morality and personal responsibility. This book should be read by anyone with an interest in how the mind works.

Bernard J. Baars
Daniel Wegner is our foremost modern investigator of illusions of conscious agency — our tendency to believe that we really have more control over our own actions and thoughts than we do. In this book, Wegner boldly pursues the claim that our sense of conscious agency is ALWAYS imaginary. His arguments are based on clever experiments and deep analysis of the issues. This book will stand as a challenge to anyone trying to understand the nature of voluntary thought and action.

Michael S. Gazzaniga
Wegner has written a devishly clever, witty, and thorough book. He brings all the pieces together to tackle the problem of free will. This book will serve as the foundation for an untold number of hot debates on who is in charge of our personal destinies.

Gordon H. Bower
Wegner presents diverse, persuasive, and entertaining evidence for his thesis that the experience of conscious will is an illusion. The book is a profound treatise on a central issue in psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind.

From the Publisher
"Daniel Wegner is our foremost modern investigator of illusions of conscious agency—our tendency to believe that we really have more control over our own actions and thoughts than we do. In this book, Wegner boldly pursues the claim that our sense of conscious agency isALWAYS imaginary. His arguments are based on clever experiments and deep analysis of the issues.

This book will stand as a challenge to anyone trying to understand the nature of voluntary thought and action."—Bernard J. Baars, Senior Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology, The NeurosciencesInstitute

"Wegner presents diverse, persuasive, and entertaining evidence for his thesis that the experience of conscious will is an illusion. The book is a profound treatise on a central issue in psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind."—Gordon H. Bower, Professor ofPsychology, Stanford University

"Wegner may well have made a historic breakthrough in the age-old, nettlesome problem of 'free will'—namely, conceptualizing it as an act of causal attribution. His recounting of the history of the issue is rich with fascinating examples and illustrations. This sets us up for what may be the first experimental approach to this nettlesome philosophical problem. Because we know a lot about how people make causal attributions, we may suddenly and for the first time, thanks toWegner's analysis, know a lot about why people believe so strongly that they have free will. Wegner shows that by manipulating the variables underlying these attributions, one changes the feeling of having acted or thought freely. This is nothing short of 'experimental philosophy' in its application of cognitive scientific principles and methods to previously intractable issues in the philosophy of mind."—John A. Bargh, Department of Psychology, Yale UniversityPlease note: This endorsement arrived too late for the book jacket. Endorser gives permission to excerpt from quote.

Meet the Author

The late Daniel M. Wegner was Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

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The Illusion of Conscious Will 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Daniel M. Wegner¿s book is a lucid, entertaining exploration of one of the most important issues in philosophy and psychology: the existence of will. Extreme determinists contend that people are mechanisms programmed to do what they do and that any notion of freedom or choice is merely illusory. Their antagonists, the proponents of free will, say that people consciously freely choose to act (at least some of the time). Wegner falls into the former camp. Conscious will, he says, is an illusion. But in a wide-ranging ramble that touches on law and the courts, spirit possession, hypnotism, neuroscience, phantom limbs and Ouija boards among other things, he builds a strong anecdotal case that this illusion is essential to being human. The book is curiously desultory, now citing some experiment on the brain in deadly earnest academic language, and then tossing off a flip remark about a popular stage magician or an apparently very clever horse. We find it both entertaining and elucidating, although it may not always rise to the most demanding standards of philosophical evidence and argument.
JohnDreiling More than 1 year ago
Wegner fails to address the fact that effective influence from environment does not negate conscious will. The sense of free will is not an illusion. The fact some peoples' choices can be manipulated just shows that there are many levels to decision making and that if a manipulator knows how to contrive information or situations, sometimes a particular different outcome can be produced. But even then, the person who is manipulated is still innocently using their free will within the operative decision making criteria that their personality has developed during their life. Every part of a person's criteria of personality forms from their personal evaluations of their experiences. Every formative evaluation is an act of free will.
Free will is more a factor of personal development of personality responses than it is any particular performance. Personality forms in an individual so that they may act automatically to familiar situations. Personality predictability is not non-free will, but is instead the manifstation of trained character traits that serve the person as a convenience in their life's situations.
The problem with all refutations of conscious will is that they demand total non influence from experience and environment. Non adaptibility and non influence describes insanity and autism, not free will. Free will provides a person with adaptible active input in life's varying situations. It is a survival mechanism
THINK LIKE A SALAMANDER! or don't. What did you do in response to that sentence? Whatever you did, the part of you that decides, that seems to decide, is you, is your free will. Wegner would convince you that you are not real. This may seem trivial, but it strikes at the very dignity of life and self esteem.
Free will is real. If Wegner doesn¿t think so, then I guess that is what he chooses. If a person does accept free will's validity, they are likely be a more responsible person who expects the same from those they trust. Dignity and responsibility are the stakes in the discussion of free will and its validity.