The Illusion of Conscious Will / Edition 1

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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 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.

The MIT Press

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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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262731621
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Series: Bradford Books Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 419
  • Sales rank: 684,594
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

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

1 The Illusion 1
2 Brain and Body 29
3 The Experience of Will 63
4 An Analysis of Automatism 99
5 Protecting the Illusion 145
6 Action Projection 187
7 Virtual Agency 221
8 Hypnosis and Will 271
9 The Mind's Compass 317
References 343
Author Index 387
Subject Index 399
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Choose not to believe this bok

    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. <BR/>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.<BR/>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 <BR/>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.<BR/>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.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2005

    Insightful !

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2002

    Profoundly Thought Provoking

    This book does a phenomenal job of taking a fresh, highly-informed look at the feeling of conscious will. Wegner clearly states his conclusion that careful examination of scientific findings exposes our perception of conscious will as an illusion, and he builds his argument by thoughtfully addressing a wide range of compelling evidence (ranging from discussion of Ouija boards, hypnotism, and spirit possession to laboratory investigation and cases of neurological impairment). He handles this difficult task thoroughly while writing in a manner that is accessible and often quite humorous. This book performs a truly remarkable feat¿it crafts a view of determinism that can be compatible with current perspectives in cognitive science, philosophical considerations, and our own introspective knowledge that we feel as though we are consciously willing our behavior. It is a must read for anyone interested in the debate of free will vs. determinism and anyone curious about the scientific study of consciousness or philosophy of mind.

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