A new edition of Wegner's classic and controversial work, arguing that conscious will simply reminds of us the authorship of our actions.
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. With the publication of The Illusion of Conscious Will in 2002, Daniel Wegner proposed an innovative and provocative answer: the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain; it 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 (“the most compelling illusion”), it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality. Wegner was unable to undertake a second edition of the book before his death in 2013; this new edition adds a foreword by Wegner's friend, the prominent psychologist Daniel Gilbert, and an introduction by Wegner's colleague Thalia Wheatley.
Approaching conscious will as a topic of psychological study, Wegner examines cases both when people feel that they are willing an act that they are not doing and when they are not willing an act that they in fact are doing in such phenomena as hypnosis, Ouija board spelling, and dissociative identity disorder.
Wegner's argument was immediately controversial (called “unwarranted impertinence” by one scholar) but also compelling. Engagingly written, with wit and clarity, The Illusion of Conscious Will was, as Daniel Gilbert writes in the foreword to this edition, Wegner's “magnum opus. ”
About the Author
The late Daniel M. Wegner was Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.
Thalia Wheatley is Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College.
Table of Contents
Foreword Daniel Gilbert ix
Preface to the New Edition Thalia Wheatley xiii
Preface Daniel Wegner xvii
1 The Illusion 1
2 Brain and Body 27
3 The Experience of Will 59
4 An Analysis of Automatism 93
5 Protecting the Illusion 137
6 Action Projection 177
7 Virtual Agency 211
8 Hypnosis and Will 257
9 The Mind's Compass 301
Author Index 391
Subject Index 405
What People are Saying About This
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.
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.
Daniel Wegner is our foremost modern investigator of illusions of conscious agencyour 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.
Fascinating... I recommend the book as a first-rate intellectual adventure.
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.
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.
Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways.David Brizer, MD, Psychiatric Services
Wegner has finessed all the usual arguments into a remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy. . . . [He] writes with humour and clarity. Susan Blackmore , Times Literary Supplement
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
Very convincing. David Wilson , American Scientist
Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways. David Brizer, MD , Psychiatric Services
Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways.
Dr. Wegner's critique... is less philosophical than empirical, drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology.
Wegner has finessed all the usual arguments into a remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy.... [He] writes with humour and clarity.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.