Consciousness and Free Will:
A Joint Neuroscientific-Philosophical Investigation

There is little doubt that humans experience exercising conscious control frequently over our decisions and actions. But neuroscientific work has been casting doubt on whether consciousness is part of the causal chain leading to action. In other words, are our intentions efficacious? In this project, a group of 17 scholars — neuroscientists and philosophers — join forces to understand intentions in the brain — how the human brain enables conscious, causal control of actions.

The neurodynamics of intentions:
How does the brain enable causal, conscious control of human decisions and actions?

The disquieting experience of acting unthinkingly is not uncommon. For example, you may find yourself half way to the office when you set out to drive to the store. When consciousness is not engaged, you are falling short of an ideal of freedom — that human consciousness guides our conduct, that free agents possess conscious control. The nature of conscious control poses a challenging philosophical question. How frequently, if ever, we exercise conscious control is a challenging empirical question.

In close collaboration between 17 neuroscientists and philosophers, we will test:

(1) Whether human intentions are causally efficacious for our decisions and behavior;

(2) What is the specific role of consciousness when intentions guide behavior; and

(3) What, if any, is the difference between conscious control in deliberate versus arbitrary decisions.

Beyond progress on one of the most fundamental questions in the debate on free will — this large-scale project will be central to ushering in a new, interdisciplinary scientific field: the neuro-philosophy of free will.

Funding Agencies

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