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The neurobiological nature of free will

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Our own experience of our free will has been classified as either supernatural or an illusion because it is difficult to reconcile with macroscopic determinism as well as with microscopic quantum randomness. The former constituting a prison in which no freedom can exist, the latter signifying destructive chaos rather than creative action. Lost in this dichotomy is the demonstrated constructive combination of chance and necessity in complex systems, such as evolution. Recent converging evidence from neuroscience, ecology and genetics suggests that nervous systems, including human brains, have evolved neural circuits that harness (potentially quantum) chance events by embedding them in the controlling architecture of neuronal rules, in order to carefully inject them as creative components into ongoing goal-directed behavior. This presentation contains evidence that this form of behavioral variability may constitute a necessary neural mechanism for free will to evolve in humans.

Published in: Science
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The neurobiological nature of free will

  1. 1. Björn Brembs http://brembs.net Universität Regensburg
  2. 2. “If we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may” David Hume (1711-1776)
  3. 3. “We could often have done otherwise than we in fact did” Searle 1984
  4. 4. “I could have done otherwise” Taylor & Dennett 2002
  5. 5. Hans Flohr
  6. 6. Dr Lisa Jones University of St Andrews
  7. 7. 1. Determinism rules out freedom 2. Randomness doesn‘t make us free either Freedom cannot exist / is a useless concept Double-Incompatibilists:
  8. 8. What is behavior? “The whole neural organism, it will be remembered, is, physiologically considered, but a machine for converting stimuli into reactions” (James, 1890, p. 372). BehaviorBehavior: An analysis of the world, followed by deliberation and: An analysis of the world, followed by deliberation and planning, followed by execution of the plan.planning, followed by execution of the plan. ““sense, think, act”sense, think, act” motor output sensory input ReactionPerception representation of the world Cognition representation of the motor plan William James Source: Paul Cisek 1890
  9. 9. 1949
  10. 10. Source: Ken Catania
  11. 11. Pursuit-evasion contests & competition (courtship, predator- prey, territoriality, chess, sports etc.)
  12. 12. H. geographicus Variability in jumping Royan et al., 2010 M. trinitatis
  13. 13. I. Steymans
  14. 14. “The freedom of the will consists in the impossibility of knowing actions that still lie in the future” Ludwig Wittgenstein
  15. 15. Phototaxis: Gáspár Jékely Polychaete: Platynereis dumerilii Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
  16. 16. Light Pressure Gravity benthic pelagic Temperature Salinity Chemicals
  17. 17. G Jékely et al. Nature 456, 395-399 (2008) doi:10.1038/nature07590
  18. 18. G Jékely et al. Nature 456, 395-399 (2008) doi:10.1038/nature07590
  19. 19. FVRIamide acTub
  20. 20. Cornelia Bargmann 302 neurons, connectome Gordus et al. 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.018
  21. 21. Gordus et al. 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.018
  22. 22. Marcus Raichle fMRI
  23. 23. The limiting factor in the evolution of brain size was energy supply 48
  24. 24. 49 The additional energy burden associated with […] the environment may be as little as .5-1.0% of the total energy budget. Marcus Raichle (2006): Science 314, p1249
  25. 25. =
  26. 26. Exploration (of resources or solutions.)
  27. 27. Romuald Nargeot
  28. 28. Behavioral variability in a constant stimulus situation:
  29. 29. Geometric Random Inner Products: GRIP All computations Alexander Maye, UKE Hamburg (Maye et al. 2007)
  30. 30. Maye et al. (2007) If one simple stochastic point process is insufficient, maybe we need more…
  31. 31. Source: This is Spinal Tap
  32. 32. 1. Determinism rules out freedom 2. Randomness doesn‘t make us free either Freedom cannot exist / is a useless concept Double-Incompatibilists: Freedom can arise in non-linear systems, comprising stochastic and deterministic components
  33. 33. Determi
  34. 34. Stochast
  35. 35. Determi nistic
  36. 36. Determi nistic
  37. 37. Determi nistic

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