The Illusion of Conscious Will

MIT Press
3
Free sample

A novel contribution to the age-old debate about free will versus determinism.

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.

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About the author

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

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Additional Information

Publisher
MIT Press
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Published on
Aug 11, 2003
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Pages
440
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ISBN
9780262290555
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / Free Will & Determinism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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“Compelling, and so beautifully written…’The Mind Club’ deftly brings the most up-to-date research about other minds to readers of all backgrounds. It may cause you to think differently about crime and punishment, about business transactions and health care, and even about the upcoming elections. Things might just start looking up.”–The Wall Street Journal

From dogs to gods, the science of understanding mysterious minds—including your own.   

Nothing seems more real than the minds of other people. When you consider what your boss is thinking or whether your spouse is happy, you are admitting them into the "mind club." It’s easy to assume other humans can think and feel, but what about a cow, a computer, a corporation? What kinds of mind do they have? Daniel M. Wegner and Kurt Gray are award-winning psychologists who have discovered that minds—while incredibly important—are a matter of perception. Their research opens a trove of new findings, with insights into human behavior that are fascinating, frightening and funny.
       The Mind Club explains why we love some animals and eat others, why people debate the existence of God so intensely, how good people can be so cruel, and why robots make such poor lovers.  By investigating the mind perception of extraordinary targets—animals, machines, comatose people, god—Wegner and Gray explain what it means to have a mind, and why it matters so much.
         Fusing cutting-edge research and personal anecdotes, The Mind Club explores the moral dimensions of mind perception with wit and compassion, revealing the surprisingly simple basis for what compels us to love and hate, to harm and to protect.
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