Benjamin Libet and The Denial of Free Will: How Did a Flawed Experiment Become so Influential?

Steve Taylor in Psychology Today:

You might feel that you have the ability to make choices, decisions and plans – and the freedom to change your mind at any point if you so desire – but many psychologists and scientists would tell you that this is an illusion. The denial of free will is one of the major principles of the materialist worldview that dominates secular western culture. Materialism is the view that only the physical stuff of the world – atoms and molecules and the objects and beings that they constitute – are real. Consciousness and mental phenomena can be explained in terms of neurological processes.

Materialism developed as a philosophy in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the influence of religion waned. And right from the start, materialists realised from the start the denial of free will was inherent in their philosophy. As one of the most fervent early materialists, T.H. Huxley, stated in 1874, “Volitions do not enter into the chain of causation…The feeling that we call volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but the symbol of that state of the brain which is the immediate cause.” Here Huxley anticipated the ideas of some modern materialists – such as the psychologist Daniel Wegner – who claim that free will is literally a “trick of the mind.” According to Wegner, “The experience of willing an act arises from interpreting one’s thought as the cause of the act.” In other words, our sense of making choices or decisions is just an awareness of what the brain has already decided for us.

More here.