The Illusion of Conscious Will

Front Cover
MIT Press, 2002 - Philosophy - 405 pages

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.

 

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4
4 stars
2
3 stars
1
2 stars
0
1 star
0

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bkinetic - LibraryThing

This is the sort of book that many psychologists wish they had written. Wegner's achievement was to collect separate bits of research and put them together in an organized whole, providing impressive ... Read full review

Review: The Illusion of Conscious Will

User Review  - Lukas - Goodreads

Doesn't quite prove much, but definitely shifts the burden of proof upon those who believe in some species of free will. Read full review

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 349 - The Principles of Mental Physiology. With their Applications to the Training and Discipline of the Mind, and the Study of its Morbid Conditions.
Page 339 - ... three laws of robotics which have stood the test of time, and once again back up a novelette to be remembered. The Three Laws of Robotics 1 . A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Page 1 - ... data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the...
Page 2 - But the whole feeling of reality, the whole sting and excitement of our voluntary life, depends on our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago.
Page 82 - Countances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it...
Page 323 - free' act be a sheer novelty, that comes not from me, the previous me, but ex nihilo, and simply tacks itself on to me, how can /, the previous I, be responsible?
Page 3 - I mean nothing but the internal impression we feel and are conscious of, when we knowingly give rise to any new motion of our body, or new perception of our mind.
Page 288 - The man who discovers that he is being boned by any enemy is, indeed, a pitiable sight. He stands aghast, with his eyes staring at the treacherous pointer, and with his hands lifted as though to ward off the lethal medium, which he imagines is pouring into his body. His cheeks blanch and his eyes become glassy and the expression of his face becomes horribly distorted. ... He attempts to shriek but usually the sound chokes in his throat, and all that one might see is froth at his mouth. His body begins...
Page 83 - I was sitting in a chair in the patent office at Bern when all of a sudden a thought occurred to me: 'If a person falls freely he will not feel his own weight.
Page 315 - ... to sway another, as by teaching, by argument, by persuasion, by threatenings, by offers and promises, — and that which flows out from us, unawares to ourselves, the same which Peter had over John when he led him into the sepulchre.

About the author (2002)

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

Bibliographic information