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Fate, Freedom, and Neuroscience :

The science of free will

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Nayef Al-Rodhan, Kristina Musholt, Mark Salter. Philip Ball hosts.

Some neuroscientists claim to be able to predict actions up to seven seconds before we decide to make them. Does this mean human freedom and will are illusory? Should we accept that all our actions are determined in advance, or has neuroscience overstepped its bounds?

The Panel

Oxford neuroscientist Nayef Al Rodhan, East End psychiatrist and broadcaster Mark Salter, and LSE philosopher Kristina Musholt debate the limits of science.

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Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Mark Salter
    The Pitch
    Free will is a necessary illusion.
  • Nayef Al-Rodhan
    The Pitch
    Neuroscience does not contradict free will.
  • Kristina Musholt
    The Pitch
    Free will makes us accountable.
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Neuroscience and the Self
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Moral responsibility
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    Emotion and free will
Join the conversation

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raznak on 17/02/2014 4:22pm

As neuroscience develops, lawyers are going to find it easier and easier to point to brain abnormalities in the defence of the accused. If this trend continues we will find ourselves in a situation where no one can be said to be truly responsible for their actions. The only way to avoid this is to change how we determine sentences from focussing on culpability to the likelihood of recommiting (which neuroscience can shed light on).

Tabetha on 17/02/2014 4:21pm

Don't you understand??! Yes, neuroscience is in its infancy and yes it many only be able predict wrist flicking or button pressing but within the next decade, neuroscience is going to get a lot more sophisticated and only then will we be able to point to a part of the brain and say 'there's free will' or perhaps, more interestingly, there is no such thing as free will. It will be able to predict probabilities of things like how probable a person is to commit a crime and that in itself will be a whole new can of worms to explore.

Serge Patlavskiy on 10/12/2013 11:27am

Eddie, "neuroscience can predict" or "some neuroscientists claim to be able to predict"? For me, there is a big difference between the two expressions. A solution here is simple. There is a time span between the moment we decide to perform some action and the moment we realize that we decided to perform that action. When talking about 7 seconds, neuroscientists take into consideration the moment when we report about our decision, but not the moment when we actually made a decision. So, free will sustains.

Eddie Graf on 05/12/2013 1:27pm

Just because neuroscience can predict whether you will or won't flex your wrist in the next 7 seconds, does NOT mean there is no such thing as freewill. Neuroscience is only in its infancy and these findings are completely irrelevant when questioning much more complex decision making processes.

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