Implications of Neuroplasticity to the Philosophical Debate of Free Will and Determinism

Handbook of Computational Neurodegeneration (2022)
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Neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to induce changes in response to environmental stimuli, entails a continuous rearrangement of the neural network through a complex interaction between genetics and environment. Within this process, the plastic brain uses its internal representations to predict future conditions and proactively proceed to actions. It can be said that plasticity demands a rethinking of the concept of determinism as the process of coming-to-be is directly related to modifications produced by experience. Pure determinism and complete randomness are the two ends of a spectrum of positions relevant to the debate of the existence of free will. However, none conceptually supports free decision-making. How brain activity and the conscious experience of volition are related to one another has been a matter of significant research, with a plethora of findings indicating that early brain signals precede the self-reported time of the decision to act. The meaning of these findings, however, has been debated at both a theoretical and empirical level and the controversy is still ongoing. Consciousness is intertwined with free will along the dimension of time as it would otherwise be purposeless, taking place right at the next moment. Electrical activity of the brain is a measure of neurophysiological function and contributes to the understanding of processes that underlie high-order cognitive functions. A multidisciplinary approach in the study of free will could be designed in a way that philosophical concepts are connected to neural correlates by psychologically functionalizing them in terms of cognitive abilities. Such abilities are at the margins of conscious and nonconscious sensory information and are closely linked to brain processes of executive functions like attentional control and working memory.



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Evangelos D. Protopapadakis
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

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