Motor control and the causal relevance of conscious will: Libet’s mind–brain theory

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 39 (1):46-59 (2019)
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This article examines three aspects of the problem of understanding Benjamin Libet’s idea of conscious will causally interacting with certain neural activities involved in generating overt bodily movements. The first is to grasp the notion of cause involved, and we suggest a definition. The second is to form an idea of by what neural structure(s) and mechanism(s) a conscious will may control the motor activation. We discuss the possibility that the acts of control have to do with levels of supplementary motor area activity and with the activation of populations of excitatory and inhibitory interneurons. The third aspect is to conceive of the main features of Libet’s proposed conscious mental field (CMF). We consider both an ontological and an epistemological interpretation of the CMF being nonphysical. In an attempt to refute the idea that Libet’s dualist mind–brain interactionism would violate the law of conservation of energy, we suggest that a CMF may alter the probability of the ion-channel gating by influencing structures of a size to which quantum mechanics needs to be applied. We argue that given the suggested definition of cause, and given the epistemological interpretation of the CMF being nonphysical, nothing would necessarily rule out that an element of a CMF, conscious will, may causally interact with neural activities in the brain. This defense of the idea of conscious will being causally efficacious has a bearing not only on the understanding of the mind–brain relation but also on the free will debate.



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B. I. B. Lindahl
Stockholm University

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