Why haven't we abolished free will yet?

False conclusions of the neuroscientists

First: The very existence of the veto function already sets clear limits to apparent determinism.

Secondly: The Libetexperiment relates to very simple motor actions, but not to complicated decisions that make rational or ethical judgments necessary. And for that, other areas of the brain are involved, e.g. B. the neocortex, as the one in which the BP is measured.

Third: That brings me to an argument that, as far as I know, has never been mentioned. Even if the BP should also refer to the area of ​​an ethically motivated action, this should be recognizable from the form of the BP. Example: When I raise my hand, it can be done to greet someone kindly or to slay them with an ax. In both cases, the action is preceded by the willingness potential. But it is identical in both cases. This means that knowing the BP I cannot predict whether I am pursuing the intention to kill with an ax or whether I just want to greet the person concerned in a friendly manner. Consequently, factors other than the BP must play a role for such a complicated action, e.g. B. those of the internalization of cultural values, which of course are then certainly represented in certain brain structures. It can be assumed that in a society in which a friendly greeting with the hand is part of good manners, such actions occur more frequently than in a society of cannibals who attack each other with axes - and that with brains that are basically biologically identical. That brings me to the next argument.

Fourth: People do not act on the basis of causal biological determination, rather they act on grounds. When Ludwig van Beethoven sat down to compose, his organism was certainly put into the correct activation mode by the BP. But this certainly did not determine which melodies he composed. And when the church peace movement of the former GDR opposed its state, it did so because human freedom was important to it. So you can see that human action is made up of a multitude of factors, in which the brain and its “interconnections” are of course an important, but by no means an all-determining factor. In addition to the unconscious will, the BP, conscious considerations, weighing up alternatives and reasons, which arise in other brain regions than the BP, also play a role. In addition, there are social, cultural and religious motivations that determine human behavior. Action is not just a function of the will. And even the function of the will is differentiated in itself. The unconscious BP is deliberately something different and localized differently than the targeted planning on the basis of will in the neocortex. In addition, when arguing against free will, neuroscientists do not take seriously one of their own most important discoveries, namely neuroplasticity. The brain changes as it is used.

Based on these considerations, I would like to conclude with the following thesis: I advocate replacing the concept of free will with the concept of freedom of the person. I always act from the totality of myself, it is not an isolated will that acts. The person, on the other hand, is plastic, changeable, just as the brain is plastic. From this follows a concept of the person with graduated degrees of freedom: inner freedom of choice, outer freedom of action, freedom to transcend oneself towards something greater and finally creative freedom.

At the conference, the neuroscientist was also asked whether he could imagine learning something from theology. His answer was relatively bland. But how about the "freedom of a Christian"? And that brings us to theology's concept of freedom. But that's a new topic again.

Wolfgang Achtner

Published in April 2012