The Neural Basis of Free Will

Criterial Causation

The issues of mental causation, consciousness, and free will have vexed philosophers since Plato. In this book, Peter Tse examines these unresolved issues from a neuroscientific perspective. In contrast with philosophers who use logic rather than data to argue whether mental causation or consciousness can exist given unproven first assumptions, Tse proposes that we instead listen to what neurons have to say. Because the brain must already embody a solution to the mind–body problem, why not focus on how the brain actually realizes mental causation?

Tse draws on exciting recent neuroscientific data concerning how informational causation is realized in physical causation at the level of NMDA receptors, synapses, dendrites, neurons, and neuronal circuits. He argues that a particular kind of strong free will and "downward" mental causation are realized in rapid synaptic plasticity. Recent neurophysiological breakthroughs reveal that neurons function as criterial assessors of their inputs, which then change the criteria that will make other neurons fire in the future. Such informational causation cannot change the physical basis of information realized in the present, but it can change the physical basis of information that may be realized in the immediate future. This gets around the standard argument against free will centered on the impossibility of self-causation. Tse explores the ways that mental causation and qualia might be realized in this kind of neuronal and associated information-processing architecture, and considers the psychological and philosophical implications of having such an architecture realized in our brains.

Table of Contents

  1. Contents
  2. Preface
  3. Falsifiable Predictions of the Burst Packet Theory of Attention and Consciousness
  4. 1. Introduction: The Mind-Body Problem Will Be Solved by Neuroscience
  5. 2. Overview of Arguments
  6. 3. A Criterial Neuronal Code Underlies Downward Mental Causation and Free Will
  7. 4. Neurons Impose Physical and Informational Criteria for Firing on Their Inputs
  8. 5. NMDA Receptors and a Neuronal Code Based on Bursting
  9. 6. Mental Causation as an Instance of Criterial Causation
  10. 7. Criterial Causation Offers a Neural Basis for Free Will
  11. 8. Implications of Criterial Causality for Mental Representation
  12. 9. Barking Up the Wrong Free: Readiness Potentials and the Role of Conscious Willing
  13. 10. The Roles of Attention and Consciousness in Criterial Causation
  14. Appendix 1: Physical Evidence for Ontological Indeterminism
  15. Appendix 2: Ontological Indeterminism Undermines Kim's Argument against the Logical Possibility of Mental Causation
  16. Appendix 3: Why There Are No Necessary Propositions
  17. Notes
  18. Glossary
  19. References
  20. Author Index
  21. Subject Index