Merleau-Ponty on Human Motility and Libet’s Paradox

  • T Brian Mooney
  • Damien Norris


In 1979, neuroscientists Libet, Wright, Feinstein and Pearl introduced the “delay-and-antedating” hypothesis/paradox based on the results of an on-going series of experiments dating back to 1964 that measured the neural adequacy [brain wave activity] of “conscious sensory experience”. What is fascinating about the results of this experiment is the implication, especially when considered in the light of Merleau-Ponty’s notions of “intentionality” and the “pre-reflective life of human motility”, that the body, and hence not solely the mind, is a thinking thing. The experiments and conclusions of Libet et al. have attracted considerable academic attention and have been used in the development of psychological theories on automotivism and the adaptive unconscious. Moreover, they have engendered a series of important considerations in respect of the question of free will. This paper outlines the connections between the findings of Libet et al. and Merleau-Ponty’s ontology as presented in the Phenomenology of Perception (1945/1962). It is not our intention to argue that the former amounts to new wine in old bottles, but rather to show counterfactually (since we offer no new scientific data and assume the conclusions of the experiments) that Merleau-Ponty’s ontology provides a theoretical framework which explains the experimental data obtained by Libet et al., and provides further speculative confirmation of the work stemming from neuro-physical research and emerging theories on the adaptive unconscious. Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, Volume 7, Edition 1 May 2007

Author Biographies

T Brian Mooney
School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University
Damien Norris
Independent Human Rights Practitioner

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1445-7377
print ISSN: 2079-7222