Mental states, processes, and conscious intent in Libet’s experiments

  • MM Pitman


The meaning and significance of Benjamin Libet’s studies on the timing of conscious will have been widely discussed, especially by those wishing to draw sceptical conclusions about conscious agency and free will. However, certain important correctives for thinking about mental states and processes undermine the apparent simplicity and logic of Libet’s data. The appropriateness, relevance and ecological validity of Libet’s methods are further undermined by considerations of how we ought to characterise intentional actions, conscious intention, and what it means to act with conscious intent. Recent extensions of Libet’s paradigm using fMRI and decision-based tasks suffer from similar limitations. The result is that these sorts of laboratory studies of isolated, trivial, decontextualized bodily movements, in a context of extended (conscious) intentional experimental participation and cooperation, are of dubious and potentially misleading
relevance to the study of agency.

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eISSN: 0258-0136