The Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation

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MIT Press, 2013 - Philosophy - 456 pages

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

Tse draws on exciting recent neuroscientific data concerning how informationalcausation 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 breakthroughsreveal that neurons function as criterial assessors of their inputs, which then change the criteriathat will make other neurons fire in the future. Such informational causation cannot change thephysical basis of information realized in the present, but it can change the physical basis ofinformation that may be realized in the immediate future. This gets around the standard argumentagainst free will centered on the impossibility of self-causation. Tse explores the ways that mentalcausation and qualia might be realized in this kind of neuronal and associatedinformation-processing architecture, and considers the psychological and philosophical implicationsof having such an architecture realized in our brains.


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The Mind Body Problem Will Be Solved by Neuroscience
2 Overview of Arguments
3 A Criterial Neuronal Code Underlies Downward Mental Causation and Free Will
4 Neurons Impose Physical and Informational Criteria for Firing on Their Inputs
5 NMDA Receptors and a Neuronal Code Based on Bursting
6 Mental Causation as an Instance of Criterial Causation
7 Criterial Causation Offers a Neural Basis for Free Will
8 Implications of Criterial Causality for Mental Representation
Physical Evidence for Ontological Indeterminism
Ontological Indeterminism Undermines Kims Argument against the Logical Possibility of Mental Causation
Why There Are No Necessary A posteriori Propositions
Author Index
Subject Index

Readiness Potentials and the Role of Conscious Willing
10 The Roles of Attention and Consciousness in Criterial Causation

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About the author (2013)

Peter Ulric Tse is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.

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