Date of Submission

Spring 2016

Academic Programs and Concentrations


Project Advisor 1

Kritika Yegnashankaran

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Senior Project submitted to The Division of Social Studies of Bard College

You have just decided to sit down and read this abstract; perhaps, at the end of it, you’ll decide to continue and read this whole thesis. Your ability to freely make that choice is simple enough, right? Or is the feeling of free willed choice an illusion? Metaphysicians, moral philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists are among the many who have weighed in on this question, offering a complicated variety of answers. Little work has been done to synthesize these approaches. My thesis is an attempt at a synthesis, showing that these perspectives can be reconciled by incorporating ideas from practical reasoning and recent neuroscience. Here, I review prominent philosophical and scienti c work on free will, and offer my own proposal. My model of free will suggests that neurological activity can orchestrate indeterministic and deterministic events such that our conscious thought can generate and select novel criteria for neural activity. This resculpts neural pathways, in uencing the channels through which future decision-making ows. I argue that this is tantamount to having a capacity for self-generating motivations, which allows both free and conscious choice in the moment, as well as free and unconscious choice in the future. Because the sculpting of neural activity and networks forces some unconscious activity to ow through channels of decision-making that we have already consciously endorsed, I argue that we are responsible for some of our unconscious decisions as well as conscious ones. Future empirical work can determine the extent to which conscious control can affect change in the brain, and to what extent unconscious activity conforms to neural sculpting. This, in turn, will give us greater insight into consequences tied up in our freedom of will: our moral responsibility, legal responsibility, and personal identity.

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