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The relationship between free will and consciousness - interpreting the Libet experiment

   There have been many thoughts on this site about the two mysterious properties of the developed nervous system,  free will and consciousn...


 There have been many thoughts on this site about the two mysterious properties of the developed nervous system, free will and consciousness. Among the thoughts on free will and consciousness are proposed models. If we use these models to examine how these two brain processes can work together, the results of Libet's experiment can be interpreted. 

In the 1980s, brain researcher Benjamin Libet conducted experiments on humans in which he demonstrated that the brain "registers" a decision to move before a person consciously decides to move. 

In the experiment, apparently conscious decisions to act were preceded by an unconscious appearance of electrical activity within the brain. Libet's experiments suggest that unconscious processes in the brain are the real initiators of volitional actions, and therefore that consciously directed (free) will plays no role in initiating them. If the unconscious brain processes trigger the initiation of an action before the conscious desire to carry it out has arisen, then the causal role of consciousness as expressed in the volition is eliminated.

The experiment suggests that consciousness does not seem to play a role in the functioning of the volition, or according to some interpretations, consciousness only plays a role in the control of the volition. The experiment is intended to demonstrate the scope of free will and consciousness. 

To interpret the experiment in this thought, let's look at what is the essence of the neurological model of free will and consciousness discussed in the thoughts?

According to the neurological model of volition outlined, the phenomenon of "free" will arises from the uniqueness of the deterministic derivation of past experiences accumulated by the brain and the neural states of current circumstances. The volition generated by the brain is determinate, and therefore, not free, but it is not externally determinable, and therefore seems not determinate, i.e. it appears to be free. 

But we also feel our will free from within. The reason for this is the role of consciousness in the formation of the volition. 

According to the outlined neurological model of consciousness, the phenomenon of consciousness is the neural feedback activity of a dedicated global brain network of neurons (called shadow network). The mechanism of consciousness is based on a specific global neural network of the brain, the activity of this network being triggered from the outside by sensory input or from the inside by the activity of other connecting neural pathways. The activity of this global network results in feedback stimulation of connected neural structures. The global network's own intrinsic activity generates intrinsic stimulation in the connected sensory and motor structures, generating intrinsic stimulation for the neural structures that generate memory, i.e. generating thoughts through internal conditioning. The result of this process is the sense of consciousness. 

The phenomenon of volition and the neural process of consciousness are emergent phenomena of the brain's neural structure, which could be suitably described by the brain’s neural resonance model

In the Libet experiment, participants were asked to press a button during the experiment, within a specified time period, while noting the position of a timing device when they made the decision to press the button. Meanwhile, the experimenters recorded the activity of the subject's brain motor neurons. 

The result of the experiment was that, over time, the activity of the motor neurons in the brain appears first, then the subject signals that he or she has decided to press the button, and then the button is pressed. The result of the experiment shows that the moto-neural activity of the subjects precedes the conscious decision to act. The result of the experiment indicates as if the action is not initiated by consciousness. 

According to some interpretations of the experiment, since the conscious decision precedes the actual action in time, the role of consciousness is not to initiate but to control the execution of the action. While this interpretation captures a possible role of consciousness in the control of action, it still does not explain the role of consciousness in the origination of action. It also leaves the question of whether the observed sequence is indeed causal, i.e. whether consciousness is indeed able to exert a control function over motor function in the remaining time measured during the experiment, or whether we are only seeing a non-causal sequence of events created by the brain. 

As if consciousness only has the potential to control our actions, but consciousness plays no role in initiating our actions. However, control is also only potential because the experiment does not address the conscious inhibition of the motor action potential that emerges. 

There are other interpretations of the experiment based on other assumptions. 

Let's attempt to interpret the experiment with the neurological model of the brain as it relates to free will and consciousness, outlined in the thoughts. 

For a correct interpretation, it must be taken into account that the experiment actually begins when the experimenter tells the subjects what their task will be. 

The task is to press a button at any time within a certain period of time, while memorizing a screen shot when the felt decision to press the button was made. During the learning of the task, the experimenter acquires linguistically mediated information, records it in his or her memory with the help of consciousness. Consciousness-assisted learning pre-conditions, forms conditioned reflexes in the appropriate brain areas. 

The specific task is to get the experimenter to press the button at an unspecified moment within a certain time period. Since the pressing of the button within the time period is not tied to a condition requiring consciousness (anytime according to the task), the experimenter learns this condition as well. 

The experiment will continue with the practical implementation of the experiment. The experimenter starts to perform the task in the learned way, with the appropriate pre-conditioned neural structures. At this stage of the experiment, it is important to take into account what the experimenter is asked to do. The experimenter's consciousness no longer has a determining, active role in performing the learned task of pressing a button at any time. Pressing a button at any time does not require conscious control, there certainly are suitable neural structures involved in the execution of this kind of unconstrained task, which have been pre-conditioned by the experimenter's self-consciousness during the learning phase. 

The test person presses the button in a pre-conditioned way. The experiment requires the subject to recognize when the intention to press the button enters his or her consciousness. However, according to this interpretation, the consciousness does not actually initiate this action, it is generated by a preconditioned mechanism, but recognizes that a preconditioned brain process is taking place that is associated with the action. This phenomenon is the free-like volition in action. 

This interpretation adequately explains the sequence of events observed. According to this interpretation, during the execution phase of the experiment, consciousness does not even have a dedicated role of supervision, but acts as feedback (consciousness) during the neural structural activity of the task performed. 

So, how does the activity of the structures of the nervous system that are involved in the experiment take place during the experiment, and how does the mechanism of volition and consciousness that we propose operate in the experiment? 

The person conducting the experiment uses language and other tools, and the experimenter's consciousness, to teach, record and program information into the experimenter's brain structures. Consciousness, through its feedback-based mode of operation, is an active facilitator of this process. During the execution of the experiment, the experimenter performs the learned, programmed task by activating the corresponding neural structures by an internal neural trigger that does not require consciousness. The learned neural and associated motor process is completed. Meanwhile, the activity of the neural structure performing the task of the experiment is incorporated into the activity of the global neural network generating the phenomenon of consciousness, while the activity of the global structure reverberates and produces feedback. The execution of the experimental task becomes part of the consciousness. 

At this stage, and if sufficient time is available, the activity of other neural pathways can influence the activity of the neural pathways involved in the experiment through the global neural structures of consciousness. Through the operation of consciousness, the brain has the potential to intervene and modify the action through the influence of the activity of previously conditioned, currently active neural pathways. A freedom-illusion of the volition is created by this process. 

The mechanism of operation outlined by building on the proposed neural models makes the observational results of the Libet experiment interpretable. According to the model outlined, the activity of the global feedback network, which results in the phenomenon of consciousness, plays a role in the programming of the nervous system and the formation of the volition. Volition - the deterministic sum of past accumulated experiences and current circumstances expressed in neural states - and consciousness - the neural feedback activity of a dedicated global brain network of neurons - are dynamically related. The neural network that generates the phenomenon of consciousness contributes to the conditioning of the nervous system. It helps by feedback, modifies through the mediation of the activity of other neural pathways, to shape the activity of neural pathways determined by previous conditions, to develop pseudo-free will, while the feedback creates consciousness, the phenomenon of inner sensation.

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