08/14/2012 11:22 am ET

Does Contemporary Neuroscience Support or Challenge the Reality of Free Will?

Humans love stories. We tell each other the stories of our lives, in which we are not merely players reading a script but also the authors. As authors we make choices that influence the plot and the other players on the stage. Free will can be understood as our capacities both to make choices—to write our own stories—and to carry them out on the world’s stage—to control our actions in light of our choices.

What would it mean to lack free will? It might mean we are merely puppets, our strings pulled by forces beyond our awareness and beyond our control. It might mean we are players who merely act out a script we do not author. Or perhaps we think we make up our stories, but in fact we do so only after we’ve already acted them out. The central image in each case is that we merely observe what happens, rather than making a difference to what happens.

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