Consciousness and Behavior: Who Is in Control?

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Abstract

Reviews the book, Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? by Susan Pockett, William P. Banks, and Shaun Gallagher (see record 2006-10526-000). This book was inspired by two recent areas of research that have raised important questions about the causal status of consciousness. First, several studies by Benjamin Libet and others (e.g., Libet, Gleason, Wright, & Pearl, 1983) have demonstrated a gap of some 350 ms between the initiation of an intentional act (as indicated by electrophysiological recordings) and conscious awareness of that intention. Second, experiments reported by Daniel Wegner (2002) found that subjects are often unable to determine whether an action had been generated by their own volition or by some external agent. Wegner suggested that the experience of conscious will is an “illusion,” a judgment reached after an event has occurred, not part of the causal chain involved in generating the action. An implication of both sets of findings is that consciousness may be an incidental by-product of brain activity, not a determiner of activity. The consequences of such a conclusion may have a major impact on popular notions such as free will, blame, and responsibility. The book contains 16 chapters divided into three sections. Part I contains chapters that review recent research and theory concerning the neurophysiology of actions, intentions, and the sense of self. Part II includes chapters that assess the presuppositions underlying Libet's and Wegner's research and the implications of their findings for issues such as free will. The chapters in Part III examine consequences of the debates for issues of public policy, especially for questions of legal and moral responsibility. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved)

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