With the help of an additional grant of $1.7 million from the Fetzer Institute, a team led by computational neuroscientist Uri Maoz will work to determine whether it can be scientifically proven that actions and behavior are guided by conscious intention reached by rational decision. The funding will support a series of studies over four years by an international team of seventeen neuroscientists and philosophers and includes support for brain imaging techniques and computational modeling.
Designed to expand understanding of decision and action, the research will build on Benjamin Libet's seminal experiments in the 1980s, which purported to show that participants' brains initiated simple actions prior to participants' decisions to act, suggesting that many decisions believed to be conscious are, in fact, unconscious and only believed to be conscious as a result of the post-hoc stories we tell ourselves.
"Sir John Templeton believed in the existence and importance of human free will, but he was also deeply committed to pursuing scientific inquiry to whatever conclusions the evidence supports, even if it meant revising his beliefs," said John Churchill, director of the foundation's philosophy and theology programs. "Among neuroscientists, there's been a recent turn toward skepticism about the plausibility of free will. This project should help those both inside and outside assess whether such skepticism is truly founded — and to offer a toolkit for gaining new insights into the interplay between conscious and unconscious decision making."