- Series: MIT Press
- Paperback: 440 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (August 11, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262731622
- ISBN-13: 978-0262731621
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Illusion of Conscious Will (MIT Press) 1st Edition
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Wegner has written a devishly clever, witty, and thorough book. He brings all the pieces together to tackle the problem of free will. This book will serve as the foundation for an untold number of hot debates on who is in charge of our personal destinies.(Michael S. Gazzaniga, Program in Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College)
Philosophers have argues for centuries about the existence of free will. In this exciting book Daniel M. Wegner presents the facts about our experience of controlling our own actions. He persuasively argues that our experience of will is an illusion, but that this illusions is crucial for our concepts of morality and personal responsibility. This book should be read by anyone with an interest in how the mind works.(Christopher Frith, Wellcome Department of Imaging Science, Institute of Neurology, University College London)
... Dr. Wegner's critique... is less philosophical than empirical, drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology.(John Horgan The New York Times)
Fascinating... I recommend the book as a first-rate intellectual adventure.(Herbert Silverman Science Books & Films)
... very convincing.(David Wilson American Scientist)
Wegner has finessed all the usual arguments into a remarkable demonstration of how psychology can sometimes transform philosophy.... [He] writes with humour and clarity.(Susan Blackmore Times Literary Supplement)
Wegner is a terrific writer, sharing his encyclopedic purchase on the material in amusing, entertaining, and masterful ways.(David Brizer, M.D. Psychiatric Services)
Daniel Wegner is our foremost modern investigator of illusions of conscious agency―our tendency to believe that we really have more control over our own actions and thoughts than we do. In this book, Wegner boldly pursues the claim that our sense of conscious agency is ALWAYS imaginary. His arguments are based on clever experiments and deep analysis of the issues. This book will stand as a challenge to anyone trying to understand the nature of voluntary thought and action.(Bernard J. Baars, Senior Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology, The Neurosciences Institute)
Wegner presents diverse, persuasive, and entertaining evidence for his thesis that the experience of conscious will is an illusion. The book is a profound treatise on a central issue in psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind.(Gordon H. Bower, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University)
Wegner may well have made a historic breakthrough in the age-old, nettlesome problem of 'free will'―namely, conceptualizing it as an act of causal attribution. His recounting of the history of the issue is rich with fascinating examples and illustrations. This sets us up for what may be the first experimental approach to this nettlesome philosophical problem. Because we know a lot about how people make causal attributions, we may suddenly and for the first time, thanks to Wegner's analysis, know a lot about why people believe so strongly that they have free will. Wegner shows that by manipulating the variables underlying these attributions, one changes the feeling of having acted or thought freely. This is nothing short of 'experimental philosophy' in its application of cognitive scientific principles and methods to previously intractable issues in the philosophy of mind.(John A. Bargh, Department of Psychology, Yale University)
About the Author
The late Daniel M. Wegner was Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.
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But it seems to me that Wegner begs the more interesting question of what influence, if any, our conscious mind has over our actions. If we accept that our conscious decisions are not the proximate cause of our actions, what influence does the conscious mind have over our behavior? After all, I can program a computer to take an action at a later time, without my direct intervention. So it is possible that while our conscious mind's experience of being the immediate author of our actions is illusory, it remains possible that our conscious mind is more indirectly in control--in essence, programming our unconscious mind. Wegner speaks of the importance of having a mental plan in creating one's sense of authorship over one's actions, but he does not address the possibility that that plan may influence those actions.
This quandry highlights perhaps the most curious aspect of the book: is its unproblematic approach to the self. Despite the radical revision (read destruction) of free will, the common-sense idea of self is rarely if ever addressed as needing any explanation. This is strange when one considers that the most salient feature of self is usually taken to be will. But if will is a passive illusion, what of the self which experiences it? Moreover, Wegner seems to treat self as sometimes equivalent to mind, and sometimes a detached observer of the mind's actions. ..
Like his Harvard Colleague Daniel Gilbert, Daniel Wegner has the dual gifts of being a gifted researcher and gifted writer. There is insufficient space in a brief review to outline all the arguments raised by this book, or all the topics covered. The good ideas come thick and fast, but are presented with sufficient clarity that they should be understandable to most intelligent readers, even those without an extensive background in psychology or philosophy.
On top of his writing and research, Wegner's ability to theorize from the evidence and consider evidence in light of theory is outstanding. A great deal of the research Wegner reports in this book is his own. In addition, he does a masterful job of scouring current and historical literature for interesting examples to support his case.
There are some good concise summaries of the arguments made in this book in academic psychology articles by Wegner. Some of which can be downloaded from his homepage: these may provide a good start if you are presently unsure about buying the book. I think people who enjoy Daniel Dennett's philosophical writings on consciousness would enjoy this book.