Free will not an illusion?

In 1983 an experiment by Benjamin Libet seemed to indicate that our unconscious was responsible for behaviour that we attributed to our own free will. This isn’t something that we as humans take kindly to – after all, you’re in charge of your decisions, aren’t you?

His experiment seemed to say no, so it will be with some relief that a recent study by researchers in New Zealand have come up with evidence that the original conclusions were wrong. You can read about it here.

Clearly the issue is far from resolved. I suspect that in the end it will be shown that we can have free will, but that most of the things we do are determined by unconscious processes. After all, we’re not conscious of teh here and now for 90% of the day, so how can we claim to be in charge of all our choices.

When people come to see a Cognitive Hypnotherapist it is usually to find help with something they don’t feel able to change themelves, ie they don’t have free will over a particular set of behaviours in particular situations.

I think it’s because we’re not alone in our heads. We have the ‘I’; that sense of ourselves that makes us feel so special as a species, but I think we also have a number of other aspects of our self which emerge in certain contexts and take over what we do. There’s nothing spooky about it, they’re just other aspects of the mental processing from which our ‘I’ emerges.

The process of successful therapy is often about re-educating these ‘parts’ so that they generate the behaviour that your will prefers.

We can probably never have free will in all situations; our unconscious does a lot of the driving, but with proper training you can at least choose the direction it heads in most of the time.