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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Perceiving Intentions

To the Editors:

I have trouble with the conclusions many have drawn from Benjamin Libet’s 1983 research, which was cited in "Free Will and Free Won't" by Sukhvinder Obhi and Patrick Haggard (July-August). As the authors state, "These experiments reveal that the chain of causation going from our intentions to our actions is not in the intuitive direction."

Instead, I would argue that the experiments show that it is the perception of our intention that is "off," because it is the timing of perception of intention that is measured, not the timing of intention itself. These are not necessarily the same!

All that is necessary is to suppose that there is an "intention mechanism" that starts at (or before) the readiness potential, and that the start of the intention mechanism is not immediately perceived. There would be a delay before the intention mechanism is perceived, just as there is a delay for the accompanying action.

Such a "perceived-later" mechanism is consistent with current concepts of the brain as complex and distributed—with many things happening at once and only some of them being perceived, imperfectly and with a delay. The work of Ohbi and Haggard deals with such perceptions and delays. It was not necessary to introduce Libet's conclusions in the description of his experiments.

John W. Bremer
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

 

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