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Moving a finger 

Moving a finger
Moving a finger
The Actor's Brain: Exploring the cognitive neuroscience of free will

Sean A Spence


This chapter is concerned with understanding some of the structures and processes that support human beings’ freedom of movement, their volition, their voluntary behaviour. However, such are the controversies surrounding the nature and possibility of such ‘freedom’ that half of the words comprising my first sentence may have already invited closer, critical scrutiny. What do I mean by ‘structures’ and ‘processes’, and what is the nature of their ‘support’? Furthermore, what do I now mean by the word ‘freedom’? Haven't we just disposed of freedom, in the Prologue? I shall respond by proposing that in order to fully understand our condition, a condition which we shall tease apart over the ensuing chapters of this book, we need to start with some very basic anatomy (structures) and then consider local physiology (processes). If we can describe these adequately, then we shall have delineated the basis of what it is that is necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) for a human being to be ‘able’ to produce a voluntary act: a movement in the world that did not exist prior to that human subject's ‘choosing’ to perform it. Hence, I propose that structures and processes support such an action; they facilitate its emergence.

However, when it comes to ‘freedom’, I hope that the reader may bear with me for several chapters. For, only when we have dealt with what it is that is ‘necessary’ for ‘actions’ to be permissible shall we be in a position to consider whether freedom is at all defensible. Thankfully, that challenge is still some way off!

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