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Human response space 

Human response space
Human response space
The Actor's Brain: Exploring the cognitive neuroscience of free will

Sean A Spence


Much of this book has been concerned with the physical, psychological, and (to a lesser extent) social elements that must be in place in order for an ‘agent’ to ‘act’. We have seen that such processes may be described but also that they seem to comprise a finite resource. If the human agent possesses any ‘freedom’ at all, then it is a freedom that is expressed under certain ‘optimal’ conditions, be they structural, neurochemical, interpersonal, or situational (Table 24). Phenomenologically, we certainly give the impression of being free, some of the time, but there are a great many circumstances that may serve to deprive us of such freedom.

In this chapter, we have sketched just a few of the ways in which human agents have tried to expand the space ‘allowed’ them for responses. This project manifests itself in its starkest form when we attempt to ameliorate the effects of neuropsychiatric disease (e.g. as when Ken Barrett utilized dopaminergic agents to help abulic patients). However, as we have just seen, much of what gives a creative life its edge, its ‘purpose’, is the desire to push one's ‘self’ further, to try to do what has never been done before. Any human being might only ever succeed in such an undertaking on very rare occasions. Nevertheless, it seems to be one of the things that keep us going.

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