Chapter | Conscious Will and Responsibility | 2011

Prospective Codes Fufilled: A Potential Neural Mechanism of Will

by Thalia Wheatley and Christine E. Looser


One of my few shortcomings is that I can’t predict the future. Lars Ulrich, Metallica. Lars Ulrich was right and wrong. He was right in the way we most often think about the future—as a long stretch of time during which multiply determined events occur. If we could predict this kind of future we would play the lottery every day and avoid embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions. This is clearly not the case. However, converging evidence from neuroscience reveals that our brains do predict the future and do so well, albeit on a much shorter time scale. Bayesian anticipation of likely events appears to be a general principle of brain function. That is, we use information about the probability of past events to predict future events, allowing for a more efficient use of neural resources. While research has begun to show that many systems in the brain code Bayesian predictions, very little work has examined the experiential consequences of this coding. Here we propose that prospective neural facilitation may be fundamental to the phenomenological experience of will.

Keywords: free will; neuroscience; responsibility; prospection; Forecasting and Prediction; Science; Cognition and Thinking;


Wheatley, Thalia, and Christine E. Looser. "Prospective Codes Fufilled: A Potential Neural Mechanism of Will." Chap. 13 in Conscious Will and Responsibility, edited by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Lynn Nadel, 146–158. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.