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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Consciousness, decision making, and volition: freedom beyond chance and necessity

Liljenstrom, Hans


What is the role of consciousness in volition and decision-making? Are our actions fully determined by brain activity preceding our decisions to act, or can consciousness instead affect the brain activity leading to action? This has been much debated in philosophy, but also in science since the famous experiments by Libet in the 1980s, where the current most common interpretation is that conscious free will is an illusion. It seems that the brain knows, up to several seconds in advance what "you" decide to do. These studies have, however, been criticized, and alternative interpretations of the experiments can be given, some of which are discussed in this paper. In an attempt to elucidate the processes involved in decision-making (DM), as an essential part of volition, we have developed a computational model of relevant brain structures and their neurodynamics. While DM is a complex process, we have particularly focused on the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) for its emotional, and the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) for its cognitive aspects. In this paper, we present a stochastic population model representing the neural information processing of DM. Simulation results seem to confirm the notion that if decisions have to be made fast, emotional processes and aspects dominate, while rational processes are more time consuming and may result in a delayed decision. Finally, some limitations of current science and computational modeling will be discussed, hinting at a future development of science, where consciousness and free will may add to chance and necessity as explanation for what happens in the world.


Neurocomputational modeling; cognition; decision-making; consciousness; volition; free will

Published in

Theorie in den Biowissenschaften / Theory in Biosciences
2022, Volume: 141, number: 2, pages: 125-140
Publisher: SPRINGER

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    Bioinformatics (Computational Biology)

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