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The volitional self and its brain
The problem of free will has accompanied the human condition since ancient times but has been primarily the province of philosophy. The vast and rapid developments in neuroscience over the last few decades provide some interesting empirical data and potential insights into this problem. Tantalizing empirical data in neuroscience, some from our research at UCLA using electrical stimulation and recordings from the human brain, suggest that specific brain activity is present prior to not only action itself, but also prior to the will to act. Thus “free” will can be decoded and predicted from neural activity prior to volition experienced by the self. These new data pose challenges to the humanities and social sciences, philosophy, literature law, politics. Two central themes bear special scrutiny. One is the consideration of mind enhancement as compared to mind reading and mind control potentially afforded by scientific knowledge. The second is the issue of individual responsibility in the view of seemingly deterministic preconscious brain activity. In this project I propose to bring experts in these disciplines to an Atelier environment to produce interdisciplinary synthesis involving perspectives from the fields of neuroscience, philosophy, social sciences, psychology and literature, law and politics
Dr. Fried is Professor of Neurosurgery and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. He is Director of the Adult Epilepsy Surgery Program there, and is also Co-Director of the Seizure Disorder Center. Concurrently, he is a Professor of Neurosurgery at Tel-Aviv University in Israel. After obtaining a degree in physics at Tel-Aviv University, Dr. Fried completed his Ph.D. at UCLA, and went on to a medical degree at Stanford and neurosurgery training, specializing in epilepsy surgery, at Yale University. He heads the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, which is centered on the opportunities to study the human brain afforded by the epilepsy surgery program at UCLA. A small number of these patients have depth electrodes inserted in order to evaluate their seizures for subsequent surgery. It is this opportunity that is used to record the responses of single neurons while the patient performs cognitive tasks. Some aspects of brain function that he and his collaborators have studied, particularly in the medial temporal lobe, are visual perception, memory, navigation, imagery, and motor function.