MLU: The famous experiments conducted by neurobiologist Benjamin Libet suggest that we are consciously aware of making a decision to act after our brain initiates that action -- but before the action actually takes place (moving an arm, for instance). This raises the question: do we have free will, or is the feeling that we are in control of our destiny merely an illusion?
JM: I am puzzled why Libet’s findings are considered at all surprising. In fact anything other than his findings would be astonishing. Consider if Libet (and further studies) had been unable to detect any changes in brain activity prior to our awareness of an intention to perform an action. Awareness would then be an uncaused cause -- a ghost in the machine -- an effect that had no physical cause. This would mean that awareness would contradict all the laws of causality -- it would be magic. Consciousness would then stand apart from the rest of science and force us to revaluate every scientific notion based on causality and determinism.
But of course awareness, like all other events, is caused by preceding event in our brain. So it is not causality that is problematic but our notion of free will. Again, this is only problematic if we think of free will as an uncaused cause -- a ghost in the machine. My conception of free will is that it is the influence of the brain’s em field -- our conscious mind -- on the operations that the brain directs: our actions. So consciousness is not a mere steam whistle of brain action (as Huxley suggested) but plays a vital role in determining our actions. To put it another way, if consciousness was not playing a role our actions would be very different -- we would act like be robots. But this conscious em field -- our ‘free’ will is not an uncaused cause: its structure and dynamics are determined by earlier activity in the brain. It isn’t really free in the sense of non-deterministic. But then how could it be without invoking magic?
MLU: Your explanation for consciousness is one of the most unique and intriguing that I have come across. You have done an excellent job of both providing evidence for your theory, and defending it against criticism. Please give us an overview of your cemi field theory.
JM: Put simply the cemi field is that component of the brain’s electromagnetic (em) field that influences our actions. The theory proposes that the seat of consciousness is the brain’s em field. This then solves the binding problem because all the information in scattered neurons will be unified in the brain’s em field. A number of researchers (e.g. Sue Pockett) have proposed this much but the cemi field goes one step further and proposes that the cemi field loops back to influence brain activity via electromagnetic induction: the brain’s em fields influences neuronal membrane potentials and thereby the probability of neuron firing and thereby influence our actions. This influence we experience as ‘free will’.