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Free will and the management of actions

Dietrich Doerner

Emer. Prof. Dr. and former Chair of the Institute for Theoretical Psychology, Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg


Free will is not at all a rare and exotic form of cognition, but normal and frequent practice in everyday organization of action. Free will is the prerequisite of flexibility in everyday behavior. – I am preparing the breakfast. Routine behaviour! I take the box with different cheeses out of the fridge and unwrap the pieces of cheese to put them on a plate. But with a camembert I alter my behaviour. It is very "ripe" and nearly fluid. So I decide to leave it in its paper envelope. The prerequisite for this deviation from the normal routine is to be aware of what I am doing. And to calculate the consequences of my routine behaviour in this special case. I am acting sensibly and do not follow the usual program automatically. I reprogram myself. I free myself from the usual routine.

But how is this possible? How can a system consider its own actions? Isn't that a contradiction in itself? I will show that this is not the case. To be conscious does not mean to consider one's own thinking, but to look at the protocols of past thinking. I do not consider my actual thinking process but the traces which my thinking left in memory. And I consider the routine programs and the consequences which routine behaviour would produce in this special case. So consciousness is not a special form of thinking, "meta-thinking" so to say. But it is quite normal thinking, but thinking , which concerns the traces of itself or considers the plans of behaviour.

I shall demonstrate how a machine, which shows consciousness and free will, could look like.

With contributions from

Dr. Michael Schmitz (Institut of Philosophy, University of Vienna)

Dr. Paolo Petta (Austrian Institut of Artificial Intelligence)

Moderated by

Prof. Dr. Thomas Bugnyar (Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna)

Vienna Conference on Consciousness
Department für Verhaltensbiologie
Universität Wien

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