Benjamin Libet's experiment and its critique between 2000-2012

Main Article Content

Przemysław Strzyżyński


The article describes the results of Libet’s experiment and its resulting critique, as witnessed by the articles published between 2000 and 2012. As a result of his experiments, Libet concluded that conscious intentions of making a movement are preceded by brain activity registered as the readiness potentials (RP). In this interpretation, free will does not initiate the decision of making a move but is however capable of stopping this process. For this reason, Libet does not conclude that will is determined by biological processes. The resulting discussion in the literature concerns mainly methodology and conclusions drawn by Libet. The methodological points raised include an argument against the use of EEG as an accurate research tool and criticism of the method of timing the occurrence of the conscious intention of making a move. We note that subsequent modifications made to the original experiment, did however allow putting some of the methodological doubts to rest. On the other hand, the critique of Libet’s conclusions focuses on the problematic nature of correlation of physical movements with the readiness potentials. The most recent research also shows that the potentials might have a more complicated origin than previously thought. Libet’s interpretation is also criticised for its vagueness in defining intention and for not distinguishing it from wishes and desires. The last part of our article summarises the latest state of affairs as emerging from the analysis. We point out the difficulties in correlating potentials with movement, their interpretation and difficulties with the notion of veto, since it seems to require that contradictory intentions of making and refraining from a movement are present simultaneously. The article concludes that on the basis of the current research, the thesis about a biological determination of voluntary processes lacks a sound justification.



Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Strzyżyński, P. (2013). Benjamin Libet’s experiment and its critique between 2000-2012. Filozofia Chrześcijańska, 10, 83-102.
Osoba i wola


  1. Baggini J., Fosl P.S., The Philosopher's Toolkit. A Compendium of Philosophical Con- cepts and Methods, Oxford 2003.
  2. Bremer J., Wprowadzenie do filozofii umysłu, Kraków 2010.
  3. Churchland P.M., Mechanizm rozumu, siedlisko duszy. Filozoficzna podróż w głąb mózgu, translated by Z. Karaś, Warszawa 2002.
  4. Deecke L., Kornhuber H.H., Human freedom, reasoned will, and the brain: The Bereitschaftspotential story, in: The Bereitschaftspotential. Movement-related cortical potentials, ed. M. Jahanshahi, M. Hallett, New York 2003, 283-320.
  5. Domańska Ł., Borkowska A.R. (ed.), Podstawy neuropsychologii klinicznej, Lublin 2008.
  6. Duch W., presentation [PPT] Kognitywną Rewolucję! - Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika,, [dostęp 10.11.2012].
  7. Fix J.D., Neuroanatomia, ed. J. Moryś, Wrocław 1997.
  8. Górska T. i in., Mózg a zachowanie, PWN, Warszawa 2011.
  9. Haggard P., Eimer M., On the relation between brain potentials and the awareness of voluntary movements, "Experimental Brain Research" 126, 1999, p. 128-133.
  10. Haynes J.D., Beyond Libet: Long-Term Prediction of Free Choices from Neuroimaging Signals, Research and Perspectives in Neurosciences, Berlin-Heidelberg 2011, p. 161-174.
  11. Haynes J.D. et al., Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain, "Nature Neuroscience" 11, 2008, p. 543-545.
  12. Herrmann Ch.S. et al., Analysis of choice-reaction task yield a new interpretation of Libet's experiments, "International Journal of Psychophysiology" 67, 2008, p. 151-157.
  13. Jahanshahi M., Hallett M. (ed.), The Bereitschaftspotential. Movement-related cortical potentials, New York 2003.
  14. Kane R. (ed.), Oxford handbook of free will, New York 2002. Kane R. (ed), Oxford handbook of free will, New York 2011.
  15. Klein S., Libet's timing of mental events: Commentary on the commentaries, "Consciousness and Cognition" 11, 2002, p. 326-333.
  16. Lau H.C. et al., Attention to intention, "Science" 303, 2004, p. 1208-1210.
  17. Libet B., A testable field theory of mind-brain interaction, "Journal of Consciousness Studies" vol. 1(1), 1994, p. 119-128.
  18. Libet B., Can Conscious Experience Affect Brain Activity, "Journal of Consciousness Studies" vol. 10, 2003, p. 24-28.
  19. Libet B., Consciousness, free action and the brain, "Journal of Consciousness Studies" no. 8, 2001, p. 59-65.
  20. Libet B., Do we have free will?, in: Oxford handbook of free will, ed. R. Kane, New York 2002, p. 551-564.
  21. Libet B., Reflections on the Interaction of the Mind and Brain", "Progress in Neurobiology" vol. 78 (3-5), 2006, p. 322-326.
  22. Libet B., Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary ac- tion, "Behavioral and Brain Science" 8, 1985, p. 529-539.
  23. Mele A.R., Free will: Theories, analysis, and data, in: Does conscious cause behavior?, ed. S. Pockett, W.P. Banks, S. Gallagher, Cambridge 2006, p. 187-206.
  24. Nagel T., Jak to jest być nietoperzem?, in: idem, Pytania ostateczne, tłum. A. Romaniuk, Warszawa 1997, p. 203-219.
  25. Pockett S., Banks W.P., Gallagher S., Introduction, in: Does conscious cause behavior?, ed. S. Pockett, W.P. Banks, S. Gallagher, Cambridge 2006.
  26. Pockett S., Banks W.P., Gallagher S. (ed.), Does conscious cause behavior?, Cambridge 2006.
  27. Pockett S., The Neuroscience of movement, in: Does conscious cause behavior?, ed. S. Pockett, W.P. Banks, S. Gallagher, Cambridge 2006, p. 9-24.
  28. Quigg M., EEG w praktyce klinicznej, red. J. Jędrzejczak, Wrocław 2008.
  29. Rektor I., Scalp-recorded Bereitschaftspotential is the result of the activity of cortical and subcortical generators - a hypothesis, "Clinical Neurophysiology" 113, 2002, p. 1998-2005.
  30. Satow T. et al., Distinct cortical areas for motor preparation and execution in human identified by Bereitschaftspotential recording and EcoG-EMG coherence analysis, "Clinical Neurophysiology" 114, 2003, p. 1259-1264.
  31. Schlosser M.E., Free will and the unconscious precursors of choice, "Philosophical Psy- chology" vol. 25, no. 3, 2012, p. 365-384.
  32. Strzyżyński P., Problem „nietoperza Nagela" w argumentacji Johna Hicka i PaulaM. Churchlanda, "Filozofia Chrześcijańska" vol. 7, 2010, p. 65-71.
  33. Thompson M., Thompson L., Neurofeedback - wprowadzenie do podstawowych koncepcji i psychofizjologii stosowanej, red. I. Wolska-Kontewicz i in., Wrocław 2012 [20031].
  34. Zhu J., Reclaiming volition: An alternative interpretation of Libet's experiment, "Journal of Consciousness Studies" 10, 2003, pp. 61-77.