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Science & Cocktails #36: Do you have Free Will?

Axel Cleeremans + Lavender Witch (be)

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Thursday 26.09 · 20:30

tickets: 10€ (included a cocktail or a mocktail) · doors 19:30

Do you have Free Will?

Our everyday life is paved with all sorts of decisions at various levels. Go jogging, or watch Eurovision with a family-sized packet of crisps? Hmm. Jogging or crisps? Jogging or crisps? Well, we've all been there. We may decide that what we really want to do is go to the gym - yet find ourselves reaching for that tasty sour cream and onion snack, followed by the inevitable feelings of guilt. Neuroscientists and psychologists are making tremendous strides in understanding our drives and motivations. Weakness of will - eating those crisps when we don't really want to - is one intriguing phenomenon. Another is addiction, whether it be to gambling, sex, social media, booze or cigarettes. There's a growing recognition of the importance of the subconscious in our decision-making. We may not even be aware of the influence that a surrounding smell or noise is having on our choices. And some neuroscientists have even claimed that by examining patterns in the brain, they can predict decisions that we will take six or seven seconds before we ourselves consciously choose to take them. 
Pushing this further, some scientists have defended the idea that virtually all human behavior is as far beyond our conscious control as the convulsions of a seizure, the division of cells or the beating of our hearts. This means accepting that a man who shoots into a crowd has no more control over his fate than a person who causes a fatal traffic accident while in the grip of a seizure.
All this raises a question for the philosopher - what are the implications of advances in knowledge about human decision-making for our conception of free will? Will scientific progress undermine our sense that we have free will? What would be the implications for the notion of personal responsibility and in particular, our justice system? Will it eventually lead us to conclude that free will is an illusion? 

The Speaker : Axel Cleeremans (ULB)

Born in Brussels, Axel Cleeremans obtained an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, he went on to obtain an MS degree in Cognitive Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). At Carnegie Mellon, he subsequently completed his PhD under the supervision of James McClelland in 1991, on modelling of implicit sequence learning by means of artificial neural networks. Thereafter he returned to the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he worked as a Senior Research Assistant for two years, before becoming head of the Cognitive Science Research Unit in 1993 (currently Consciousness, Cognition & Computation Group), as a Research Associate funded by the National Fund for Scientific Research (currently as Research Director). In 2001-2002 he spent a year as a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

His work, broadly situated within the area of consciousness research, has focused on the nature of the processes underlying incidental (or implicit, or unconscious) learning. Specifically, he focuses on the distinction and/or similarities between how learning with and without consciousness takes place in the brain. His main assumption is that consciousness is a graded phenomenon, and that differences between conscious and unconscious information processing result from graded differences in the quality of the underlying neural representations (e.g., strength, stability, distinctiveness), differences which themselves accrue as a result of learning. Thus, while learning may occur without consciousness, consciousness without learning is not possible.

Lavender Witch (be)

Lavender Witch is a feminist grunge-punk band based in Brussels.

On a full moon night in Brussels you might catch a glimpse of Lavender Witch's five muse-icians. Their powerful sound echoes punk, 90s rock, and the Riot Grrrl movement. Centered around intersectional feminism and the magic of rebelliousness, they craft their incantations in full DIY-spirit. Let yourself be enchanted by the anti-patriarchal spells on their debut album "Awakening"!