Doubting Free Will: Three Experiments

8 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2010 Last revised: 27 Mar 2010

Date Written: January 12, 2010


This paper describes three experiments that cast doubt on the existence of free will. All deal with the phenomenon that, for a variety of reasons, people do not consciously experience events (including their own “choices”) at the exact instant they occur. The existence of these delays is sufficient to cast serious doubt on the possibility of conscious free will, i.e., free will as we usually understand it.

While these experiments do not definitely exclude the possibility of free will, they do provide affirmative evidence that our brains do not consciously make decisions in quite the way that introspection tells us. As such, they throw into question the factual basis of the freewill justification for purposefully inflicting serious human suffering as punishment.

This paper is a break out from an earlier version of my companion paper, Free Will Ideology: Experiments, Evolution and Virtue Ethics, available at SSRN:

Keywords: free will, criminal law, punishment, determinism, compatibilism, voluntary act, retribution, retributivism, evolution, Libet, Phi effect, human suffering, neuroscience, brain, behavior

Suggested Citation

Humbach, John A., Doubting Free Will: Three Experiments (January 12, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

John A. Humbach (Contact Author)

Pace University School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
(914) 422-4239 (Phone)
(914) 422-4015 (Fax)


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