Summary of The Illusion of Conscious Will

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The Illusion of Conscious Will book summary
You believe your thoughts cause your actions, but perhaps your will is not always really in charge.


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Daniel M. Wegner’s book is a lucid, entertaining exploration of one of the most important issues in philosophy and psychology: the existence of will. Extreme determinists contend that people are mechanisms programmed to do what they do and that any notion of freedom or choice is merely illusory. Their antagonists, the proponents of free will, say that people consciously freely choose to act (at least some of the time). Wegner falls into the former camp. Conscious will, he says, is an illusion. But in a wide-ranging ramble that touches on law and the courts, spirit possession, hypnotism, neuroscience, phantom limbs and Ouija boards among other things, he builds a strong anecdotal case that this illusion is essential to being human. The book is curiously desultory, now citing some experiment on the brain in deadly earnest academic language, and then tossing off a flip remark about a popular stage magician or an apparently very clever horse. finds it both entertaining and elucidating, although it may not always rise to the most demanding standards of philosophical evidence and argument.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why, when you make up your mind to do something, you don’t do it;
  • How little you may actually have to do with your own actions; and
  • The three things you need to experience will.


The Problem of Will
It seems that we make up our minds; it also seems that after making up our minds, we act. It seems that, sometimes, in the midst of acting we change our minds and stop acting.

What if none of what seems to be is true? What if it is all an illusion? In...
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About the Author

Daniel M. Wegner is a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

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