Starting points for agency research | Chapter individual record

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015. The chapter in this book on “Neurobiological Perspectives of Agency” was based on the premise that agency research should start with identification of what is generally accepted as more or less axioms. I identified and explained ten such axioms. Next, I identified more contentious issues that are central to areas of research most in need of further research. In this chapter, I respond to the critiques of three commentators. There were few challenges to the originally stated axioms and propositions, which suggests to me that the groundwork has been laid for future research. Zhu (Chap. 6, this volume) takes a position that we need to evaluate “agency in a creature’s ecological niche and whole life realm,” which reinforces my position of the need to study the elements of agency such as intention, memory, value estimation, decisions, preparation, and planning, as well as the actual action. He stresses that we need research on how these elements are organized and interact with each other. As regards my arguments that human free will is not an illusion, Zhu adds the distinctiveness of human reason. Schlosser (Chap. 6, this volume) and I quibble over the elements of agency, but converge on the conclusion that consciousness is constituted by neural events and does not have to intervene in neural processes because consciousness is a neural process. He also challenges my proposition 10, that consciousness is a state of being. He apparently disdains my idea that consciousness is a self-aware neural representation of a “little person.” That idea of “little person,” in terms of physiology, are the topographical body maps, both sensory and motor. The brain knows its body, where everything is, and how to engage its parts in agency. To the brain, there is a mental little person (body)—the self. Even non-mapped functions, such as emotions, are processed in the context of self. The brain can engage this built-in “little person” in one of two states: unconscious and conscious, even as these states interact. Toates (Chap. 6, this volume) provides a helpful way to think about agency in terms of its goal-directed nature and its susceptibility to reinforcement. He likes to think about agency in terms of a system I (fast, reactive agency, and unconscious) and system II (slower, reflective, and operating in consciousness). He also argues that scientists should not be so dismissive of the condemnation of the classic “fallacy” of a “ghost in the machine.” He seems sympathetic to my arguments that noetic sciences and “spooky physics” might have undiscovered relevance to human consciousness.

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Klemm, W. R.
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