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Digital Subscriptions > Life and Work > September 2018 > How free is your will?

How free is your will?

Jackie Macadam meets an academic who has studied the science of the mind.

PROFILE

“FREE will is obviously an age old puzzle. Are we free to make our own choices or are we determined by our genes and our environments?”

Dr Tillmann Vierkant is a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University’s school of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, and has worked with the Church of Scotland’s Society, Religion and Technology project including helping them report to the General Assembly in 2012.

Among other topics, he studies conscious will and the ‘zombie challenge.’ The zombie challenge is the worry that our behaviour is produced by unconscious processes and our conscious mind does not cause behaviour at all. He says there are many famous empirical findings that have been interpreted as supporting that claim and the discussion whether or not the zombie challenge actually succeeds is still one of the hot topics in philosophy of cognitive science.

Apart from free will and the zombie challenge he works on theory of mind, mental actions, metacognition, neuroethics and many other areas of philosophy of cognitive science.

Born in Bavaria, Tillmann grew up in a largely Catholic culture where the church influence was very present.

“My family was agnostic in spite of our surroundings, but I was always interested in, and on the whole, sympathetic to, the work of the church”, he says.

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