This 2007 Raymond Tallis essay declaring that “free will is not an illusion” can join the Chabris and Simons piece arguing against neuro-determinism, or more generally arguments that rest on the “because fMRI shows that our brains do X when we’re doing this thing that I’m interested in/think is bad, this thing/bad thing is really important:”
There are several strands of thought woven into neuro-determinism. The first is that we are essentially our brains: our consciousness, our belief in ourselves as free agents, and so on, is neural activity in certain parts of the brain. Secondly, these brains have evolved in such a way as to maximise the likelihood of our genetic material being able to replicate…. Thirdly, for a brain to work effectively, it is not necessary for us to be aware of what it is doing. Cognitive psychologists have, over the last few decades, particularly since the advent of neuro-imaging which reveals activity in the living brain, shown how we are unconscious of many things that influence what is going on in our brain and, it is inferred, the perceptions we form and the decisions we make….
[But] Neuro-determinism, though seemingly self-evident, is also wrong.
The first line of attack is to remove the hype from the neuroscience of consciousness and remind ourselves how little we know…. [T]here is not even the beginning of an explanation of our fundamental sense that we are subjects transcended by objects that are ‘out there’, that exist independently of us and have their own intrinsic properties. From its simplest to its most elaborated forms, intentionality – the property of consciousness of being ‘about’ something – remains mysterious….
Secondly, we should question the focus on the stand-alone brain. The world we live in is not one of sparks of isolated sentience cast amid a rubble of material objects. We live in a world that is collectively constructed. Our consciousness is collectivised…. It is no use, therefore, looking for human being, and its free actions, in isolated brains…. We also need a body (which, too, lights up in different ways when we are presented with stimuli); and that body has to be environed; and the environment consists not of bare, material objects but of nexuses of signification that have two kinds of temporal depth – that which comes from personal memory and the explicit sense of our private past; and that which comes from our collective history, insofar as we have internalised it. As Ortega y Gasset said, unlike other animals ‘Man is an inheritor, not a mere descendent’.