The Neural Basis of Free Will

The Neural Basis of Free Will

Criterial Causation

By Peter Ulric Tse

A neuroscientific perspective on the mind–body problem that focuses on how the brain actually accomplishes mental causation.





A neuroscientific perspective on the mind–body problem that focuses on how the brain actually accomplishes mental causation.

The issues of mental causation, consciousness, and free will have vexed philosophers since Plato. In this book, Peter Tse examines these unresolved issues from a neuroscientific perspective. In contrast with philosophers who use logic rather than data to argue whether mental causation or consciousness can exist given unproven first assumptions, Tse proposes that we instead listen to what neurons have to say.

Tse draws on exciting recent neuroscientific data concerning how informational causation is realized in physical causation at the level of NMDA receptors, synapses, dendrites, neurons, and neuronal circuits. He argues that a particular kind of strong free will and “downward” mental causation are realized in rapid synaptic plasticity. Such informational causation cannot change the physical basis of information realized in the present, but it can change the physical basis of information that may be realized in the immediate future. This gets around the standard argument against free will centered on the impossibility of self-causation. Tse explores the ways that mental causation and qualia might be realized in this kind of neuronal and associated information-processing architecture, and considers the psychological and philosophical implications of having such an architecture realized in our brains.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262019101 472 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 28 b&w illus.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262528313 472 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 28 b&w illus.


  • ... a groundbreaking new paradigm about how the mind works.

    New York Journal of Books

  • I love Tse's book. It has literally set me free. It explains these ideas in full glory, in exquisite detail...

    Stephen Macknik

    Scientific American


  • Peter Tse boldly attacks the problem of how conscious thoughts can influence the world. His book is not a repetition of eristic yet ultimately tired logical arguments dating back to the ancient Greeks. It's a breath of fresh air, examining the biophysics of synapses and neurons, to offer a testable hypothesis of how the mental causes the physical.

    Christof Koch

    chief scientific officer, Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle; author of Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

  • Peter Tse gives us a full frontal assault on the neuroscience of the will. He brings in the relevant science and shows how mental causation is neuronal causation—detailing where, how, and why it happens. A fascinating read for serious neuroscientists and philosophers.

    Patrick Cavanagh

    Professeur des universités, Université Paris Descartes, and Research Professor, Harvard University and Dartmouth College

  • This book is a fascinating, philosophically informed exploration of the neural underpinnings of mental causation, mental representation, consciousness, and free will. Tse's approach is tough-minded, open-minded, and refreshing. We've heard from several neuroscientists recently that free will is an illusion. Tse ably defends an opposing view.

    Alfred Mele

    Department of Philosophy, Florida State University


  • Winner, 2013 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE Award) for Excellence in Biological & Life Sciences, presented by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers