Dogs experience free will or consciousness

brain research

Franz M. Wuketits

To person

Dr. phil., born 1955; Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Vienna, Universitätsstrasse 7, 1010 Vienna / Austria.
Email: [email protected]

What is it like to be aware that free will is just an illusion? We can pretend that we are free to choose, and in everyday life the problem does not matter.


A few years ago a young American forgot his baby daughter in the car. Instead of delivering them to the daycare center, as he did every day on the way to his work place, he had taken them with him and left them in the car. The infant suffocated in the closed car that had been parked in a parking lot in the blistering heat all day. It is a terrible incident. Of course, the man will be despised as an irresponsible father, but he also deserves pity. Let us assume that he is not a bad person and showed his child the usual paternal affection, then he is punished by this terrible event for the rest of his life.

What happened? For some reason, the man must have been absent-minded that day, so preoccupied with something that everything else - even his little child - momentarily disappeared from his mind. He certainly had no intention of endangering his daughter, but neither was he able to act in such a way as to keep the child safe. In any case, one will not be able to speak of free will. Perhaps it would be a very small consolation for the man to know that he did not act "freely".

Everyone knows other, much more harmless examples, which also cast doubt on the fact that humans act by virtue of their free will. Admittedly, most of them already heard in school that humans are endowed with understanding and a free will, which distinguishes them from all living beings. And in general we also believe that we are free to choose, to choose freely between alternatives. But can we really do that? Many brain researchers deny that. Everyone is, says Wolf Singer for example, as he is and cannot be otherwise. The brain sets the tone, people only do what their brain tells them to do. From the perspective of evolutionary biology, things look similar. Of course, the brain is not an entity that is detached from the rest of our physical existence, but it is the control center of our perceptions, our thoughts, actions and wills.