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Nathan Nocchi ’17

“The Nature of Free Will in Light of Contemporary Neuroscience”

Major/Minor: Philosophy and Religion
Hometown: Freeland, PA
Project Mentor: Dr. Arash Naraghi  

Briefly describe your project.

The research conducted over the course of the summer consisted of analyzing recent experimentation within the field of neuroscience pertinent to the question of volitional power. These experiments appear to depict consciousness not playing the proper role in the decisional sequence of action. Having been acquainted with the literature, the task was to identify the philosophical implications.  Given a philosophical assessment, the question that was to be answered is one of plausibility. Specifically, which model of volition has the greatest plausibility? The inference from all of these considerations is the view of semi-compatibilism seems to be the model that obtains.

Why did you decide to turn your idea into a SOAR project?

This research project came to fruition during an independent study. During the course of this study, my interest in the volitional power of human agents had greatly increased. This provoked me to consider all pertinent spheres of inquiry regarding the question of free will.

How did your faculty advisor guide you through your research?

Dr. Naraghi has been one of the most, if not the most, influential figures during my undergraduate study here at Moravian College. He challenges me to maintain a high degree of engagement with any project he oversees. Having a great philosophical mind, Dr. Naraghi has helped me deliberate the veracity of each theory and experiment that was considered.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

The research was hindered by my lack of acquaintance with concepts that are only within the realm of neuroscience. Much of the literature that was considered presupposed other experiments that I was not familiar with.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience

What I have become aware of is the task of philosophical inquiry is not as direct as one would imagine. Employing philosophical thought tends to raise more questions than it answers.

What was the result of your project?

My assessment regarding the question of volitional power can be recapitulated in this way; agents do not possess the type of volition that is typically designated as the traditional conception of free will. I believe that our choices lack the proper grounds of alternative possibilities. Even though I retain this notion, I do believe that agents are responsible for each decision that is made.

Will you expand on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?

The current task is to employ this gathered understanding from the SOAR project and apply it to the realm of philosophical theology. The specific application of this understanding will be to the question of Divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity?

I am truly blessed to have been given this opportunity here at Moravian College. I would want to encourage all students to consider conducting research in this manner.