Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 761–778 | Cite as

Nowhere and Everywhere: The Causal Origin of Voluntary Action

  • Aaron Schurger
  • Sebo Uithol


The idea that intentions make the difference between voluntary and non-voluntary behaviors is simple and intuitive. At the same time, we lack an understanding of how voluntary actions actually come about, and the unquestioned appeal to intentions as discrete causes of actions offers little if anything in the way of an answer. We cite evidence suggesting that the origin of actions varies depending on context and effector, and argue that actions emerge from a causal web in the brain, rather than a central origin of intentional action. We argue that this causal web need not be confined to the central nervous system, and that proprioceptive feedback might play a counterintuitive role in the decision process. Finally we argue that the complex and dynamic origins of voluntary action and their interplay with the brain’s propensity to predict the immediate future are better studied using a dynamical systems approach.


Voluntary Action Intentional Action Supplementary Motor Area Muscle Spindle Movement Onset 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Aaron Schurger was supported by a grant from the Association Robert Debre Pour la Recherche Medicale. Sebo Uithol was supported by the EU grant ‘Towards an Embodied Science of Intersubjectivity’ (TESIS, FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN, 264828).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain-Mind Institute, Department of Life SciencesÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Center for NeuroprostheticsÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of ParmaParmaItaly

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