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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 6

What Happens to a Society That Does Not Believe in Free Will?

What happens to a society that believes people have no conscious control over their actions?

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In July 2008 retired steelworker Brian Thomas and his wife, Christine, drove their camper van to a small seaside village in Wales. Disturbed by men on motorbikes performing loud stunts, the couple relocated to the parking lot of a nearby inn. Later that night Thomas dreamed that one of the bikers had broken into the van. As he slept, he confused his wife with the imaginary biker and strangled her to death. That is how he told the story, anyway.

The next year a jury had to decide whether Thomas was guilty of murder. He had been prone to sleepwalking since childhood, the jury learned. An expert psychiatrist explained that Thomas was not aware of what he was doing when he choked his wife and that he had not consciously chosen to attack her. Thomas went free.

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