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Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

What intent is not

Intent is different from other possible triggers of activity, such as instincts and urges, reflexes, desires, and even will. Instincts and urges are reactions or responses that clearly do not need to be intentional. However, the distinction between will and intent may need to be elaborated further because it is not self-evident. Intent is a pre-thought, pre-language (in other words, pre-construct) phenomenon, while will has a cognitive basis, closely related to conscious decisions. As the former is not constructed it can never be precisely formulated, while the latter can.

The already mentioned experiments by Libet provide support for the difference between will and intent. In the case of a voluntary action, such as moving a finger, for example, a pre-verbal and pre-thought energy impulse (intent) first initiates a neuronal activity. This is called readiness potential (a tension before an action, detected by EEG as a voltage change in the brain region associated with such action). Formulating the impulse (a cognitive process known as decision and normally associated with will) comes later. It is like a driver who first starts the engine, and only after a few moments moves the car. So, in a way, the engine is prepared for the action before the driver decided to move the car – but after he had intended to do so. Congruent with Libet’s own conclusions, will (decision) has a purpose either to veto or proceed further with the intended action (see Libet, 2004).

Of course, many other physiological, environmental, and mental factors (e.g. needs, social pressure, personal principles) influence will.

Animals and human infants do not show much will (they may exhibit the peculiarities of their character, but this is not will). They have little overall conscious control of their actions. Intent, on the other hand, is present in all life forms from the beginning, although it may not be strong and

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