Free will exists
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This debate will last for 4 rounds, with 3 days to post each round. There will be 30,000 characters available to each debate for each round. Voting will last for 1 week. I am taking the Con position.
Pro will be arguing that free will exists, Con will be arguing against this resolution.
Free will: The capacity to make a conscious choice in which the outcome has not been predetermined by past events.
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10. Violation of any of these rules, or of any of the description's set-up, merits a loss.
R1. Pro's Case; Con's Case
R2. Pro generic Rebuttal; Con generic Rebuttal
R3. Pro generic Rebuttal; Con generic Rebuttal
R4. Pro Summary; Con Summary
To investigate whether voluntary actions are initiated consciously or unconsciously, Libet et al. (1983) asked participants to flex their wrists whenever they wanted and measured (1): the action itself, (2): the electric brain activity in the motor cortex of the brain that is associated with the action – also called readiness potential (RP) -, and (3): the conscious awareness of having decided to initiate an action – also known as the will to perform the action (W). (1) was measured using an electromyogram (EMG), where electrodes were attached to the wrist to measure the electrical activity produced by the muscles, (2) was measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG), where electrodes are attached to the scalp to detect the RP, and (3) was measured by asking the participants to report the location of a dot on a virtual clock when they decided to act.
If conscious thoughts caused the initiation of actions, we would expect the will to initiate an action (3) to occur first, followed by the initiation of the action (2) and finally the flexion of their wrist (1). Libet, however, found that the action was initiated in the motor cortex (2) 350ms before the participants reported the will to initiate the action (3) followed by the action (1) a further 200ms later. In other words, the unconscious brain processes that are associated with the action preceded the conscious ‘decision’ by 350ms and the performance of the action by 550ms. Libet subsequently concluded that at least some of our deliberate actions are initiated unconsciously before we become consciously aware of them even though we have the impression of having consciously decided to initiate the action.
Soon et al. (2008) carried out a similar experiment to determine which regions in the brain predetermine conscious intentions at the time at which they start shaping a motor decision. The researchers asked the participants to freely decide to press one of two buttons when they wanted to. The action was measured by recording the time when the buttons were pressed, the brain activity was measured and the location of the activity determined by using fMRI, and the conscious awareness of having made a decision was measured by asking participants to fixate on a computer screen where a stream of letters was presented and to report the letter that was present when they decided which button to press.
It was found that the brain activity associated with the action preceded the conscious decision by 7-10 seconds and brain activity that predicted which button would be pressed preceded the action by as much as 5 seconds. Soon et al. (2008) concluded that when a subject's decision reaches awareness, it has already been processed unconsciously for several seconds.
I have been very careful to represent the conclusions of these studies as carefully as possible, I would, however, like to clarify that while these findings to do not permit one to form the conclusion that every action is caused by unconscious factors with certainty, they certainly point in this direction as "Unconscious neural activity has been repeatedly shown to precede and potentially even influence subsequent free decisions." (Soon et al., 2013) and subsequent research keeps confirming these findings in different areas: Soon et al. (2013) found that "decisions at multiple scales of abstraction evolve from the dynamics of preceding brain activity.", Smith (1999) showed that it is logically impossible to consciously choose one's next word or one's next experience because they would have to be conscious already, and Velmans (1991) investigated whether there is any processing going on in consciousness and found none after reviewing the relevant literature, thus I raise the question of how conscious thoughts can cause actions, when consciousness seems to be nothing but information, while all the processing is occurring unconsciously.
“How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware?”
― Sam Harris, Free Will
“Nihil est sine ratione.[There is nothing without a reason.]”- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
“Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will."[Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.]― Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms
“The implication of the free-will doctrine are not realized by those who hold it. We say “why did you do it?” and expect the answer to mention beliefs and desires which caused action. When a man does not himself know why he acted as he did, we may search his unconscious for a cause, but it never occurs to us that there may have been no cause.”― Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science
- LIBET, BENJAMIN & A. GLEASON, CURTIS & W. WRIGHT, ELWOOD & Pearl, Dennis. (1983). Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity (Readiness-Potential): The Unconscious Initiation of a Freely Voluntary Act. Brain: a journal of neurology. 106 (Pt 3). 623-42. 10.1093/brain/106.3.623.
- Soon, Chun & Brass, Marcel & Heinze, Hans-Jochen & Haynes, John-Dylan. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature neuroscience. 11. 543-5. 10.1038/nn.2112.
- Soon, C., He, A., Bode, S., & Haynes, J. (2013). Predicting free choices for abstract intentions. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 110(15), 6217-6222.
- Smith R. L. (1999). A testable mind-brain theory. J. Mind Behav. 20, 421–36
- Velmans M. (1991). Is human information processing conscious? Behav. Brain Sci. 14, 651–726 10.1017/S0140525X00071776
- A quote from Free Will. (2018). Goodreads.com. Retrieved 8 December 2018, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1380122-how-can-we-be-free-as-conscious-agents-if-everything
- A quote by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. (2018). Goodreads.com. Retrieved 15 December 2018, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/926276-nihil-est-sine-ratione-there-is-nothing-without-a-reason
- Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24.
- A quote from Essays and Aphorisms. (2018). Goodreads.com. Retrieved 15 December 2018, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/38517-der-mensch-kann-tun-was-er-will-er-kann-aber
- A quote from Religion and Science. (2018). Goodreads.com. Retrieved 15 December 2018, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/9602195-the-implication-of-the-free-will-doctrine-are-not-realized-by
“Perfect rationality consists, not in believing what is true, but in attaching to every proposition a degree of belief corresponding to its degree of credibility.”― Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Value