The Instigator
Los_Altos_JW
Pro (for)
Losing
15 Points
The Contender
Darth_Grievous_42
Con (against)
Winning
21 Points

Determinism: Free will is an illusion

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/12/2007 Category: Science
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,069 times Debate No: 343
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (13)
Votes (12)

 

Los_Altos_JW

Pro

Free will is an illusion. Every action is caused by previous events, hence, no action can be freely chosen.
Immanuel Kant writes :

"If one takes attributes of existence of things in time for attributes of things in themselves, which is the usual way of thinking, the necessity in the causal relation can in no way be united with freedom. They are contradictory to each other, for the former implies that every event, and consequently every action which occurs at a certain point of time, is necessary under the condition of what preceded it. Since the past is no longer in my power, every action which I perform is necessary because of determining grounds which are not in my power. That means that at the time I act I am never free."

In addition, before the human consciousness willingly takes an action the unconsciousness of the brain has already begun that action. Since the free will of humans has no control of the unconsciousness, human actions are necessarily deterministic. Benjamin Libet writes,
"Our experimental evidence, described in Chapter 2, showed that activations of the sensory cortex have to proceed for up to about 500 msec to produce awareness of a sensory signal. When the duration of the luminal stimulus to the sensory cortex was reduced below the threshold --- such as 400 msec or even 450 msec – no sensory awareness was reported. The subjects reported, "I felt nothing." A similar situation was found for trains of stimulus pulses applied to specific ascending sensory pathway in the brain; this is the fast pathway from the medulla to cerebral cortex. In spite of this presumed actual delay in the awareness of the boy and the ball for up to 500 msec, you are capable of slamming on the break in about 150 msec or less after the [the boy appeared. That action, therefore, must be performed unconsciously, without awareness. Amazingly, your delayed awareness can be automatically but subjectively antedated, or referred back in time, so you would report seeing the boy immediately.
Stepping on the brake is not a simple spinal reflex. It involves recognizing the nature of the signal and a decision to act, in order not to hit him. This fairly complex mental function is carried out unconsciously.
We were able to examine this issue experimentally. What we found, in short, was that the brain exhibited an initiating process, beginning 550 msec before the freely voluntary act; but awareness of the conscious will to perform the act appeared only 150—200 msec before the act. The voluntary process is therefore initiated unconsciously, some 400 msec before the subject becomes aware of her will or intention to perform the act."

According to the law of the excluded middle, every statement must either be true or false, regardless of time frame. The implication is that even though humanity has no access to this knowledge, the future is already predetermined because all statements regarding the future are already determined to be either true or false from the beginning of time. Alessandro Becchi explains

"Historically, several different formulations of the principle of the excluded middle have been given; here we'll adopt the following: every proposition is either true or false, that is, it possesses one and only one of the two truth values, truth and falsity. In this sense the principle of the excluded middle amounts to the so called ‘principle of bivalence'. If we consider future-tensed sentences, this logical principle seems to entail determinism. Take for instance the sentence �Tomorrow noon Bin Laden will be captured by the American soldiers�, as uttered today; according to the excluded middle such a sentence expresses a proposition that is already now true or false. But if such proposition is already true today then it seems that the fact at issue must necessarily occur tomorrow (analogously if the proposition is false). Really, it doesn't matter at all if such a sentence is actually uttered or thought by someone or not; it seems to be in the very nature of the case whether the fact described by such a sentence will occur or not. And such a fact would be ‘decided' from all eternity."
Darth_Grievous_42

Con

To start off, I will discuss the flaw of the "subconscious" argument. When we think of who we are, we usually consider ourselves, emphasis on "self", as the body we see in the mirror, and the actions that can be observed from others our ourselves. This is not the case. While, yes, our bodies are apart of "ourselves", but in reality, most body structures are rudimentary the same, it is the brain that is our true "self", as it controls the thoughts and actions of the machine that is our body. An analogy: our bodies are like cars, and the brain is the operator. Without the brain, the body is useless matter. I explain all this to emphasize an important point: As the brain is our true self, the actions of the subconscious are also our actions, even though our active minds are not directly aware of the action itself. My sources are many years of education, and a father who is a scientist on the actions of the brain.

Secondly, on the note of "every action is determined by a previous action". This is not an entirely true statement. MOST actions are a result of a previous action. Examples: taking a step with your left foot because you took a step from your right, stopping at a light, digesting your food because you ate it. However, not all actions MUST be determined by a previous action. They can be completely random and uncalled for. For instance, should you murder someone, there seems to be only two reasonable responses: run or stay and get caught. Both of these options would be a direct result of the murder, however, there are possibilities that one could take that have no direct relation to the crime, such as going to the bathroom, or making a sandwich. One could also choose to simply do nothing with no mindset whatsoever. Any of these options would not ave been preceded by the case. Another simple example would be hunger and thirst. When one is hungry, the usual following action is to eat. When one is thirsty, one usually drinks. However, one may choose to ignore both of the possibilities and starve, thus causing death. The Choice to drink would be a result of thirst, yet the refusal is a result of will, and death because of that. The two options are not one in the same, but completely different. In order for something to be determined by your argument, every action would need to be a direct action of the one preceding it, which is not the case. This thus means choices, and ergo, will.

To your true or false argument. This is an untrue argument. nothing can be either true or false until it has happened, not before. A weatherman can predict the weather, and he'll either be right or wrong, true. However, there is still the time in between the prediction where anything can happen. A wind change, a temperature drop. While he made the prediction, the events that are happening at the moment are what make that prediction come into place
, not the prediction in itself. Had he said nothing, what ever happened would still happen whether pointed out or not. Had it not been by anyone in the world, it would make the weather result neither true nor false, as there would be no contradictory.

I believe the only matter of fact way that man kind can finish this argument once and for all is via time travel, as childish as that sounds. Should it be possible to move from the past to the present or present to future, this would show that a string of events is already laid out like a road that can be traveled to any destination on it. Otherwise, life is like a succession of snapshots moving rapidly, like a film. Analogy: imagine watching a film with no remote, but continues to go. There is no rewind or fast forward. The only manner to recall what has happened previously is what you remember, and all you can see of the future is your own predictions, though anything can happen. This is how real life is now. There is evidence of a past, and that events occurred in it, however, there is no physical past. Everything that happens is in the here and now. You enter it and then its gone faster than you can even realize.
Debate Round No. 1
Los_Altos_JW

Pro

For clarity, I will be defending my arguments in the same order that my opponent discusses them.

First, regarding the argument about the subconscious, it is important to note that my opponent neglects to respond to the substance of the argument; rather he argues that the subconscious or unconsciousness of the human brain is still within our definition of "self". I will concede that the self is centered in the brain. However, this does not necessarily mean that we have full control of the self. My argument regarding the subconscious simply states that all actions of the self are determined by subconscious thoughts, of which we have no control over. Hence, even though the subconsciousness is part of the self, it is not a part that we can freely control. The implication is that we have no control of our wills.

Next, regarding the causality argument, my opponent presents two examples. His first example, regarding going to the bathroom after a murder, argues that we can take random actions that are not caused by previous actions. However, this argument is flawed because he assumes I am only talking about one previous cause. It is true that my going to the bathroom has no relation to my committing a murder, but that action is still caused by my previous drinking of water, which in turn is caused by events further back. My opponent's second example discusses the human ability to ignore our impulses, such as choosing to ignore my hunger in the wake of more crucial needs. However, I would argue that this ignoring of hunger is simply an effect of other past events. Hence, even if we ignore one impulse, we are still acting in a way that is determined by past events, since these events influence our reasoning.

The final argument I present is the argument from truth and falsity. This logical argument states that every event must either happen or not happen. My opponent misunderstands this argument and argues that we can never predict whether an event will happen or not. However, this does not matter. Take for instance, the statement "I will murder someone on Dec 16. 2007" Regardless of whether I know it or not, that statement must be true or false. In addition, the truth or falsity of this statement is determined regardless of time frame because of the nature of truth. An inherently true statement cannot become false. Thus, if the preceding example is true, then it is true today, tomorrow, or before I was born. Hence, I cannot be said to have freely chosen that action if that action was determined to happen years before I even existed.

Regarding my opponents last notes, he argues that we can never know the past. However, I have shown logical and empirical proof that free will is flawed. My first argument shows experimental evidence showing how the conscious "choice" is in fact controlled by unconscious chemical actions in our brains, which we have no control over. The causality argument shows that the current state of the world is causally determined by past states, and the logical determinist argument proves that through the nature of language, the future is already determined from the beginning of time, despite the fact that humanity will never possess this knowledge.
Darth_Grievous_42

Con

I will defend myself in chronological order of the defences given by pro

The important fact of the subconscious that you, as I will refer directly to Los_Altos_JW, seem to ignore one I came outright with saying that the subconscious is apart of our self. You claim that we have no direct control over it, yet still concede that it is apart of our "self". I find this to be contradictory. While we may not feel that we have no control over the subconscious, the subconscious is still apart of us, and thus we do have control over it, though we may not be aware of it. No more aware are we of the actions of our subconscious than we are of the acids being released in our stomach, or the complex circulation of blood from our hearts through the vanes and back again. We, in terms of our whole body, are still going through these processes, and while our active minds may not have a direct hold over them, they still work. Everything inside us is us, and can not be negated of being apart of us.

To the second point: Yes, going to the bathroom is an action caused by a previous one, but was still not caused by the succession of events that followed the drinking of water. Should our fates be determined, every action would need to be effected by every preceding event. This argument did have its flaws, I will admit, and I will not precede with this case unless further argument is called upon it.
As to my second example: I do not feel a strong argument was made on this point. I did not say that there where any pre-causes following up to this stop of nourishment, only that they simply stopped. If an scenario is needed: A man is hungry, but simply did not eat. There where no outside influences, nor previous thought processes, he simply did not eat, and had no thoughts about it even up till death. While highly improbable, this is a perfectly possible scenario. In this case, what past event influenced him, also assuming he had no brain disorders or illnesses?

On the final argument: I do not misunderstand this point. I will work on your example "I will murder someone on Dec 16. 2007". At the time the statement is uttered, there is neither a true nor false, as the event has not occurred. As the event has not occurred, there is still the time period of "possibility". Anything can happen within this period, literally, anything. You could end up killing the person, whether intentional or not, and very easily you could not. BUT, until the event has happened there is still the shadow of a doubt, and that is all that's needed. Once it is Dec 17, 2007, then the event can properly be marked "true or false". To summaries: the statement itself does not necessitate the accuracy of it. The nature of truth cannot be determined until the action has passed, therefore verifying it to be true, all other prediction, whether proving true or not, are by default false until having actually happened.

One my note: I do not say we cannot know the past, but that we can never prove the existence of one. However, I have shown empirical and logical proof that determinism is flawed, via the natural world. Should this discussion reach to religious territory, it would make all previous arguments null and void. My first and second rebuttal proves that the actions controlled by the chemicals in our brains are still apart of us, therefore, we are still making the choice, whether aware of it or not. The causality argument is still not 100% settled either way in my opinion, though I'm sure you, Los_Altos_JW, think otherwise. Mankind can never know the future as there is no way to prove there is one, only the actions and consequences of the past. WHile past events may have a hold over certain aspects of the here and now, and the events that are yet to come, not all are. We must all remember, that while it is still uncertain how, there was a beginning, and nothing preceded it to work off of.
Debate Round No. 2
Los_Altos_JW

Pro

First, my opponent argues that we are able to control all aspects of the "self". However, this is empirically denied. I cannot claim to control my sense of hunger, since hunger is determined by the amount of food in my stomach and not any semblance of "free will". Similarly, we cannot control the parts of the autonomic nervous system, i.e. breathing, heartbeat even though these actions are determined by the synapses in the brain. Hence, the argument that we can freely control all parts of our "self" is simply false.
To summarize my first argument, I provided experimental evidence that showed that all "decisions" made by the human consciousness are actually determined by events of the unconsciousness, and hence cannot be controlled. Because all our decisions are already made by the unconsciousness prior to our awareness, it is impossible for us to ever control these decisions.

Second, my opponent argues that despite the fact that my going to the bathroom is caused by my drinking of water, it is not caused by all past events. he argues that "every action would need to be effected by every preceding event." or else determinism would be false. This is flawed, as he admits, because if an action is caused by ONE previous event, then it is out of human control. This is sufficient to prove determinism true.

My opponent's next point argues that a person could just randomly not go to the bathroom even though he needs to. My opponent claims this would be possible, but that fact seems to be a claim at best and lacks any warrant. More over, even if it were possible for such a random thing to happen, it would not be a conscious choice, which is defined as a decision based upon reason. A reason would be caused by a past event. Hence, even if my opponent wins his argument that random things can happen, such an event would not qualify as "free will" and hence does nothing in this debate.

Finally, my opponent contests that things cannot be true prior to it happening. I will admit that this argument may seem a little counter-intuitive or confusing, but the nature of language and logic means that everything must be true or false. My opponent argues that there is always a shadow of doubt, and that there is possibility. However, these arguments reference what we KNOW about a statement, not the inherent truth value of it. I conceded that it impossible to know whether things are true or false, but it has to be one or the other nonetheless. My opponent mistakes the distinction between ontology, or what things are, and epistemology, or what we know. Going back to the example, if I will kill someone on a certain date, regardless of what happens between now and then, I either will or will not. At any point in time, I can't be both going to and not going to. Hence, the inherent truth of that statement is already determined, because things have to be either true or false. If, like my opponent argues, a car kills me at the last second before I commit a murder, then the statement "i will kill someone on X date" is false regardless of time, and the statement "I will get run over on X date" is true.

As a final note, I understand that determinism is a pretty counter-intuitive argument and philosophy. However, through logic and evidence, we can see beyond mere perception and illusion and see that in fact, free will is a mere illusion.
Darth_Grievous_42

Con

To first reiterate, we are controlling all aspects of the self, just not consciously. ANything inside you is the self. You may not be realize it but you are telling yourself "be hungry, breathe, pump blood", via the natural systems in your brain for the good of the body. Its just developed to a point where it is redundant and automatic, thus you do not need to be direct control over it. The body is elegant and complex enough where it can take some matters in its own hands, yes, but it is still never the less, irrevocably you. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Meaning that even if you don't know it, its still happening, and your still doing it to yourself.

I disagree with your assumption that I gave up on this point because of a "determinism realization" I merely feel that I did not present my point well enough. I conclude the point by saying that one previous action is not sufficient evidence that all man's fate is set out before him. It is not illogical for anything to base its actions by a previous one, but saying that this trait forfeits a being having its own will is. I will not provide extra evidence as this is the last round.

The bathroom argument does not need warrant as it is pure common sense and knowledge. Also, the last example was about eating, but I digress. If a mans urinary needs where strictly controlled by the subconscious than we would just go anytime we feel the need to relive ourselves, however, we have the ability to "hold it in". Anyone who's been on a road trip knows this. We wait until there is a suitable opportunity, not for our bladders, but for our pride. The body's best interest would be to evacuate the waste, but our conscious selves deny our body and purposefully bring pain to ourselves. I believe this sounds like a conscious choice, no? Our subconscious, as I explained before, works in the body's interests, not so much the mind. While there are many aspects we cannot control, simply because we need not to, we can make choices, most apparently in our bad ones. But as I said before, it is still us making that choice, consciously or not.

My final claim, is not constricted by what we know. The nature of language and logic means that everything is true or false correct? I do not say this is wrong, but merely nothing can be true or false until it has actually happened. It is also not restricted by what we know, it applies to the whole universe. An animal has died in the woods. No human will ever know about it, never the less, it is still true that it is dead. Prior to its death, however, there was the possibility, no matter how slim, that this beast would never die. It could theoretically live forever. When the animal was alive, it was true that it was alive, and false that it was dead. It could continue to be that way, as nothing can be certain in this creatures life until it has happened. It could vanish and never be heard from again anywhere in the universe, just like that. It could go walking on forever. Or die. In this case, it did die. Now it is true that it is dead, and false that it is alive. Until it has finally died, it cannot be said that it will die, even if all usual methods of reason, like the observation of a disease or old age, are taken into consideration. Thus, I am not saying that the "nature of language and logic" theory is incorrect, quite the contrary, but nothing can be true until it actually is.

Free will is not an illusion, and it is not a fact. Neither is it truth or lie. AT the moment, it is a theory, a belief. As I said in the first round, until we find a definite means to discover both the future and past, nothing is certain. However, I believe I've given sufficient evidence to point out that free will is highly likely to be true at the moment. But anything is possible.

Thank you Los_Altos_JW for this debate, it was a pleasure. I wish I could have been more a person to you, but it takes different strokes to rule the world. To the audience: I hope that you will not vote in accordance to your own personal belief, but to the better argument, be it mine or Mr. Altos. Darth_Grievous_42 out.
Debate Round No. 3
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by GaryBacon 9 years ago
GaryBacon
I just had a very similar debate, but with different arguments used.
Posted by Vikuta 9 years ago
Vikuta
In absolute terms, there is no such thing as free-will. In practice, however, this means absolutely nothing. No one can predict the future. People have to be held accountable for what they do.
Posted by Darth_Grievous_42 9 years ago
Darth_Grievous_42
Oh yeah, I try to do the same thing everytime I vote. I like feedback to. I'll try to work on my points better in the future. Thanks
Posted by kvaughan 9 years ago
kvaughan
that's cool darth_grevious. I've just been trying to provide feedback on why I voted the way I did on debates. I get frustrated when I lose, but I don't understand why (or people's reasons seem to be something not argued by my opponent).
Posted by Darth_Grievous_42 9 years ago
Darth_Grievous_42
kyaughan: Which is exactly why I said "This argument did have its flaws, I will admit, and I will not precede with this case unless further argument is called upon it." in which case it was, though I conceded the point. I'm not very proud I brought it up on the first place, I easily could have found a better example. Oh well, whats done is done.
Posted by kvaughan 9 years ago
kvaughan
I don't think the bathroom argument really demonstrates an uncaused action. Maybe he goes to the bathroom because he has to pee or makes a sandwich because he's hungry. You basically just fiat that some actions are uncaused, give a random example and call it a day. Surely a criminal who makes a sandwich has done it for some reason, even if a really bad one.

That being said, I think it's beyond our epistemological limits to know that everything is caused. We just can't know a universal like that.

But, pro does a better job on the causation argument so I vote pro.
Posted by Harlan 9 years ago
Harlan
Great debate. This is one of my favorite subjects to discuss. I am personally a determinist.
Posted by Darth_Grievous_42 9 years ago
Darth_Grievous_42
I will post my response in time, definitely within the parameters of the allotted time that we have. I am not nearly as educated fact-wise on this topic as my opponent. I beg your forgiveness and thank you for your patience as I further prepare my response.
Posted by joze14rock 9 years ago
joze14rock
By the strict Philosophical definition of Determinism, you're right, it isn't a fact.
I understand that Philosophical Libertarians have been refuting Determinism not only for years, but for CENTURIES. But one who debates strictly philosophically risks in loosing himself in his own jargon. One has to have an equilibrium between philosophy and just plain common sense. We search for truth to the extent that we understand that their are limits. Their is a point where continous questioning makes you look like a fool.
Determinism, but its mere commonsensical meaning, is a fact. My brain is telling my fingers to type so in effect their words on the computer etc. I think, it's not whether we refute determinism, it's how we measure the extent of determinism. Free Will is compatible with Determinism.
Keep in mind, before the progression of Modern Philosophy, the ancient Philosophers believed that we were subject to a Divine Will. But that Divine Will gave us extreme freedom.
Now if we are going to say that Religion is the concoction of a confused ape like being questioning why he is and what the world is,
then we should stoop down to that simple innocence of pondering instead of getting philosophically extravagant with what Determinism and Free Will is and how it relates to us.
But I must say, I love the philosophical tangents Determinists and Free Will Theorists have.
Posted by Fenrir 9 years ago
Fenrir
Determinism really isn't a fact; it's a subject that has been debated by philosophers for years. And while it is not possible to disprove, free will theory has so far remained free from being disproven as well. And you say man has freedom of will?

Philosophically speaking, incompatibalists, which include both hard determinists and free will theorists, agree that in order for man to have free will--and thus not have predetermined actions--he is required not only to be able to act as he wills, but that his will must not be dependent on his desires; that is, he must have freedom of will. Determinists believe that man does not have freedom will, and as such his actions are predetermined. However, you claim both that determinism is a fact and that we have freedom of will, a logical contradiction.
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