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Is Free Will Possible ( if all thinking is, in fact, unconscious)?

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Presentation on theme: "Is Free Will Possible ( if all thinking is, in fact, unconscious)?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Is Free Will Possible ( if all thinking is, in fact, unconscious)?

2 Role of Consciousness If all thinking is unconscious (per Jackendoff) or decisions are made unconsciously (per Wegner and Libet), is there any role for consciousness? Jackendoff, Wegner and Libet all provide some role for consciousness in their theories.

3 Libet and the Role of Consciousness Libets Proposed Veto Power Decisions become conscious approximately 200 ms before the movements are made. Only 50 ms are needed for the activation of the nerves to result in a movement. Thus, Libet proposes that in the 150 ms after a decision to act becomes conscious and before a motor command is sent, the consciousness function may be able to veto the action.

4 Libet proposes that this veto power represents our only chance for free will, which he calls free wont. We can decide not to carry out our urges. Libet insists that this veto power must be indeterministic. Others, who do not deny the possibility of a veto power point out that the veto power itself could also be preceded by unconscious processes. According to Libet, however, only indeterministic conscious decisions (i.e. decisions to veto actions) can be free acts. The role of conscious will would be, then, not to initiate a voluntary act but rather to control whether the act takes place. We may view the unconscious initiatives of voluntary actions as bubbling up in the brain. The conscious-will then selects which of these initiatives may go forward to an action or which ones to veto and abort, with no act appearing. (Libet 1999)

5 Wegner and the role of consciousness Consciousness is like a ships compass. The compass points the direction that the ship is heading. The compass does not lead the ship. The compass only responds to the direction taken by the ship. But the compass is not epiphenomenal. The ships captain needs to observe the compass to make decisions on how to steer the ship.

6 In Wegners view, consciousness allows us to know what were doing (like the compass tells the pilot where the ship is going). perhaps we have conscious will because it helps us appreciate and remember what we are doing … [the feeling of conscious will] tells us where we are and prompts us to feel the emotions appropriate to the morality of the actions we find ourselves doing (Wegner 2002) Consciousness of a particular decision cannot affect that decision. It comes too late. However, it informs us of our decisions. Thus, it can indirectly affect our future actions.

7 Jackendoff and the Role of Consciousness Consciousness is a forum for attention. When thoughts are subject to attention, they are available for further processing (by the unconscious inner core). When thoughts are conscious, they become available for reflection and introspection. Reflection and introspection are unconscious, but are operated on thoughts, ideas and images that have become conscious.

8 e.g. Thinking about hitting Sam: thought to hit Sam made unconsciously image of thought becomes conscious conscious image of thought considered by unconscious processes unconscious reasoning generates thought that it is bad to hit it is bad to hit (i.e. phonetic image of thought) becomes conscious conscious image of thought introspected by unconscious thought processes, which generate decision not to hit Sam I wont hit Sam becomes conscious.

9 Consciousness does not do anything. It is a passive forum in which images are presented and available for introspection. Consciousness is necessary for free will because consciousness is necessary for attention and we can only make free decisions on the basis of what we can pay attention to. Free will is conducted unconsciously, but requires consciousness to be involved in the process.

10 Is Free Will Possible? Traditionally, the debate is about whether free will is possible if determinism is true. Determinism: All of our thoughts and actions are ultimately determined by the laws of the universe. Every physical event is determined by prior events and physical states. There are no random or miraculous causes. If you knew all the physical states of all the matter in the universe at time t (e.g. the big bang), you could theoretically predict all subsequent events, including every thought and every action of every person who ever lives. Is this a threat to free will? Question: does indeterminism help?

11 Free Will Theories Compatibilism: Free will is compatible with determinism. Free will can exist even if all our actions are ultimately determined by the laws of physics. Incompatibilism: Free will is not compatible with determinism. If the universe is deterministic, free will is impossible. Libertarianism: We do have free will. Therefore, the universe is not deterministic. Hard determinism: The universe is deterministic (or, if it is indeterministic, indeterminism does not allow for free will either), and there is no free will.

12 Is free will compatible with thinking being unconscious? Both compatibilists and incompatibilists might maintain that free will, if it exists, must be wielded consciously (i.e. only decisions made consciously can be free). If so, Jackendoff, Wegner and Libets theories threaten the possibility of free will. If these theories are true, free will is impossible. But is it? Our question now: it is possible for free will to exist if our decisions are made unconsciously?

13 Possible conclusions Lets assume that all thinking is unconscious. Is free will then possible? There four possible positions to take: Position One All decisions are determined by our unconscious minds. Even a decision to veto an action would be initiated unconsciously before it becomes conscious. Free will requires conscious control of decisions. Therefore, there is no free will. This is a form of hard determinism.

14 Position Two All decisions are initiated by our unconscious minds, but we have veto power. The veto power is conscious, not determined by prior unconscious activities of the brain, and is indeterministic. The initiation of actions is not free but the final approval to act is free. We have free wont. This is Libets stance. This is a form of indeterminism.

15 Position Three We become conscious of a decision before following through with it, and thus are able to veto the decision after reflection. However, the decision to veto an action is also preceded by unconscious processes and is deterministically generated. In other words, reflection upon what has become conscious is an important part of the process of a free action, but neither the decision nor the veto is consciously generated. Because we (our minds as a whole, including both conscious and unconscious functions) have a chance to reflect on our decisions (or urges), the decision is free. This is a form of compatibilism.

16 Position Four Decisions to veto actions, like all decisions, are unconsciously generated and deterministic. There may or may not be time to consciously reflect on a decision before following through with it. However, decisions made by our unconscious minds are normally compatible with our conscious desires and long-term goals. As long as our decisions to act become conscious, and are compatible with our conscious desires and conscious long-term goals, our actions are free. Actions are unfree when we have no conscious awareness of the decisions or the reasons for the decisions. Libets experiments are therefore no threat to free will. This is also a form of compatibilism.

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