“We walk around the world and we think that we’re logical people, but we’re not. We’re emotional intuitive creatures.” – Bob Ewing
Every week at Praxis, participants and alumni gather for Praxis Wednesdays, our weekly group discussions featuring guest speakers, academic debates, and skills workshops.
This past week, we were joined by Bob Ewing for a philosophy discussion on the existence of free will. Bob set the stage by making the argument that free will doesn’t exist, then opened the floor for debate.
About the Guest: Bob Ewing is the Director of Communications Training and Strategy for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He trains scholars, activists, and students to effectively convey ideas and stories and explain complex issues. He runs workshops nationwide. Previously, he worked as the Director of Media Relations at Mercatus, and was the Leonard E. Reed Research Fellow at The Foundation for Economic Education.
About the Call: Bob retold the story of Oedipus, then posed the question — was Oedipus responsible for his actions? Were they by choice, or were they predetermined?
Bob then told the story of a murder committed by a woman who suffered from schizophrenia and came from a family who had a history of crime. Were her actions here own fault, or were they determined by her circumstances?
There are three camps in the free will/determinism debate:
- philosophical libertarianism (the philosophical concept that you have agency over your actions – i.e., pro-free will)
- determinism (the belief that every action is determined by a cause — something no one debates in physics)
- compatibilism (believing in both free will and determinism combined)
Bob outlined all three camps, then set the stage for the debate by making a case for determinism:
- There were studies done in the 80s that showed that the electrical impulses to move your hand showed up in your hand before they showed up in your brain. “With every action that we take, the electrical impulses emerge from somewhere that is not your consciousness, and they come to your consciousness once you receive the impulse to act on it.” -Bob Ewing
- “These are definitely two truths of the human condition. 1. We deeply experience the world in a subjective way. Your consciousness is your consciousness. 2. We crave meaning. We look at the world and we want to be able to understand the world around us, and we want to be believe that we play a role in that world, and we’re connected to it.” – Bob Ewing
Bob left participants with the following exercise: if you think you believe in free will, and that you control your thoughts, meditate for one minute, and see if you can prevent any thoughts from occurring for a full minute