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Free Will | [Sam Harris]

Free Will

A belief in free will touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion.
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Publisher's Summary

A belief in free will touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion.

In this enlightening book, Sam Harris argues that this truth about the human mind does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of social and political freedom, but it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.

©2012 Sam Harris (P)2012 Simon & Schuster

What the Critics Say

"Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. In Free Will, Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris’s books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice." (Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, and author of Why Evolution Is True)

"In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings." (V. S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, and author of The Tell-Tale Brain)

"Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000." (Oliver Sacks)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Jeff Waterloo, Ontario, Canada 07-11-12
    Jeff Waterloo, Ontario, Canada 07-11-12 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Free will is an illusion"
    If you could sum up Free Will in three words, what would they be?

    Short and to-the-point. Sam does a great job of illustrating that we do not REALLY have free will, even if we FEEL like we do.


    If you could give Free Will a new subtitle, what would it be?

    "The Illusion of Free Will"


    Any additional comments?

    My only complaint is that there is no real organization to the book, or his argument. It might help some listeners (readers) if he was more explicit about the argument behind his thesis.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael J. Hudson Alexandria, VA United States 06-05-12
    Michael J. Hudson Alexandria, VA United States 06-05-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Well thought out viewpoint but what to do with it?"
    What did you love best about Free Will?

    It gives a well though out position that seems logically consistent describing why there is no such thing as free will. Sam Harris even addresses his critics and recognizes the irony in the simple fact that he obviously didn't have true free will to decide whether he would write this book or not.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    Its conclusion is disturbing... all the more so, because he does seem to get there without cheating. Or did he? That's the question that arises in your mind after hearing it. If there is no free will, what do you do with that knowledge. He does try to address that near the end, but that was the only part that wasn't convincing to me. Other than pure denial or apathy or laziness, what stops people from living there lives in some kind of Nietzche-like nihilism.

    The only "moral" point that seems to be backed up by his reasoning... and he brings this point to the forefront at the very beginning of the book... is that the criminal justice system needs to be more cognizant of this world-view when sentencing violent criminals... more specifically, that the justice system should be set up to prevent criminal behavior not necessarily punish it... since no one is truly responsible for their behavior (in his world view).

    But again, what does this mean for the rest of us. He argues that this won't and shouldn't turn us all into nihilistic libertines. And he may be right but for the wrong reasons. Even if you accept his arguments, can you really embrace them fully and not go a little wacked. The lack of free will... be it a myth or not... is disturbing, very disturbing. One's own internal self defense mechanisms kick in and the reading all seems like some amnesiac's dream.


    What does Sam Harris bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His reading of the book suffices. Its a philosophical treatise so there is no real need for anything but a straight-forward reading of the book, and Harris delivers that just fine. Of course, it always adds to the hearing of the reading when you know the narrator is the same as the author.


    If you could give Free Will a new subtitle, what would it be?

    Why you should be nice to psychopaths cause you could be one too, who knows?


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas MADISON, AL, United States 04-29-12
    Thomas MADISON, AL, United States 04-29-12 Member Since 2003
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    "Read and think"

    It is well thought out premise. We did not choose our genetics nor our experiences,nor can we control out thoughts or perceptions, so how can our next actions be of our own choosing when our actions are based on who we've become at that moment.

    Loved the book, all ready listened to it twice and working on my third.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael James Arthur 04-22-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Short and sweet!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Free Will to be better than the print version?

    yes! The fact that sam harris narrated this one himself helps, since you don't miss the stress and emphasis that you might miss reading it yourself.


    Any additional comments?

    If you're worried about the short length of the book, don't be. Sam Harris manages to write a coherent, articulate defense of his position without belaboring the point or becoming dull or repetitive. I think it's about the perfect length for the subject.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    04-17-12
    04-17-12 Listener Since 2003
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    "Interesting Waste of Time"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    Ok... I bought this book on the premise of some reviews praising the author for his insight and intelligence.
    However, I found the arguments for the authors line of thinking to be failing in substance and content.
    Interesting how the author compares seemingly meaningless acts such as muscle movement and other various body activity to moral decisions and actions as all being lumped into one grand idea of being at the mercy of the biological creature for every supposed decision we make.
    Overall, I found this book to be very bankrupt in meaning or depth - however thought provoking!


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bries Deerrose 04-17-12
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    "Good quick listen"
    If you could sum up Free Will in three words, what would they be?

    Nothing mind blowing, but a good, concise, & pleasant summary of current psycho-philosophical thinking.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Reno, NV, United States 04-13-12
    Mark Reno, NV, United States 04-13-12 Member Since 2006
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    "Nothing you couldn't get from Sam's blog"
    Any additional comments?

    I loved Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape," and I read his blog and have enjoyed his posts on free will. The book didn't add anything to this very basic synopsis: Free will is an illusion, based on neuroscience, and we can do what we decide but we can't decide what we do. In short, regarding the idea that if you could go back in time, then you could choose differently — no you couldn't. Therefore any hate toward someone for, say, raping you is misplaced. They couldn't have done differently. If anything, you should feel compassion because how would you like to live inside the skin of someone who is a rapist and can't not be a rapist? (Sam is saying this, not me.) The book was fine, and Sam is always engaging but it lacked something special, to set it apart from a compilation of blog posts. I guess I would've wanted more real-world anecdotes and how a society could or should handle the consequences of these antisocial actions differently than it does now. The book didn't help me see how the lack of free will is meaningful in practice for my life or society as a whole. That said, the book is worthwhile if only because there's so little available on audio about this interesting subject. It's a solid brief introduction to determinism.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Phillip United States 04-02-12
    Phillip United States 04-02-12
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    "Thoughtful and backed up by strong fMRI evidence"
    What made the experience of listening to Free Will the most enjoyable?

    Whatever your prior opinions may be regarding the subject, it is hard to deny the author's logic and conclusions based on recent functional MRI (fMRI) research. This field is fairly new, but is revealing insights into the human mind that philosophers only a few decades ago could only dream of. Certainly most of the arguments that Harris puts forth are not new, nor does he go into great depth on the details or breadth of fMRI research, but that is not the goal of this book. Instead it is an excellent primer to the topic and will no doubt encourage further study in many. There is little direct discussion of religion in this book. Even if you disagree with the author's opinions on religion put forth in his prior writings, I encourage you to still consider listening to this book. It's well written and he gets right to the point. Also, the author does a good job as narrator; he is neither dry nor overly dramatic. You probably will not focus on his narration style and will instead focus on the content, which is ideal for this type of material. The audiobook is only 1:15 long and only $6.58 (member price)...I suspect most listeners will find it well worth their time and money. I encourage all readers to learn a bit more about fMRI and marvel at what only recently seemed impossible. No doubt it will radically change our knowledge of the human mind in years to come.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ben Stockport, United Kingdom 04-02-12
    Ben Stockport, United Kingdom 04-02-12
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    "The Brilliance of Sam Harris"
    Where does Free Will rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    In the top three. It is short, to the point, clear and lucid.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Free Will?

    When he associated the lack of Free Will with an expansion of morality.


    Have you listened to any of Sam Harris’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    This is fantastic, just like all of the others.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    Free Will doesn't exist.


    Any additional comments?

    Well done Sam Harris!

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul milwaukee, WI, United States 03-11-12
    Paul milwaukee, WI, United States 03-11-12
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    "great book, but i am a sam harris fan"

    great book, but i am a sam harris fan and have many of the same ideas on free will as he does so i am rather bias.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
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