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
"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)
Do we have free will or are we merely complex stimulus response devices. Can we know? Does it matter?
I believe that I have some control over the outcome of my life. I make choices and those choices have consequences. My choices are strongly influenced by my heredity, the conditions under which my brain developed, and the accumulated experiences of my life. Nonetheless, I believe that I exercise some measure of free will in my conscious decision making.
Sam Harris asserts that this is an illusion. His argument rests on the assumption of a material universe wholly governed by natural laws dictating the interactions of the matter in that universe. That assumption is unaltered by the existence of energy as an alternative form of matter or by the possibility of multiverses. He tells us that we live in a clock-work universe where future states arise from present states. The randomness of quantum mechanics may create some uncertainty about those future states, but it does not provide freedom of choice to the collection of atoms of which we consist. It is an interesting argument, but it is irrelevant.
Free will is not a thing; it is a construct. We generally think of free will as the ability to act without certain constraints. By treating free will as the ability to act without any constraints, Harris easily defines it away.
The problem with using science to make a philosophical argument is that there is much that science cannot yet tell us. Indeed, there may be much that science will never be able to tell us. What makes science useful is that it identifies the “laws” that predict the behavior of matter and energy. Those predictions help us to harness matter an energy to do useful things. We need to remember that those laws are not in and of themselves an objective reality; they are simply models that help us navigate the universe in which we live. In the same sense, free will is a behavioral model that helps us understand the extent to which we can reasonably hold another creature.
The important question is not whether or not we have free will, but rather how free our will really is. Read in that light, Harris makes some very important points. We sometimes forget how much of our lives are determined by factors out of our control. By extension, we forget how much of other people’s lives are determined by factors out of their control. Both nature and nurture conspire to mold us into what we are. Perhaps we could take a little less credit for how well things have turned out for us and assign a little less blame to those who have not managed as well.
Perhaps the inflammatory argument that our cherished free will is an illusion should be read an argument for compassion.
This is one of the top 3 audiobooks I have listened to so far (and I have LOTS of audiobooks). I will listent to it many times----and hopefully some guests in my car will also have the privilege to be titillated by his thoughts.
Sam Harris is amazing! I love the subjects he choses to grapple with. I love the conclusions he draws. I love the potential impact on the way the world perceives punishment/guilt/free will. I love the fact that Sam is a neuroscientist --- clearly his opinions are based on lots of scientific knowledge--not just a philosophy.
I am a big fan of audiobooks. I have ADHD and the audiobook enables me to "read" books I would not otherwise be able to sit still and really comprehend fully. I have become accustomed to listening to audiobooks in my car and when the author reads the book to me--it is magical---of course he wrote it--so only he can put the passion in his words---it makes a HUGE difference---I do have other audiobooks read by someone else other then the author---it's such a privilege to hear him speak his ideas---not to mention he has a very calm clear voice.
I DID have an extreme reaction to this book. It did make me cry----because the information he is giving to us in this book --if understood by the masses has the power to completely change the world---my tears were tears of joy---
And his idea is not just some romantic idea about the way our brain works--it's based on facts--scientific facts---
I don't care about the book with regards to how it "handles" the idea of free-will in religion, but I will admit that I am an atheist and have been interested in Sam's writings from the first book because of that, but I will say that the fact that we do not have free will sets the stage for a complete shift in the way we preceive the world---a HUGE SHIFT---
Maybe like one of those plateaus in evolution that really jumps a species to the next level---is it possible to jump to another level in evolution just by having a thought? I think maybe so!
Sam Harris presents both sides well and then argues his thesis. Refreshingly frank. Felt like I was eavesdropping on a lively debate.
Sam Harris is a favorite author so I will buy whatever he puts out- Knowing this Harris has decided to put out micro books that make tired old points that he can make slightly better than everyone else. This book is about free will- noting that the reasons we make decisions are biological, sociological and just plain logical. Religion really does not enter into the book but rather Harris reviews all the old favorite that come to mind when one talks of free will-- which takes about as long as an average newscast but costs the same as a real book. I recommend all of his work for major followers of the New Atheism moment but if you don't have regular talks of theology this may be brutally uninteresting for you. For those of us who go to special groups on atheism this is a useful tool to phrase old arguments a little more articulately
I love listening to Sam Harris both in book and debate because of his calm style that reminds us that the very gruesome stories he sometimes tells to make his points are not there to disgust but to make a point better. It is difficult to not dramatize stories of such profound violence but Harris can speak of those matters calmly better than anyone else
I recommend everyone get his other book The Moral Landscape-- That is where his magic really is
I definitely recommend Free Will not only because of my deep appreciation for Harris' thoughful and strongly argued dissections of this sort of subject, but because of the insight this work raised into my own behavior and that of others. The initial inclination to worry about the possibility of less implicit self-determinism is far outweighed by Harris' words opening channels of deeper understanding into why we are who we are and do what we do.
A short, but powerful, piece.
No comparable book comes to mind.
I find it adds value to hear the book in the words of the author. It feels more authentic.
For me, the overall input from the book was powerful with many moving arguments.
After finishing this book, I immediately emailed family and friends encouraging them to read it.
I really liked this little book; some of it was covered in his earlier work. But, I really like his ideas; find them to be enlightening and timely. I, also, like it when he reads his own work. I have listened to all of his books.
I have not written a review here before but I am so excited about this book I feel compelled (lol) to do so. I first purchased the Kindle edition of this book and enjoyed it so much that I figured it would be worth one of my credits to have Sam read it to me. I wasn't disappointed. The book is highly engaging, and Harris's arguments are elegant and compelling. The book says everything it needs to say with conciseness and clarity. I was sorry to reach the end and will be listening to this one multiple times.
I would recommend this book to everyone. Important information that can change the way you view your fellow humans and boost your compassion for everyone.
Of course, but not based on this one.
Not sure. I simply disagree with how he took the book. It amounts to a disagreement on the definition of "free will" which maybe I can't really hold against the book. I was thoroughly disappointed in the depth of his reasoning and the scope of his thought. The book feels like the first 1/3 was leading to something then you are never taken anywhere special. This book should have been 30% the size it is even though its small to begin with.
The part where the woman stands in front of a target with an apple on her head and...
Whenever an author brings up an example of someone else's opinion you have never heard of to contrast with their own, and doesn't successfully defend his point of view against it, one is left feeling let down (in this case Daniel Dennett). Of course free will is nonsensical as we commonly think of it, but instead of stating that directly and moving on, Sam Harris gets stuck in first gear with simply "we don't have free will".
This short-format book -- a long essay, really -- explains the complex issues surrounding the presumptions and assumptions of free will through the enlightening lens of neuroscience. From the philosophical arguments about the nature of free will, to experiments that show a person's choice occurs several seconds before they are aware of the decision, Harris paints a clear picture of the true nature of what we feel is our own will to act or decide, and follows with how the truth about our decisions can and should influence the public debate on crime, punishment, and responsibility. The book is long enough to cover all of the bases and short enough to leave your evening free to discuss it with your mate; I cannot recommend this book more!
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