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Free Will by Sam Harris

Free Will (2012)

by Sam Harris

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7602920,164 (3.72)1 / 11
In this enlightening book, Sam Harris argues that free will is an illusion but that this truth should not undermine morality or diminish the importance of social and political freedom; indeed, this truth can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.



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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.
Source: Publisher

Free Will is a 2012 book by the American neuroscientist Sam Harris, in which the author argues that the truth about the human mind does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of political and social freedom, and can, as well as should, change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.
Source: Wikipedia
  Shiseida.Aponte | May 26, 2020 |
Free Will by Sam Harris uses recent developments in brain imaging to destroy the concept of free will, which is one of the bastions of human culture. Harris acknowledges that some of the information in this book is rather disheartening. Many of our cultural and legal systems depend on the idea that a person is free to choose their next action. So if we have a man that murders someone in cold blood we tend to pity them or let them off lightly if they have some previously undetected Brain Tumor that inhibited or messed with their decision-making process. Even if this was to be known, you would have to prove that he knowingly avoided treatment for it.

The idea that a person is in thrall to their brain chemistry and the events and situations that made them what they are is an interesting one. Take me for instance, I am sitting at my computer typing up a review of a book that I just finished reading. What prevents me from picking up another book or finishing another book or even stopping this review right now? You could say it's my own volition that determines what I do. Then again, I would like to give a good review of this book and get my point across. Why am I not in prison or doing something illegal right now? Well, I don't really feel like doing so. Why don't I feel like doing something illegal? I don't know. The thought never entered my head to go and do something like steal a car or break someone's window or commit arson. Does this make me morally superior to people who do these kinds of actions? Well, if free will doesn't exist, then no.

Take this for example. My parents divorced when I was six because my father didn't like to work and drank away a lot of money. Now, could I have followed in his footsteps? No. I became what I am now because I avoided doing such things. If I were thrust back in time with the knowledge I have now, would I make the same decisions? Probably. This is a thought experiment since time travel is not considered possible under our current understanding of physics.

Anyway, I liked this book quite a bit even though it was really short. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
A tiny little thing - all of 80 pages and won't take more than a couple of hours at most. Easy enough to absorb, it presents the argument that free will is an illusion without getting too technical with the neurological and philosophical issues. ( )
  adam.currey | Nov 17, 2018 |
Definitely poses some serious problems for the notion of free will. We are slaves to our neurology. When you dig deep, you really don't know what made you decide to do what you do. It always leads to a dead end, which is your brain chemistry, which is designed by your genes and your development, both of which you did not control. I do agree with this, I just don't yet know what to do with this information. I'm not yet ready to write assholes off as being victims, but for now it gives me a little more peace in that I see them as less conniving than I thought before. ( )
  rnmdfrd | Sep 19, 2018 |
What I got from this, mostly, was that we don't choose what resonates with us. Okay! I am with you there, Harris. And that is most of this essay, so okay! 3 stars.

But this essay also jumps around and I'm like, huh? So there was something about, if I was another person, then I would BE that other person, which is like, well... yes? Huh? And before that something about scientists knowing what you are gonna do before you do it because of... IDK, sciencey stuff. What is what I was interested in, but I don't really think that was what Harris truly cared about (he is interested in philosophizing on new scientific discoveries, and IMHO extrapolating to the stars or just about). Something about atheism in there (well, if you are extrapolating might as well go all out to the heavens, ammiright, folks)?

Oh, and at the end something about how punishments might still be honky dory even without free will, even if we figured everyone's brains out to the level where people's preference for vanilla ice cream or just killing that bastard when he gets you mad was something you could know, you could see, uh... scientifically. "I had no choice but to knife that guy, officer! Honestly!" and he would be right! haha. I would really like to have some understanding of what justice would be in this scenario, that wasn't simply revenge and the broken (scientifically) people put somewhere out of the way of the unbroken people. Harris really wasn't selling his vision of it though, though he really really wants it to work. Uh... I don't really remember what he was saying about it. I'm terrible with philosophy! So many things I have to take as a given, practically on faith, in other people's thought experiments. haha, I am aphilosophic. ( )
  Joanna.Oyzon | Apr 17, 2018 |
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