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Free will by Sam Harris

Free will (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Sam Harris

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1,1054417,957 (3.7)1 / 12
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.
Title:Free will
Authors:Sam Harris
Info:New York : Free Press, 2012.
Collections:Your library, Read (And Rated)
Tags:psychology, philosophy, neurology

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Free Will by Sam Harris (2012)


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 Let's Talk Religion: Plantinga Reviews Sam Harris's Book22 unread / 22AsYouKnow_Bob, January 2013

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Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
More a podcast than a book, very short, has Sam with his expert blend of dialectics and common sense philosophy.

I appreciate what Sam does and I respect the political perspective of what he is up to but also fund his point full of holes.

Sam sees no existence of “free will” which I would say is obvious under the assumptions of a perfectly causal universe. But Sam also makes no attempt to look for hypothesis of what would make sense to represent the idea of “free will” because he thinks any other explanation can’t capture the commonsense meaning of the word.

This is dogma of a different kind and poses the same problem with any idea that is hard to capture in language: consciousness, values, emotion, desire
etc... But to Harris, when it serves him, the answer comes from some narrow interpretation of a neuroscience experiment. When it doesn’t then it is not worth discussing because its not commonsense. ( )
  yates9 | Feb 28, 2024 |
I'm on board with the seeming dichotomy of underlying determinism and the useful illusion of choice. ( )
  dualmon | Dec 7, 2023 |
Read the short one in an afternoon. Very sure, well written, clearly made arguments. Already believed nearly all of this before I read this, but nicely done ( )
  BooksForDinner | Aug 26, 2023 |
For an essay only sixty-six pages long, there’s a fair amount of rambling here—Thomas Nagel, in What Does it all Mean?, deals with this subject more succinctly in just twelve. Also, while clearly seeing himself as a determinist, Harris wavers at times as if in two minds.
    The nub of the matter though is this. If you really are a determinist who believes that “free will” is an illusion, you have to explain why most people are, and have always been, so convinced that we have it: if there is no free will, why does it feel as though there is? But if, on the other hand, you are one of those who are convinced we do have it, then what you have to explain is the work of Benjamin Libet.
    Way back in 1983 Libet was studying the timing of what he assumed to be conscious decision-making, and discovered that when deciding to move a finger, say, the actual sequence of events is this: first of all brain activity and preparations to move the finger begin; then, a third of a second or so later, you consciously “decide” to move your finger; then, after another fraction of a second, the finger itself begins to move. The “decision” in other words (if that is the right word for it) is made entirely non-consciously and only after the process is already underway is it then flagged up in your conscious mind, as if you’d made the decision consciously.
    This unnerved everybody (still does) and is a fact confirmed many times since, these days using things like MRI scanners. It’s simply not good enough to snort or wave it away because it doesn’t fit your picture of the world. As Harris himself puts it: “These findings are difficult to reconcile with the sense that we are the conscious authors of our actions. One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision” and believe that you are in the process of making it”.
    Libet’s first experiment was exactly forty years ago now, so why isn’t it more widely known? In fact, why isn’t everyone who has an opinion to express on the subject of “free will” aware of it? ( )
  justlurking | Aug 9, 2023 |
Dr. Harris presents a brief summary of his deterministic/incompatibilist position on free will, or rather its absence.
I liked his inclusion of a long quote from Tom Clark, references to Daniel Dennett, the inclusion of a quote of Einstein quoting Schopenhauer, Der Mensch kann was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will, and the great reference to this link at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that explains everything clearly and philosophically, but is missing the neuroscience. ( )
  markm2315 | Jul 1, 2023 |
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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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