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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant premise
This is essentially a very clever man making an almost watertight argument for something which we all know cannot be true. In short, it's a work of genius, and people should be made to read it in school. Especially in religious schools! ;)
Published 16 months ago by A. Jolliffe

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What no neuroscience?
This provides a good readable account of why experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet during the second half of the last century and subsequent studies inspired by his work have led many philosophers and scientists to feel that the existence of freewill is discredited.

So far, so good, but what is disappointing for a book published in 2012 is the lack of...
Published 19 months ago by S. G. Raggett


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What no neuroscience?, 3 Feb 2013
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S. G. Raggett (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
This provides a good readable account of why experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet during the second half of the last century and subsequent studies inspired by his work have led many philosophers and scientists to feel that the existence of freewill is discredited.

So far, so good, but what is disappointing for a book published in 2012 is the lack of discussion of relevant research in neuroscience and also psychology over the last 20 years. The most important aspect of this is modern knowledge of the brain's reward circuit and its relationship to behaviour. The reward circuit and particularly the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate brain regions evaluate the reward value of sensory signals, and project to the ventral striatum region. Here they are merged with projections from the dorsolateral prefrontal, which is associated with the planning/executive functions of the brain. All this processing lies upstream of the motor cortex, in which Libet's readiness potentials were detected, and would seemingly need to be at least discussed in anything bearing on the brain's decision-making processes.

Further to this, modern psychological studies may also need to be brought into the picture. Thus the perception of exercising will power has been shown to involve consumption of energy, which evolution would only be likely to select for if it were adaptive. Further studies show that subjects perform better in tests or academic undertakings if they think their conscious efforts can make a difference. Again it is surprising that such findings are not at any rate brought into the story, in relation to a book that is outspokenly confident in its conclusions.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lively text that fails to address the modern debate, 2 Jun 2012
By 
Peter Clarke (Lausanne, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
Philosophers debating free will have long understood that the term can be used in many ways, most of which are incoherent. Thus, advocates of "libertarian free will" (founded on the belief that free will requires indeterminism) have had to face the objection that indeterminate events in the brain would be expected to produce randomness, not freedom. And advocates of "compatibilist free will" (founded on the belief that some kinds of free will are compatible with determinism) have had to face other problems, including the one that many people find compatibilism intuitively implausible. Despite these difficulties, most leading philosophers (with a few important exceptions such as Galen Strawson, Derk Pereboom and Ted Honderich), have come to the conclusion that, if used cautiously, the term "free will" can be applied to human beings in a coherent, meaningful and true manner. One of the hard-won achievements of this 200 year old debate has been to separate out conceptions of free will that have a good chance of being coherent and even true, from those that are incoherent or probably untrue. It has been clear to all for many years that unsophisticated conceptions of free will are unlikely to stand up to philosophical analysis.

This 66 page text makes little attempt to contribute to the modern debate, but rather takes the easy option of attacking "the popular conception of free will" which, according to Harris "seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present". Of course, this popular conception gets a thrashing, because assumption (1) is ambiguous and assumption (2) is simplistic (interpreted to mean that we choose what to think before we think it).

Whether this conception is really popular is debatable. There has been research on what ordinary people believe about free will, and popular beliefs actually seem to be rather varied, but let us suppose that at least some people have a conception of free will resembling the one Harris attacks. For such people, the book may be useful. It is certainly much easier to read than the works of professional philosophers.

Harris has not refuted free will, but has mounted a ferocious attack on one rather nave version of it. He doesn't seriously grapple with modern scholarship. Admittedly, he does briefly discuss two short texts from compatibilist philosophers Tom Clark and Eddy Nahmias. He merely dismisses libertarianism in a single sentence as not being "respectable" (page 16). He wins a cheap victory. Why should anybody be surprised if an unsophisticated "popular" view of free will can be knocked down?

If this easy-to-read 66 page tract stimulates people into reading more serious works on free will, this will be of value (they might start with Bob Doyle's comprehensive but readable book Free Will: The Scandal in Philosophy, 2011). If it lulls people into thinking that the problem is solved and free will does not exist, it may be a victory for obscurantism.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting essay, 29 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
This book is in fact an essay (few pages large fonte size), which seems to have been written to cash in on a currently fashionable (probably true) idea that free will doesn't exist.

I bought this book because I was very impressed by the section about Free Will in Harris's The Moral Landscape and I wan't to know more.

Unfortunately the exposition here is very similar to Landscape. If I'm not mistaken, some of the most interesting parts of the text are lifted straight from Landscape.

That doesn't make this essay by any means bad. No, it's fascinating but it should be mentioned that the author is repackaging material from a previous book - something like releasing a single from an LP.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant premise, 24 April 2013
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A. Jolliffe (London) - See all my reviews
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This is essentially a very clever man making an almost watertight argument for something which we all know cannot be true. In short, it's a work of genius, and people should be made to read it in school. Especially in religious schools! ;)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too concise, 10 July 2012
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Petri (Solf, Finland) - See all my reviews
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I'm a fan of Sam Harris' earlier books and extremely interested in the notion of free will but this book was a disappointment. You just can't get deep enough into the subject in just 66 pages. Some of the cases he presented were difficult to understand because they were presented without much other information than what can fit in a sentence. I like concise writing but this book lacks necessary information. Harris should have developed his thesis further. Unfortunately I feel I didn't learn anything new about the concept of free will.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Free will or bust, 10 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
Sam Harris, philosopher and neuroscientist, writes this treatise on Free Will from an incompatibilist view point. Most theologians and many philosophers today take the compatibilist approach, which is the view that determinism (we have no control over causal events) is compatible with the idea of free will. Harris makes out a forceful argument that this is not so. He believes that free will is an illusion. Citing the fact that "No human being is responsible for his genes or his upbringing, yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character" to illustrate his point that we mistake conscious deliberations for free will. He asks, for example, if his decision to have a second cup of coffee was due to a random release of neurotransmitters, how could the indeterminacy of the initiating event count as an exercise of free will? If he drank a glass of water because he was thirsty, even though he was free to choose orange juice, it could hardly be an exercise of free will if the thought of an orange juice never crossed his mind. He goes further and suggests that even if we were to believe in a "soul" that dwells within us, we cannot be exercising free will - "if we have no idea what [our] soul is going to do next, [we] are not in control." Harris does not believe that determinism necessarily leads to fatalism and he explains so in pages 33-35. He also believes that belief in determinism "need not damage our system of criminal justice." (see pages 56-60). He concludes his book thus: "Now I feel that it is time for me to leave. I'm hungry, yes, but it also seems that I've made my point. In fact, I can't think of anything else to say on the subject. And where is the freedom in that?"
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I choose to disagree, 22 April 2012
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P. V. Holley (Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
This is a stimulating read. Free will, Harris asserts, is illusory.

It is an undeniable truth that genetics, upbringing and our social and cultural environment impact on free will to a greater extent than we would like to think. Less convincing though, is the emphasis on mysterious processes by which thoughts just "pop up" into the conscious mind, "as though sprung from the void." In fact, the word "mysterious" pops up with surprising frequency.

While I agree that our free will is very limited for the reasons given, there seems to be some confusion concerning the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind. "Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind," Harris comments, ecouraging us to believe that these are products of a mysterious independent agent acting solely in its own, incomprehensible interests, and over which we have no control. "...you might observe that you no more decide the next thought you think than the next thought I write."

Only up to a point. While it is true that thoughts and intentions do enter the conscious mind unbidden, it's surely a two-way street. Internal factors, genetics, personal circumstances and outside influences may all impinge upon our consciousness, but by the same token, there is no reason why our own consciousness cannot also feed into and influence activity in the subconscious brain.

The English composer Edward Elgar famously said, "There is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take what you require." Yet I will never snatch a new symphony out of the air. The truth is, Elgar chose to spend his whole life immersed in the language of music. That choice profoundly influenced the emergent properties of his subconscious mind, resulting in the creation of his original sound world.

The synergy between the conscious and the unconscious mind may remain elusive. The range of choices available to us are circumscribed and much is beyond our control - but not all.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Hmmmm...., 4 July 2014
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He lays out his argument pretty well, but this is more of a pamphlet than a book, It also starts by assuming there is no such thing as a sole - I would have expected more of a discussion on that particular point, as of course from that point on, it is logical to deduce there is no free will. Bit of a cop out to skirt around that key issue! (Note I am 100% atheist, but that doesn't mean I accept every argument without questioning it!)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 31 May 2014
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Really makes you think, short and to the point. Easy to read and you don't have to be a philosophy graduate to understand it. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars another great work from a beautiful mind, 24 May 2014
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This review is from: Free Will (Kindle Edition)
Compelling logic, precision of thought combined with humour and an intrinsically engaging subject make this book a great read. Highly recommended
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