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Free Will Paperback – Deckle Edge, 26 Apr 2012
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"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."
"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
"Many say that believing that there is no free will is impossible—or, if possible, will cause nihilism and despair. In this feisty and personal essay, Harris offers himself as an example of a heart made less self-absorbed, and more morally sensitive and creative, because this particular wicked witch is dead."
—Owen Flanagan, Professor of Philosophy, Duke University, and author of The Really Hard Problem
"If you believe in free will, or know someone who does, here is the perfect antidote. In this smart, engaging, and extremely readable little book, Sam Harris argues that free will doesn’t exist, that we’re better off knowing that it doesn’t exist, and that—once we think about it in the right way—we can appreciate from our own experience that it doesn’t exist. This is a delightful discussion by one of the sharpest scholars around.”
—Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, and author of How Pleasure Works
About the Author
Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His writing has been published in over fifteen languages. Dr. Harris is cofounder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Please visit his website at SamHarris.org.See all Product description
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Drawing on his expertise as both a neuroscientist and an experienced meditator, Harris explores the age-old philosophical question, "do we have free will? Are we truly the conscious authors of our actions, or are we just fixed-track automatons living under the delusion that we have control?" The question itself is nothing new, and numerous answers have been offered over the years, ranging ranging from the interesting and insightful to the confusing, meaningless, and masturbatory. Can Harris bring anything new to the table? To me: yes.
Granted, I have no formal training in philosophy and am not familiar with the huge body of work that already exists on this subject, but Free Will isn't intended to be an all-encompassing philosophical treatise to be kept on dusty university library shelves and only ever pondered by PhDs. It's a succinct and incisive opinion piece that's open to all comers, and I found Harris's arguments to be eye-opening and authoritative - delivered with his trademark ability to steamroll any intellectual opponent in his path.
Without meaning to spoil the ending, Harris's own answer to the question "do we have free will?" is a resounding "no". His arguments have been formulated in both the philosophy department and the research lab - and I found them convincing from all angles. We don't choose our thoughts - our thoughts simple arise in the brain uninvited, and anyone who's ever tried just 5 minutes of meditation can tell you first-hand how difficult it is to get even a hint of control over the contents of our own heads. Recent advances in brain imaging have also shown that we're able to predict with high accuracy the decisions a person is going to make *long before the person in question feels like they've actually made the decision.* If other people can predict our actions before we even know them ourselves, what space does this leave for free will as the genesis of those actions? I'm not sure there's any, and reading this book has made me acutely aware of just how little of the behaviour I consider to be "me" is the result of conscious choice - if that choice could ever be said to be "conscious" at all.
My main criticism of this book is that it's very short - more of a pamphlet than a book - but at £2.99 for the Kindle version, it's not a major complaint. Also, if you've read "Waking Up" by the same author, there's a fair amount of overlap between the two books (including a few passages that seem be copied and pasted directly from one book to the other), so you may get the occasional sense of deja vu as you read Free Will, but its "exclusive" sections are more than enough to justify the low cost and the short amount of time it will take you to read it.
Read this book. It's not like you have a choice.
I think more effort could have gone into dumbing down the content a bit - and I don't consider myself to be your average dumdum. I wouldn't mind, but the book's packaging and marketing seems more commercial than the content inside.
Surely that's a given, if we don't have free will, then what can we be, Without Free Will, then we are simply robots?
As always, Sam Harris doesn't disappoint, he will answer this question in the most informative and truthful way that he can discover, no matter what the outcome !
As the brilliant scientist Richard Feynman once said ""Nature is there, and she's gonna come out the way she is"
Free Will as it seems, is an illusion (which is not really that surprising if you consider the whole nature/nurture process), but to be absolutely critical of Sam's interpretation, he does not go far enough.
Sam still eludes to the perception that although free will is eradicated, somehow, what we actually do in real life, is still important in an individual sense ?
i.e. - this post would not have happened if I didn't actually write it, and post it !
Is that not the point ? This isn't written and posted due to "Free Will", but simply a pre-conceived response, which was actually determined before I was born.
So that's determinism then ?
As a post script, I have to yet again thank Sam Harris for producing the most thought compelling books. posts, webcasts et al .
What a pleasure it is to read everything he produces (whether I completely agree or not, but 99% do agree)
We don't have enough critical thinkers at the moment, or they simply just don't get the "airplay".
If you haven't read this book, then please do, and take your time to understand the concepts, as they may be disturbing to what you accept as your own self. It may frighten you, and it may astound you, but whichever way, it will enlighten you !