Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
I couldn't help but like this book.
on 31 December 2014
I've read all six of Sam Harris's books in the last few months, and picking a favourite would be like asking a mother to pick her favourite child, but if I had to rank them from "best" to just "excellent", Free Will would come near the top.
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.