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Free Will [Deckle Edge] Paperback – March 6, 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.
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Then what is meditation about? The point of meditation is to watch our thoughts arise and not do anything with them (don't believe, don't disbelieve them, don't be carried away from observing them). It is obvious that this implies there is choice. If one is able to disassociate to some degree from our thinking, therefore not "biting" into our seemingly randomly generated thoughts, we are certainly free to ignore them or, even more interesting, we can discover that the world can be seen without the structure of presupposition.
It may be true that if someone has no insight into the workings of their mind, he is pushed, pulled and apparently controlled by conditioned, yet random thinking, peculiar to his/her own unique situation in time and space. But that's like saying meat can only be eaten raw, which was true until we learned to control fire. We do have ways of freeing ourselves from "acting upon" our thinking and this ability will, in fact, generate other thought processes that go beyond our present understanding of mind, either as a "free agent" or as Dr.Harris suggests, a programmed machine.
Sam has a deep background in science and neuroscience, so it was startling and disappointing to see him write a manifesto that begins with a thesis and then back-fills it with nothing but personal anecdotes and off-hand observations to support it. He seems to think of free will as something that can only exist in a vacuum - completely devoid of context, internal or external forces, influences or stimuli. He simultaneously embraces the tenants of determinism while dismissing it. He constantly asks the reader/listener "why did you make a decision in your life?" and then removes all agency from our choices by ignoring anything in our collective experience which could inform that choice.
A great example of this comes when Sam reminisces about his past involvement in martial arts and his decision to quit. He deliberately asks "why did I do this?" Instead of reasoning through his mindset at the time, the increased value of other interests, the condition of his environment, his own emotional state, etc, he lazily concludes he doesn't know.
The whole book is intellectually lazy and sets this discussion of free will back years. If you're a real Sam fan, do yourself a favor and skip this.
Inseparable from the universe, conditioned from the “big bang” to conception to physical death, free will for us is but an illusory concept. Then what is it that makes choices? The entire universe! In fact ‘you’ and ‘I’ exist only as ever-changing thoughts and feelings, moving processes in space-time, present participles rather than nouns: doing, thinking, etc., each in a unique way. Our freedom consists in deserving of neither praise nor blame, since what we do is (unpredictably, to a lesser or greater extent) inevitable. We are all constant change as mortal object of consciousness, stillness as mysterious subject.