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Free Will 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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Top Customer Reviews
The anti-free-will argument is irrefutable is the bad sense: it carries built-in immunity to any evidence that might tend to discredit it.
I wonder if emergence offers some possibility of free will in the traditional sense. Quite different things and conditions can emerge from their components and backgrounds. A barrel made from flat boards can roll. Human consciousness emerges from physical and biological processes, along with chance. Karl Popper’s three worlds come to mind. The first is the world of physical and biological objects and processes: rocks, human and other bodies, earthquakes, and even actual printed copies of books. The second is the world of thoughts and emotions. The third is products of the human mind: music, art, the contents (not physical copies) of books, and scientific and mathematical puzzles and results, including mathematical conjectures not yet either proven or disproven. The three worlds interact. Yet the third world is totally different from the first. It is something emergent.
Even if Harris is totally correct, some consolation remains. My tastes–in food, say–have developed totally from causes and chance; yet they are my tastes, and I feel satisfaction or regret when they are gratified or disappointed. Similarly, my will is mine, regardless of what caused it; and I know that it is mine. Furthermore, it makes sense for people to engage in reading and writing and conversations, knowing and even intending that these may well modify their own and others’ wills. There is no incongruity in Sam Harris’s writing, under causal and stochastic compulsion, that he and the rest of us cannot escape such compulsion.
Most people will be able to read this short book easily in a couple or three hours; it's not a "heavy lift". That is not a criticism, in spite of its brevity and simplicity, it is non-the-less a rewarding read. If you're interested in this topic, the book is fun and easy.
I find Dr. Dennet's writing far more difficult to read, perhaps for the same reason, but I would like to now return to the "Waking Up" podcast where he and Mr. Harris debate these concepts over drinks. Is there merit to compatible-ist thinking that I have yet to comprehend? Should I keep trying to find out, or is it as much like Religion as Mr. Harris says? I don't feel any need for a cushion against the harsh nature of reality.
Thank you, Mr. Harris, for making your work so accessible to us amateur philosophers out here. I will continue to follow and support you wherever I can.