Free Will
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Free Will

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  8,634 ratings  ·  604 reviews
Belief in free will touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an i...more
Paperback, 83 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Free Press
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The God Delusion by Richard DawkinsGod is Not Great by Christopher HitchensThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganLetter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
Notable Atheist Books
65th out of 256 books — 663 voters
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Stephanie
I am an agnostic which means I am firm in my belief that I have no idea what to believe. I don't know what is true and what isn't and no one, no matter how strong your faith, or how strong your lack of faith is.....you don't know either. You don't know what happens to you after you die. You pretty much have to die to find that out. You may really, really, really believe little alien souls are attached to your body and making your life miserable, and that the only way to make it all better is to...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Fuck.

I am a stubborn girl, and there are some things I cling to like rope-ladders keeping me from falling into Freddy Krueger's soul swamp, such as possessing some degree of control over my own fate and figuring myself out in a manageable way, but this...this has challenged my perceptions of everything I am, believe, and compulsively stand by in a way which I have not been crossed in I don't even know how long. I don't bend easily, but Harris's argument is a water and light-tight kick in the dic...more
Trevor
Apr 08, 2012 Trevor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trevor by: George
It has been one of those odd times when I seem to be getting tripped over by the same sorts of ideas over and over again. I can't for the life of me tell you why I thought it was a good idea recently to read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams -like the proverbial mountain, it was just there. Then I was tossing up what to read next and there was this other book on the brain called Incognito and that was more or less on similar ground although, obviously quite updated. Both, though, stressed the fac...more
Riku Sayuj
Dec 30, 2012 Riku Sayuj rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Tanuj Solanki
Shelves: r-r-rs, pop-religion

On Free Will & Crime: How should society react to violent crime?

Glancing at the cover might have been more than enough to guess the full contents of this one...

Harris is right to an extent, but as many have already done, his argument is too easy to poke holes in. This is primarily because the argument depends on the definition/boundary that he imposes on it. It makes for a good argument in a monologue but will fall apart in a dialogue.

This is not to say that there is no merit in what he con...more
Jacob J.
Nietzsche is said to have said that he wished to say more in a couple lines than most philosophers could say in an entire book. The scheme may very well have been met by the great 19th century thinker, as each sentence could be dissected and interpreted in such ways that they beget numerous debates and discussions still. Sam Harris has expressed no such ambition, but if there is a modern philosopher/scientist to whom such a description could be accredited, it would be him (although he may be les...more
Simeon
"You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm." - Sam Harris

"It’s true that human persons don’t have contra-causal free will. We are not self-caused little gods. But we are just as real as the genetic and environmental processes which created us and the situations in which we make choices. The deliberative machinery supporting effective action is just as real and causally effective as any other process in nature. So we don’t have to talk as if we are real agen...more
Joel
I like padding my reading challenge with ridiculously short books.
Caroline
Sam Harris’s book is essay length, and a wonderfully easy read, considering it presents some revolutionary ideas. The overriding one being his questioning of free will.

He tells us that various scientific experiments have shown beyond doubt that we reach decisions in our brains unconsciously - before we reach decisions consciously via the sense of “I think” that we know so well. These unconscious decisions are shaped by our genetics, our upbringing, our physiology, our culture, our current situat...more
Ben Zajdel
I give this book a one star review not because I disagree with Harris' premise, but because of his faulty logic and irresponsible research.

My major point of contention is that Harris claims that in the future we will have brain scanning technology that can show us that our brain "decides" to do something many, many seconds ahead of our actual decision. I'll ignore the fact that our subconscious is just as much a part of our being as our conciousness, and just point out that one cannot claim to k...more
Moad



So, Sam Harris an atheist and a neuroscientist

He begins his book by telling a shocking story of how some burglars robbed, child-abused, raped, tortured and set a family's house on fire and killing them apart from the father who survived.
He then says that one of them had shown signs of remorse and attempted suicide a couple of times, and the other had repeatedly been raped as a child, and both of these men had been suffering from brain tumors.

He concludes that if any one of us had been in their...more
Chad Kettner
The only issue I can see people having would be based on semantics over the term "free will" - but as for the actual arguments, Harris seems to be spot-on.

However, I'd love to hear Sam Harris discuss what he thinks would be a better option. As in... how could free will be done better? Would we get to select our brains? Would we get to choose our body? Our gender? And what would make us choose one brain, body, or gender over the other? It seems the decision would still be caused by something beyo...more
Douglas Wilson
Harris is a smart guy, and an engaging writer. But he is just plain lost. He is not only lost in the sense of not having Jesus, but also lost in the sense that he cannot make his way out of the thicket of his own premises. He simply cannot see how what he is saying applies to what he is saying.
Sky
As the second of Harris' "singles" books, I am really enjoying the format for certain works. His first single 'Lying' succinctly presented his thesis and described it clearly and quickly- this book is no different. In covering the topic of the illusion of free will Harris maps the conventional theories of determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism while contrasting and explaining his case. Clearly written, logical, and very understandable- this book, like 'Lying' is a great introduction to H...more
Paul
I was looking for something to challenge my belief in free will. This book did nothing of the sort and if it had been any longer (it was only about 90 pages) it would have been a waste of time. It is anglo-american school analytic philosophy in all it's reductionist absurdity. The science is tenuous and almost non-existent, resting on the wafer-thin logic that our neurons determine our actions before we're conscious of them so that means our neurons are running the show. (all hail the neurons) W...more
Sally
Whether there is free will or not is an open question, but this book throws very little light on the subject. Full of assertions and absolutist thinking, it sets up the problem and the definition of terms in such a way that "no free will" is necessarily the conclusion. If free will means that the conscious mind (the everyday ego or the "monkey mind" of the Buddhists) has to have full awareness, control, and origination of all impulses, thoughts, and desires down to their very furthest roots, the...more
Brian Jo
The author definitely sheds some light on aspects of free will that I never really considered. It is a powerful message that he is trying to convey with the limitations of the length of this book. At times I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with the author, but ultimately, I could not convince myself of his views on free will. His arguments start out very promising, but then falter and lose momentum as he tends to digress with meager examples and statements. I finished the book feeling...more
Vanessa
Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills. -- Schopenhauer

The theme of the book is disconcerting at best: Dr. Harris if not completely refutes the notion of free will in this little book of his, does certainly raise a serious contradiction to the longtime conviction that we are the authors of our thoughts. In the very first beginning of the book this theme got dramatically and horrifyingly accentuated when the author suggests, if he were to trade places with Komisarijevsky (one...more
Lena
In this brief book, Sam Harris makes the argument that the sense of free will that many of us inherently feel is an illusion. He explains that science has clearly demonstrated that decisions we think "we" have made were actually measurable in the brain some moments before we were consciously aware of them. He elaborates on our lack of free will by pointing out that we can take no responsibility for the circumstances and genetics that were bestowed upon us at birth, nor do we have total control o...more
Fil
I was worried this would change my mind on free will, it didn't. The author does not make a compelling argument. He seems to make a distinction between our brain's neural state and who we are, there is no such distinction. He states Benjamin Libet's experiment, which demonstrates that there is activity in the brain's motor cortex before the subject feels he decided to move, as proof for the non-existence of free will: a flawed experiment with timing issues but, more than that, since the feeling...more
George
In order to demonstrate that free will is an illusion, Sam Harris uses various arguments, some of which had already been published before in his previous book "The Moral Landscape." Some of his arguments seem to me fairly compelling, while others seem so obscure that they could as well be used to demonstrate that free will exists. For example, he says that the fact that we are able to adhere to a diet at some point in our lives but not always shows that "you cannot account for the fact that your...more
Shaun
In his book, Free Will, Sam Harris offers an interesting discussion on the merits of free will. According to Harris, our thoughts and thus our behavior results from a complex interaction of genetics, early-life experiences, economic, religious, cultural, social, and political situations present in our lives, as well as all the experiences we've had up to that moment, which include the world acting on us in ways that are often beyond our control. He points out that even conscious choices are limi...more
Tulpesh Patel
Think of an animal.

Why did you think of that animal and not another? And exactly when did you actually make the decision to go with that animal? You didn’t cycle through all the animals you know and make a conscious choice, it just ‘popped into your head’. That little introspective thought experiment forms part of the basis of Sam Harris’ Free Will, which argues not just that that free will is an illusion, but that as thoughts and intentions simply ‘arise’ in the mind, “the illusion of free wil...more
Levi
Sam Harris, the wizard of clarity, brings yet another level argument to light. He claims that free will is an illusion, then explains how this need be neither frightening nor destructive (though many seem to think a lack of free will is both). Harris illustrates how the feeling of being in control of our autonomous selves is only that: a feeling.

"Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind. What else could they do?" While parts of the book are worth reading slowly because they are not quite...more
JK
How many times can you say the same thing? How many times can you say the same thing? How many times can you say the same thing? How many times can you say the same thing? How many times can you say the same thing? How many times can you say the same thing? Random firing of synapses in my brain led me to write that question so many times.

And that's this book in a nutshell.



I give it two stars because I agree with Harris' stance on free will to a degree. I feel like there was nothing of real valu...more
Mark
Good book. Didn't realy challenge my perception of things but did 'enhance'(?) them. Basically we can't get mad at other people for how they decide to act, and retribution is folly except for the psycological feeling it inspires. I've always hated when I judge other people even though I do it. The book does talk about pure randomness being possible in the universe, but that it is unrelated to human action. At one point he dismisses pretty quickly a definition of free will that is closer to my vi...more
Ugh
I have no quibbles with this book - and therein lies some of my disappointment with it. I have no quibbles, and I found nothing new. Are there actually people who disagree with anything Harris writes here? He briefly mentions Dan Dennett and a couple of other philosophical dissenters - everything about this book is brief - but would Dennett et al really suggest that criminals should be punished because they deserve it? Surely no clear-thinking, informed person would?

Mr Harris finishes his pamphl...more
Kathleen Brugger
This is a booklet, not a book. I have been pondering the problem of free will for twenty years, it is a central part of the book I am just about to publish, so I was very interested to see what Mr. Harris had to say. I was extremely disappointed.

I was shocked by the shallowness of his arguments. The scientific evidence he draws on are experiments that I read about 15 years ago; I can’t understand why he doesn’t include the copious evidence against free will that neuroscience has amassed in the l...more
Ryan
This book tackles a topic that is important in the development of a realistic worldview: Do we really have free will? After reading this book, I feel that I understand myself and others better, in a way that is consistent with reality.

I found the chapter on moral responsibility especially compelling.

"Viewing human beings as natural phenomena need not damage our system of criminal justice. If we could incarcerate earthquakes and hurricanes for their crimes, we would build prisons for them as well...more
Rob
Like most of Sam Harris' material, thought provoking. If you follow his blog, unsurprising. Harris explains we need to be aware that we are not as free as we think we are (insert Goethe quote). This awareness does not dehumanize us, but only increases our understanding of ourselves and compassion for others. Our conscious decisions are influenced by brain states that we did not bring about, but the lack of Free will does not mean decisions and deliberations are unimportant. The book should be re...more
Zach
I just can't seem to leave this perennially thorny philosophical topic alone, despite it being 1) utterly pedestrian as "deep thinking" goes, and 2) generally depressing in my inevitable conclusion. As Harris outlines early in the book, there are basically three camps on the question: the determinists, who think that our selves are governed by physical law and free will is an illusion; the libertarians, also known as dualists, who believe in a separate, metaphysical self as the pilot of our phys...more
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16593
"Sam Harris (born 1967) is an American non-fiction writer and philosopher and neuroscientist. He is the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004), which won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), a rejoinder to the criticism his first book attracted. His new book, The Moral Landscape, explores how science might determine human...more
More about Sam Harris...
Letter to a Christian Nation The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values Lying The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief

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“You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.” 28 likes
“A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.” 14 likes
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