Free Will Quotes

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Free Will Free Will by Sam Harris
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Free Will Quotes (showing 1-30 of 50)
“You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic—in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible. There is no telling how much I might change in the future. Just as one wouldn’t draw a lasting conclusion about oneself on the basis of a brief experience of indigestion, one needn’t do so on the basis of how one has thought or behaved for vast stretches of time in the past. A creative change of inputs to the system—learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention—may radically transform one’s life.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn't choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime - by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism.

Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you no more decide the next thought you think than the next thought I write.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“The men and women on death row have some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad environments, and bad ideas (and the innocent, of course, have supremely bad luck). Which of these quantities, exactly, were they responsible for? No human being is responsible for his genes or his upbringing, yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character. Our system of justice should reflect an understanding that any of us could have been dealt a very different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“My choices matter—and there are paths towards making wiser ones—but I cannot choose what I choose. And if it ever appears that I do—for instance, after going back between two options—I do not choose to choose what I choose. There is a regress here that always ends in darkness.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“We are not self-caused little gods.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. As sickening as I find their behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to see the world differently or to resist the impulse to victimize other people. Even if you believe that every human being harbors an immortal soul, the problem of responsibility remains: I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of psychopath. If I had truly been in Komisarjevsky's shoes on July 23,2007 - that is, if I had his genes and life experience and identical brain (or soul) in an identical state - I would have acted exactly as he did. There is simply no intellectually respectable position from which to deny this.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware?”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“I generally start each day with a cup of coffee or tea—sometimes two. This morning, it was coffee (two). Why not tea? I am in no position to know. I wanted coffee more than I wanted tea today, and I was free to have what I wanted. Did I consciously choose coffee over tea? No. The choice was made for me by events in my brain that I, as the conscious witness of my thoughts and actions, could not inspect or influence. Could I have “changed my mind” and switched to tea before the coffee drinker in me could get his bearings? Yes, but this impulse would also have been the product of unconscious causes. Why didn’t it arise this morning? Why might it arise in the future? I cannot know. The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousness—rather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“If you pay attention to your inner life, you will see that the emergence of choices, efforts, and intentions is a fundamentally mysterious process.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Losing a belief in free will has not made me a fatalist - in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible. There is no telling how much I might change in the future. Just as one wouldn't draw a lasting conclusion about oneself on the basis of a brief experience of indigestion, one needn't do so on a basis of how one has thought or behaved for vast stretches of time in the past. A creative change of inputs to the system - learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention - may radically transform one's life. Becoming sensitive to the background causes of one's thoughts and feelings can -paradoxically- allow for greater creative control over one's life. This understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet, of course, but it also allows you to grab hold of one of your strings.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Why didn’t I decide to drink a glass of juice? The thought never occurred to me. Am I free to do that which does not occur to me to do? Of course not.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“The popular conception of free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Compatibilism amounts to nothing more than an assertion of the following creed: A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“You can do what you decide to do—but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“The urge for retribution depends upon our not seeing the underlying causes of human behavior.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose. Of course, this insight does not make social and political freedom any less important. The freedom to do what one intends, and not to do otherwise, is no less valuable than it ever was. Having a gun to your head is still a problem worth rectifying, wherever intentions come from. But the idea that we, as conscious beings, are deeply responsible for the character of our mental lives and subsequent behavior is simply impossible to map onto reality. Consider what it would take to actually have free will. You would need to be aware of all the factors that determine your thoughts and actions, and you would need to have complete control over those factors. But there is a paradox here that vitiates the very notion of freedom—for what would influence the influences? More influences? None of these adventitious mental states are the real you. You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Given the right experimental manipulations, people can be led to believe that they consciously intended an action when they neither chose it nor had control over their movements.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“What evidence could possibly be put forward to show that one could have acted differently in the past?”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousness—rather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc., are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world. Human choice, therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will believe. But the next choice you make will come out of the darkness of prior causes that you, the conscious witness of your experience, did not bring into being.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“None of these adventitious mental states are the real you. You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.”
Sam Harris, Free Will
“You are not in control of your mind—because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts.”
Sam Harris, Free Will

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