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Free Will

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  31,929 ratings  ·  2,467 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, 96 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Free Press
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Popular Answered Questions
Sten Vesterli No. While it does discuss some philosophical ideas, those are not central to the discussion.
Gary Free will is a perception of self-motivating force where that force is a separate entity unto itself (i.e.: not having integral interactions that act …moreFree will is a perception of self-motivating force where that force is a separate entity unto itself (i.e.: not having integral interactions that act on it and so are independent of those interactions.)

In other words: Free will is the perception of a self-motivating force with regard to our mental life; i.e.: that we (the free will of self) instruct and put into action all of the other components of our being - physiology, behavior, continued thought, etc. (less)

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Joel
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I like padding my reading challenge with ridiculously short books.
Stephanie *Eff your feelings*
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
Trevor
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
BlackOxford
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Kick ‘Em While They’re Down

This is a book of academic philosophy written in popular form. In it Harris is primarily concerned with defending his position about the illusory nature of the idea of Free Will, principally against the philosopher Daniel Dennett. However, there is an important cultural background to this debate which Harris has refrained from alluding to, I suppose in deference to professional discipline. This background is theological and subtly pervades the entire debate. The politi
...more
Alex J. O'Connor
This book is succinctly mind-blowing. After finishing reading (actually, listening to) it, I am solidly convinced that the conventional understanding of 'free will' is an illusion My only gripe regards his talk of moral responsibility: Harris raises some interesting questions (how can we hold criminals accountable if they are not in control of their actions?) but falls short of answering them to any satisfaction. I believe that this is due to the fact that such questions are unanswerable, I just ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Lying / Free Will, Sam Harris

Sam Harris says the idea of Free Will "cannot be mapped on to any conceivable reality" and is incoherent. According to Harris, science "reveals you to be a biochemical puppet."

People's thoughts and intentions, Harris says, "emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control."

Every choice we make is made as a result of preceding causes.

These choices we make are determined by those causes, and are therefore not really
...more
Riku Sayuj
Aug 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-religion, r-r-rs

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 conclud
...more
Kathleen Brugger
May 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jakob J.
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Caroline
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Simeon
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
"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
Kevin
Whoever said that there are no absolutes in philosophy must have surely had the topic of free will in mind. I've never heard more compelling arguments for such opposing points of view, each with its own existential hyperbole of quintessential conflubbery (yes, I just made up my own word, as a determinist I had no other choice).

If you're committed to the mental calisthenics necessary to tackle the tentacled titan that is Free Will, you owe it to yourself to seek out Daniel Dennett's 'Elbow Room'
...more
Crito
Dec 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
So,

–the concept of free will is "fundamentally incoherent"
–rather, everything is entirely determined, except also random
–this is supported by one particular result in cogsci
–since there is no free will there are no doings, just happenings
–if doings are incoherent and there are only happenings, then our penal institutions punish people not for what they do but what happens to them
–so what we should DO is TAKE ACTION to reform our institutions accordingly
–also I would like to thank my wife for all
...more
Max
Jun 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: atheism, science



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
Alan Johnson
Although Sam Harris is a neuroscientist rather than a theologian, he prosecutes his case against free will in this book with religious zeal rather than scientific objectivity and rigor. He constantly and repeatedly makes uncorroborated blanket statements that the reader is evidently supposed to take on faith. The book reads like a lawyer's brief—and not a very good one at that (I speak as a retired litigation lawyer)—rather than a dispassionate scientific or philosophical inquiry.

Harris, like ma
...more
Sara Alaee
This essay is a brief treatise on what author, Sam Harris, calls the “illusion of free will”. In his typical “Harris” fashion, he demonstrates that the popular conception of free will as that which allows us to “do what we want to do without any outer or inner compulsions” is in fact a confusion. We, humans, are no more than the product of our genes and our past life experiences - both of which we can’t exert much influence upon. In a more scientific term, it’s our “neurons” that determine our t ...more
Sally
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
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
Tudor Vlad
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Free Will is a short but informative book (judging by its length calling it an essay would probably be more accurate) looking to prove that free will is an illusion, and I have to say, it managed to convince me.
Despite the daunting subject, Haris' ideas are clear and easy to grasp which is something I really appreciate in non-fiction. So many authors get so tangled in their ideas that they forget that what they're writing isn't meant just for them.
It was great, food for thought for a very long
...more
Douglas Wilson
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Brian Jo
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Chad Kettner
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, philosophy
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
Paul
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Vanessa
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
  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
...more
Agnė
Dec 17, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: paper-ebok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joseph
May 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
I suppose I ought to begin with the disclaimer that I happen to believe in something like free will (though I won't articulate its complexities here), and this book is an argument against it. Having made that disclaimer, let me say that I am reviewing this book as a scientist and a philosopher, not so much as a religious person. Unfortunately, what this book needs is more time than I'll give it here, but let me summarize the biggest frustrations I had with it.

As a scientist: Sam Harris is very s
...more
Elyse Walters
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love this guy Sam Harris!!!

After reading "The Moral Landscape", no topic that Sam Harris takes on would surprise me --(and anything he takes on--he does with top skill)
If I needed a good lawyer --I'd want to hire somebody like "Sam Harris".

AGAIN, I walk away from reading a "SAM HARRIS" book buying his theory! Its clear!!! I'd love to find fault...(love to debate)....lol
but can't, he is soooooooooo RIGHT ON THE MARKET. (writes it so damn CLEAR and easy to digest for people like me). I think th
...more
Jamie (JK)
May 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Kat Kennedy
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
That was an exceedingly quick book to read...
Andrei Vasilachi
May 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
2.5 / 5

A rather disappointing and shallow look at the illusion of free will. As others have mentioned before me, this should've been a blog post or two, not a book. I get the arguments, and I agree with some of them and disagree with others, but that's not the point. I'm disappointed in how brief and unphilosophical his ruminations were on various implications of us realizing that free will is an illusion (which it most probably is). The implications are so vast that he should've spent way more
...more
Lena
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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Sam Harris (born 1967) is an American non-fiction writer, 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 attrac
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