Eric's Reviews > Free Will

Free Will by Sam   Harris
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's review
Jul 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: recent-reads, science, philosophy, religion

This is a very slim book. It almost feels like a pamphlet. Regardless, I read it slowly over the course of a few months. A page here, a page there. I kind of prefer reading philosophical books that way -- writing that requires deep thinking often requires that I spend a lot of time digesting it. I don't pretend to be a deep thinker, and I realize many of my friends probably plowed through this in 30 minutes.

I'm a bit conflicted. As I set out reading the first few chapters, Harris nearly had me convinced that we do *not* actually have free will. This is, as he points out, certainly a bummer to us humans, who pride ourselves on our ability to make choices and to choose to live (or not) moral lives where we make good (and difficult) choices.

While I was half way through the book, I read a write-up of a study which indicates that perhaps some of the research that Harris uses in his argument might not have been definitive, and that researchers believe they may have located a mechanism that indicates a conscious decision prior to the brain's signaling to decide (which had previously been shown to precede our being conscious of having made a decision) - got it?

So, yeah. Harris' argument is absolutely a powerful one. He writes, as usual, with great clarity, and he is quite convincing. Had I not read some of the research that came to light after the publishing of this book, I might be of the camp that we *don't* truly have free will. As of now, I'm not so sure.

I wish more people would read this, however. It has a lot to say about how neuroscience plays into our decisions, and how so many of our decisions should not be reflections of us as moral or immoral beings, but rather a product of our genetics and our neurophysiology. This type of thinking should absolutely be taken into consideration in criminal courts -- not that we should ever excuse horrible acts (but rather, we should stress the importance of understanding their origins and how we might curtail them.)


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