FREE WILL by Sam Harris


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In a brilliant and concise book, the co-founder of Project Reason argues that free will is an illusion.

Harris (The Moral Landscape, 2010, etc.) contends that while most of us feel like we have free will, everything that we seem to choose to do is the result of a chain of causes over which we have no ultimate control—synapses, neural chemistry and genetic predispositions, as well as past events and our environment. Harris, who has a background in neuroscience, relies on that discipline and personal introspection. The neuroscience is impressive. In lab experiments in which subjects were asked to make decisions as regions of their brains were monitored, scientists could see that a decision had been made 7 to 10 seconds before the subject was consciously aware of it. The introspection argument is equally powerful, and Harris points out that much of our life is based on luck and that any of us could have been dealt a very different hand. He argues that accepting that free will is an illusion will help us to create a more ethical society. Currently, our justice system presumes free will, punishing under the assumption that given the same circumstances, an individual could have chosen differently. Exceptions are made for insanity, brain tumors, etc., all of which presume that the individual's free will has been compromised. However, if we assume that free will is illusory—i.e., that criminals are acting outside of their own volition—the question becomes how to deal with offenders and how to protect society. Harris also asks what this conception means for an individual’s sense of self.

Short enough to be read in a single sitting and provocative enough to arouse outrage and rebuttals.

Pub Date: March 6th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-8340-0
Page count: 86pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2012


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