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Free Will
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Free Will [Format Kindle]

Sam Harris
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Free Will


The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about. Morality, law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, feelings of guilt and personal accomplishment—most of what is distinctly human about our lives seems to depend upon our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice. If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clockwork, and any conception of justice that emphasized punishing them (rather than deterring, rehabilitating, or merely containing them) would appear utterly incongruous. And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high.

In the early morning of July 23, 2007, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, two career criminals, arrived at the home of Dr. William and Jennifer Petit in Cheshire, a quiet town in central Connecticut. They found Dr. Petit asleep on a sofa in the sunroom. According to his taped confession, Komisarjevsky stood over the sleeping man for some minutes, hesitating, before striking him in the head with a baseball bat. He claimed that his victim’s screams then triggered something within him, and he bludgeoned Petit with all his strength until he fell silent.

The two then bound Petit’s hands and feet and went upstairs to search the rest of the house. They discovered Jennifer Petit and her daughters—Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11—still asleep. They woke all three and immediately tied them to their beds.

At 7:00 a.m., Hayes went to a gas station and bought four gallons of gasoline. At 9:30, he drove Jennifer Petit to her bank to withdraw $15,000 in cash. The conversation between Jennifer and the bank teller suggests that she was unaware of her husband’s injuries and believed that her captors would release her family unharmed.

While Hayes and the girls’ mother were away, Komisarjevsky amused himself by taking naked photos of Michaela with his cell phone and masturbating on her. When Hayes returned with Jennifer, the two men divided up the money and briefly considered what they should do. They decided that Hayes should take Jennifer into the living room and rape her—which he did. He then strangled her, to the apparent surprise of his partner.

At this point, the two men noticed that William Petit had slipped his bonds and escaped. They began to panic. They quickly doused the house with gasoline and set it on fire. When asked by the police why he hadn’t untied the two girls from their beds before lighting the blaze, Komisarjevsky said, “It just didn’t cross my mind.” The girls died of smoke inhalation. William Petit was the only survivor of the attack.

Upon hearing about crimes of this kind, most of us naturally feel that men like Hayes and Komisarjevsky should be held morally responsible for their actions. Had we been close to the Petit family, many of us would feel entirely justified in killing these monsters with our own hands. Do we care that Hayes has since shown signs of remorse and has attempted suicide? Not really. What about the fact that Komisarjevsky was repeatedly raped as a child? According to his journals, for as long as he can remember, he has known that he was “different” from other people, psychologically damaged, and capable of great coldness. He also claims to have been stunned by his own behavior in the Petit home: He was a career burglar, not a murderer, and he had not consciously intended to kill anyone. Such details might begin to give us pause.

As we will see, whether criminals like Hayes and Komisarjevsky can be trusted to honestly report their feelings and intentions is not the point: Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. Nor can we account for why we are not like them. 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 a 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 an 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. The role of luck, therefore, appears decisive.

Of course, if we learned that both these men had been suffering from brain tumors that explained their violent behavior, our moral intuitions would shift dramatically. But a neurological disorder appears to be just a special case of physical events giving rise to thoughts and actions. Understanding the neurophysiology of the brain, therefore, would seem to be as exculpatory as finding a tumor in it. How can we make sense of our lives, and hold people accountable for their choices, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds?

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.

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. If a man’s choice to shoot the president is determined by a certain pattern of neural activity, which is in turn the product of prior causes—perhaps an unfortunate coincidence of bad genes, an unhappy childhood, lost sleep, and cosmic-ray bombardment—what can it possibly mean to say that his will is “free”? No one has ever described a way in which mental and physical processes could arise that would attest to the existence of such freedom. Most illusions are made of sterner stuff than this.

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. As we are about to see, however, both of these assumptions are false.

But the deeper truth is that free will doesn’t even correspond to any subjective fact about us—and introspection soon proves as hostile to the idea as the laws of physics are. Seeming acts of volition merely arise spontaneously (whether caused, uncaused, or probabilistically inclined, it makes no difference) and cannot be traced to a point of origin in our conscious minds. 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.

Revue de presse

"In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings."
—V. S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, and author of The Tell-Tale Brain

"Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000."
—Oliver Sacks

"Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. In Free Will, Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris’s books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice."—Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, and author of Why Evolution Is True

"Many say that believing that there is no free will is impossible—or, if possible, will cause nihilism and despair. In this feisty and personal essay, Harris offers himself as an example of a heart made less self-absorbed, and more morally sensitive and creative, because this particular wicked witch is dead."
—Owen Flanagan, Professor of Philosophy, Duke University, and author of The Really Hard Problem

"If you believe in free will, or know someone who does, here is the perfect antidote. In this smart, engaging, and extremely readable little book, Sam Harris argues that free will doesn’t exist, that we’re better off knowing that it doesn’t exist, and that—once we think about it in the right way—we can appreciate from our own experience that it doesn’t exist. This is a delightful discussion by one of the sharpest scholars around.”
—Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, and author of How Pleasure Works

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Philosophers debating free will have long understood that the term can be used in many ways, most of which are incoherent. Thus, advocates of "libertarian free will" (founded on the belief that free will requires indeterminism) have had to face the objection that indeterminate events in the brain would be expected to produce randomness, not freedom. And advocates of "compatibilist free will" (founded on the belief that some kinds of free will are compatible with determinism) have had to face other problems, including the one that many people find compatibilism intuitively implausible. Despite these difficulties, most leading philosophers (with a few important exceptions such as Galen Strawson, Derk Pereboom and Ted Honderich), have come to the conclusion that, if used cautiously, the term "free will" can be applied to human beings in a coherent, meaningful and true manner. One of the hard-won achievements of this 200 year old debate has been to separate out conceptions of free will that have a good chance of being coherent and even true, from those that are incoherent or probably untrue. It has been clear to all for many years that unsophisticated conceptions of free will are unlikely to stand up to philosophical analysis.

This 66 page text makes little attempt to contribute to the modern debate, but rather takes the easy option of attacking "the popular conception of free will" which, according to Harris "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". Of course, this popular conception gets a thrashing, because assumption (1) is ambiguous and assumption (2) is simplistic.
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228 internautes sur 271 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Brief, cogent, provocative and convincing. 6 mars 2012
Par Greg - Publié sur
It was a Reformed theologian who disabused me of the concept of free will several years ago, and I've found it a fascinating topic ever since. Sam Harris has produced a brief monograph on the issue that manages to distill the key issues without creating an impenetrable density for the reader to slog through.

For those who think value is found in a dollars-to-words ratio, the thinness and focus of this volume might not seem like a bargain, but I loved having a book with something important to say that I actually READ. I'm not saying that all subject matter must be reduced to tweets, but I know that, for example, as fascinated as I am by the topic of moral improvement that Stephen Pinker covers in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I am never going to read more than 600 pages just on that subject. There are simply too many other things I also care about. So Harris has done people like me a real favor by thinking about free will and pulling together the relevant evidence for his position, and expressing his ideas with his trademark wit and clarity in a work that can be digested in an hour or less.

For those who read about free will in other books and publications, there's nothing very new here. In fact, given the choice between recommending this book and something else, depending on the person I was talking with, I might instead suggest Cris Evatt's The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition. Cris has no credentials and the book is a collection of essays and quotes from various sources rather than a single, cohesive argument, but it makes one of the strongest cumulative cases for determinism in a short work that I've seen.

The one thing that did surprise me is the positive blurb on the book jacket from Owen Flanagan, whose The Problem Of The Soul: Two Visions Of Mind And How To Reconcile Them is a stunning case for compatabilism, whereas Harris writes, "Compatabilists have produced a vast literature in an effort to finesse [moral complications from determinism]. More than in any other area of academic philosophy, the result resembles theology. (I suspect this is not an accident. The effort has been primarily one of not allowing the laws of nature to strip us of a cherished illusion.)" And again: "Compatibilism amounts to nothing more than an assertion of the following creed: A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings." What Harris (convincingly, in my view) makes a case for is quite different from the case that Flanagan makes, so I think it is to Flanagan's credit that he nevertheless endorses Harris's work.

Daniel Dennett comes in for some well-deserved (but well-modulated) criticism in "Free Will" for the sort of epistemological shell-game he employs in an effort to rescue some "elbow room" for a brand of free will. I noted earlier that it was the argument of a theologian friend that made me realize that free will is impossible, but that's not quite complete. It was that argument in addition to the utter failure of Dennett's Freedom Evolves to convince me that anything like a free will worth having could possible exist that drained the last corpuscle of my delusion from my mind. There's nothing like a failed argument, by friend or foe, to make you consider the plausible correctness of the opposite position. The weaknesses I discerned in Dennett's case are precisely the ones Harris goes after, and in brief, intelligent prose dispatches them with an effectiveness and efficiency few authors could manage.

Harris states that the existence of an immaterial soul does nothing to rescue the notion of libertarian free will. This is certainly correct, although I have heard the argument made many times as a trope that "free will is not possible if humans don't have a spirit or soul." Because the issue is causality in general and not merely physical causality, whether a cause is purely physical, like a cue ball hitting an eight ball (or an electron firing in a neuron), or can be thought of in immaterial terms, like an idea inspiring a poem, makes no difference. Everything, physical or otherwise, is either the result of prior conditions, or if not, is random. Souls change none of that.

So theists who try to argue that without a god, humans have no free will are wrong. That simply doesn't matter. And perhaps the most disturbing implication of some points in Harris's argument is that if a god did exist, in all likelihood it wouldn't have libertarian free will, either. If you struggled with some of the absurdities inherent in our existence before, a deep appreciation of our condition vis-a-vis determinism will push you so far down the rabbit hole you might just find yourself reading much longer, more profound, denser works in some effort to get your bearings. And in the end it is probable that the best you'll be able to muster is simple agreement with what Harris says in this slim volume.
86 internautes sur 106 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Superb!! 6 mars 2012
Par Book Shark - Publié sur
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Free Will by Sam Harris

"Free Will" is the persuasive essay that makes the compelling case that free will is an illusion. Free will is intuitively understood but a difficult concept to master. Dr. Harris systematically, and with few precise words destroys the notion of the concept of free will. With a degree in philosophy and a doctorate degree in neuroscience and the innate ability to convey difficult concepts to the layperson, Dr. Harris is best suited to enlighten us on such a challenging topic. This 96-page book is composed of the following eight chapters: 1. The Unconscious Origins of the Will, 2. Changing the Subject, 3. Cause and Effect, 4. Choices, Efforts, Intentions, 5. Might the Truth Be Bad for Us?, 6. Moral Responsibility, 7. Politics, and 8. Conclusion.

1. Fascinating topic in the hands of a great thinker.
2. Profound without being unintelligible. Elegant and accessible prose.
3. Does a great job of dissecting free will. The author systematically beaks down the concept of free will by attacking it from various angles.
4. More so than his previous great essay "Lying" he makes more use of his scientific background. He relays studies that support his arguments.
5. The illusion of being in control is a concept that Dr. Harris masterfully destroys.
6. The author differentiates voluntary and involuntary actions.
7. Great quotes, "Our sense of free will results from a failure to understand this: We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises".
8. A discussion on the three main philosophical approaches: determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism.
9. Great examples that help the reader comprehend the challenging concept of free will.
10. Classic Harris eloquence, "How can we be `free' as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brains that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware? We can't".
11. Does quantum mechanics provide a foothold for free will? Find out.
12. Does the process of conscious deliberation provide a foundation for free will? Find out.
13. Do we really control our minds? Once again, the mastery of Dr. Harris continues.
14. The implications of not having a free will. Great points!
15. A fascinating discussion on the level of responsibility.
16. How does a retributive judicial system fit in all this?
17. Free will within a religious framework.
18. Free will and politics.
19. A final chapter that brings everything together.
20. Links worked great on the Kindle.
21. Brief, powerful essay that can be read multiple times.

1. My only discomfort with the essay is the casual use of the term soul. I understand that Dr. Harris does not accept the soul as an empirical concept and may have used the term as a metaphor (equating it to the brain in one instance) but I prefer leaving out all supernatural terms unless properly defined.
2. Some topics are introduced briefly and leave you wanting more, isn't that always the case with Dr. Harris?
3. Having to wait for Dr. Harris's next intellectual contribution.

In summary, what makes this essay great is that the more you read the more you get out of it. It's a profound essay that is easy to follow but is hard to master. It is so rewarding to read interesting topics from great minds. This essay is the ultimate appetizer, delicious and with an everlasting aftertaste. Free will is not an easy concept to understand but a worthwhile pursuit to endeavor and Dr. Harris makes the journey a fulfilling one. I can't recommend this brief book enough, highly recommended.

Further suggestions: "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values" by the same author, "Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition" by Cris Evatt, "The Problem Of The Soul: Two Visions Of Mind And How To Reconcile Them" by Owen Flanagan, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard, "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts)" by Carol Tavris, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality" by Lawrence Tancredi, and the "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker.
40 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A good start, but could use some fleshing out. 12 mars 2012
Par Norman Bearrentine - Publié sur
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It's great to have Sam on board the no-free-will train, but for those of us who have been riding it for a while, the scenery may seem largely familiar. Still, the idea of not having free will is so difficult to grasp, even for those who have been struggling with it for some time, that Sam's arguments, analogies, and the recent research he presents are likely to be helpful. It's a short book for such a big topic, but its brevity and clarity may make it more accessible to some than a work of more depth might be.

On the other hand, it would have been fairly easy to give his arguments a broader perspective. For example, he says:

"People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about."(pp. 31-32, all references are to the Kindle Edition.)

In fact, people of all cultures and all times have not necessarily had this feeling. The Greeks seem to have laid the foundation for the idea, and it primarily evolved as a topic of Western thought. Seeing free will as a cultural, historical phenomenon can undermine the sense of inevitability that accompanies it in Western discourse.

Free will is part of a complex of misconceptions about how our brains work, and while Sam scratches the surface of some of these in a scattered way, these misconceptions reinforce each other, making it difficult to root one out unless all of them are exposed.

The limitations of conscious thought are part of the complex: we are conscious of only some of the end products of infinitely complex unconscious brain processes, and this is a topic Sam covers very well:

"Our sense of free will results from a failure to appreciate this: 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."(p. 17)

This failure to appreciate the limitations of consciousness leads to further misconceptions, one of which is the sense of a unified self. Sam mentions that "People have many competing desires,"(p. 22) which would have been a great place to bring up the idea of multiple selves, or what I call "situational identity." Understanding how competing desires arise and how the idea of a unified self obscures their origins could further undermine the notion of free will, and help clarify how "one of these opposing desires inexplicably triumphs over its rival".(p. 22)

Language is complicit in many of our misconceptions, not just those involving free will. Its limitations allow us to imagine entities that don't exist, and no where is this more significant than in the idea of a unified self.

If Sam had explored the topics I've mentioned more thoroughly, he might have further loosened the grip of the idea of free will, and he would have had a broader base from which to explore the benefits of giving up that idea. As he says, "Getting behind our thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered)."(pp. 52-53)

If you'd like to go further behind your thoughts and feelings and pursue the implications, check out my essay on free will: [...]
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1.0 étoiles sur 5 Sam Harris Misses the Mark in Free Will 9 mars 2012
Par James R. Taylor - Publié sur
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Sam Harris Free Will

Sam Harris is a master of the polemic. He has written very eloquently and convincingly concerning atheism in his books, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Full disclosure: My wife, Mary C. Taylor, and I are atheists and she has a website and video lectures on atheism, as well as being assistant organizer and lecturer of an atheist Meetup. She has contributed signifantly to this essay. Mr. Harris is an important force for secularism in the United States.
But his latest offering, Free Will, a scant 66 page essay in book format (with some 7 pages of notes,) is lacking in many essential ways, particularly in the matter of evidence for his claims. Harris states there is no free will, that it is an illusion, but offers no proof for his assertion. In fact, on Pages 13, 38, 39, and 40, he states that the sources of our intentions, desires, actions, and wants are unknown, a mystery, inscrutable or obscure. He seems to be asserting that because we do not know the sources for our thoughts and actions, it necessarily follows that we do not have free will. Such a flimsy connection is not proof. He cites some well known experiments, such as the Libet, all of which are inconclusive, and does not provide the reader with strong scientific evidence to back up his assertions.
Mr. Harris critiques compatibilism by too often, for such a short essay, emphasizing the differences between himself and Daniel Dennett, the philosopher who has written Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves. In fact, Dennett makes a very cogent case for the compatibilism and coexistence of determinism and free will in human beings. One of Mr. Harris's breezy dismissals of compatibilism on Page 16 is that the "free will compatibilists defend is not the free will most people feel they have." Such a statement seems to imply that Mr. Harris sets aside the fine and scholarly work of many philosophers such as Dennett, because it does not accord with some popular misconception of free will. Populism would appear to trump scholarship in this book.
On Pages 10 and 24, Harris apparently infers that if we had exceptional machines and brain scanners to monitor our action sequences and choices, we would be astounded to discover that we were not in control of them. However, we do not yet have experiments that might be conclusive. To state that one knows the outcome of future experiments is nonsense. In fact, neuroscience is at the beginning of a long voyage of discovery about the brain, the mind and consciousness.
Another difficulty with "Free Will" is the author's shift to prescription rather than description. Such a segue is yet another example of the philosopher David Hume's famous and much discussed Is/Ought problem concerning Ethics. Harris suddenly advocates what the justice system should do. On Page 54, he writes: "Our system of justice should reflect an understanding that any of us could have been dealt a different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved with morality itself." Why should any of us assume, given Mr. Harris's assertion that choices are not in our control, that most citizens will agree about changes to our justice system? Many people, if not in conscious control of their belief and ethical systems, may reach opposite conclusions. Mr. Harris is not the only champion of determinism who seems to dismiss reason as a motivating factor, and then to advocate change based on conscious reasoning.
My opinion, after reading this small book, is that Sam Harris has done very little to advance understanding or forward the argument in the contentious and knotty issue of free will and determinism. With all due respect, I regretfully cannot recommend his Free Will to readers. Daniel Dennett's Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves are excellent starting places for a discussion of the argument. The problem of free will vis-à-vis determinism reaches back to Ancient Greece and Israel, and is not quickly or easily perused. Galen Strawson, Saul Smilansky, Peter Strawson, Manuel Vargas, Robert Kane and Daniel Wegner are excellent sources. Robert Kane has edited the Oxford Handbook of Free Will, with superb essays on both sides of the divide. Professor Shaun Nichols, from the University of Arizona, offers an excellent DVD course from the Teaching Company on Free Will and Determinism that is very balanced, thorough and essential for the appraisal and understanding of the multitudinous opinions and experiments concerning free will and determinism.
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2.0 étoiles sur 5 Muddled and disappointing 29 avril 2012
Par Aaron C. Brown - Publié sur
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I agree with several earlier reviewers who pointed out the weaknesses in the argument. The author relies on two main points. First is a sketchy description of two experiments that suggest some decisions are made before conscious awareness of the decision. This is a fascinating area of research that shapes ideas of what free will is, if it exists at all. But this book does not describe the research in either the breadth or depth required for useful insight, it jumps to the wild overstatement that it will be possible to predict every action of a person before that person is aware of deciding to act. Not only is this unsupported by experiment, the author contradicts it later in the book. He claims conscious deliberations affect actions, therefore it will never be possible to predict all actions before the actor is aware of the decision to act.

The second argument is a negative one, there is no clear statement of what free will is. If everything is determined by physical laws, it's hard to see much room for free will. I agree with the author that adding in randomness or supernatural causes doesn't change that. Free will has to be unpredictable from outside consciousness, but fully explained by decisions made inside consciousness. That's neither deterministic nor random, and we don't have a good theory for anything else.

But it's a weak argument to jump from "no one understands it" to "it doesn't exist." Physical determinism doesn't explain consciousness, and consciousness has to be the key to free will, since it is the conscious entity that believes it is free to choose. Moreover determinism just pushes the problem backward. If everything is predetermined, predetermined by what? We need to understand a lot more about the universe before we can assert that currently-known physical laws explain everything, including consciousness and existence, and admit only deterministic or random phenomena.

What this book actually does is argue that the scope for free will is narrower than sometimes supposed. Decisions that we believe are conscious may have been made unconsciously, and decisions we make consciously may not be implemented. I don't know anyone who disagrees with these propositions, however.

I found the amount of horrific violence in this book to be unpleasant. It opens with a multiple rape-murder and later references eye-gouging and senseless murders. Oddly, with the exception of one man hit by a baseball bat, all the victims are female, without exception all the perpetrators are male, and more than half of the perpetrators and victims are children. The book does not rise to the level of a slasher film, but it's hard to know what all this is doing is an essay on philosophy, except perhaps to distract from the weakness of the argument. There is some excuse for discussing crime, as attitudes toward free will could affect attitudes toward punishment. But in this case it is the rational crimes that are most important to discuss, embezzlement for example. That is where you are most likely to see the operation of free will, not in crimes by children or senseless crimes of extreme violence. The existence of free will does not rule out that some behavior is uncontrollable by conscious impulse.

Another off-putting section is on political implications. The author accuses "conservatives" of attributing all results in life to personal effort, that heredity and luck have nothing to do with it. He does not name anyone who supports this view, and it's not even vaguely true. I could accept as an oversimplified view that liberals are likely to emphasize social conditions and luck as determinants of life outcomes, while conservatives are apt to focus on heredity and choices. If the author is correct and everything is predetermined, then liberals have to give up luck and conservatives have to give up choice.

My final criticism is the author doesn't even attempt to be consistent with his argument. Much of the book makes no sense if he really doesn't believe in free will. "Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives," presupposes a free will to "get behind" and "steer." Adding "(while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered)," makes it unintelligible. Who is steering us? Does it have free will? It might be more satisfying to believe we are steered by unconscious impulses than by conscious thoughts, but if there is no free will, how can this choice affect our steering? The concept of free will is embedded deeply in language. Any serious attempt to discuss it must be written carefully, this book is clearly not a serious attempt.
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Compatibilism amounts to nothing more than an assertion of the following creed: A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings. &quote;
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Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. &quote;
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The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousnessrather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it. &quote;
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