Do We Have Free Will? Sam Harris Says No

Today marks the release of Sam Harris‘ new eBook, Free Will. A couple of exclusive excerpts from the book are below!

I had a chance to read the book a couple of weeks ago. As someone who prefers to avoid most philosophical discussions, I found this book easy to understand and quick to read. I’m in no place to argue for or against his thesis, but Harris definitely leaves you with a lot of food for thought and presents some compelling anecdotes to hammer his points home.

After discussing the cases of two criminals:

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.

On the choices we make in life:

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?


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/potorch John Perkins

    the concept of free will only has relevance if you believe that there is such a thing as justice.

    • John Small Berries

      “the concept of free will only has relevance if you believe that there is such a thing as justice.”

      Exactly. To punish people for actions they could not possibly have prevented themselves from taking is the height of injustice.

      • m6wg4bxw

        Would such punishment be considered an action one could not possibly have prevented oneself from taking?

      • Anonymous

        This is only the case if the purpose of the punishment is to dole out harm for the sake of vengeance alone. If punishment is done for the sake of directing future behavior of the offender or others, it can serve the interests of a well-functioning society.

        (This is not to say that I think punishment is the best learning tool. There are more effective and humane ones available.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/potorch John Perkins

         so then if I were to posit that justice is an illusion, then the existence or lack of free will would not have any significance whatsoever.

        • Anonymous

          Not really.   There are different conceptions of free will. Which are you talking about?   I’m not aware of one that has zero implications outside the realm of justice.   Free will theory tend to oppose fatalism, and would tend to encourage striving towards goals.   Why bother working on my ethical beliefs if I’m just going to choose to steal anyway?

      • Anonymous

        That’s only true if you make some very bad assumptions.   There are different reasons to punish people.  One is to give negative reinforcement.   A completely deterministic system can respond to such reinforcement and behaved differently in the future.     The reason we don’t punish the insane is because we don’t expect it to effect their future behavior.     There are other reasons I won’t go into because that is a sufficient reason to punish.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know about that.  The fact that children of parents of faith do leave the faith despite heavy indoctrination in the first two decades doesn’t seem to support such an absolute belief that we’re programmed, because that programming should override outside influences.  But maybe he counters that thought in the book.

    • Erik Cameron

      Not sure what you mean. Most people born into a religion stay with that religion. You would expect heavy programming to usually override outside influences, not always override them, and that’s what happens.

      • Anonymous

        Most, but maybe it’s not as strong of a majority as I would necessarily expect.  The Pew forum says that 44% of American adults aren’t in the faith they were raised in.  Granted, the biggest share is switching denominations.

        • Erik Cameron

          I guess what I’m saying is this doesn’t have anything to do with free will. But then, someone like me who doesn’t believe in free will would think that anyways.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

        I think where jdm8 is going with this is that Harris’ arguments (at least from the quotes presented) does nothing to explain rebellion. I’ve told me students that they need to pay attention in class. Their parents tell them they need to pay attention in class. Sometimes even their peers will tell them that they need to pay attention in class. But what happens at least 3x’s in my class? I have ot get after them for what? Not paying attention in class. 

        They are not programmed to disobey. They make a conscious decision, selfishly, that their e-mail of facebook is more important that limiting reactant problems or learning about Snell’s law. Blah! 

        I don’t think I’ll be buying any time soon after observing the brevity of Hemant’s attention to it, but there’s like a 5% chance I might try to find it in the local library this summer. Unless circumstances dictate otherwise.

        • Anonymous

          He could argue that was genetically controlled and their phenotype, or due to past influences that are hard to unprogram.   

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

       I don’t know what Sam Harris claims in his eBook, but my own opinion is that a-causal free will clearly has nothing to do with whether we’re “programmed” by our nature and experience.  It could be that people just leave their faith because of random but deterministic motion of molecules in our brain, or other invisible chaotic processes.  If you don’t believe in free will, you would simply conclude that people rebel because they had no choice in the matter.

    • Anonymous

      This doesn’t count for or against what anyone else is arguing about concerning free will.   Everyone accepts that people make choices.    The differences are on the definition of the words “free”, and “deterministic”.   Christians pick a ridiculous definition of “free”, and philosophical determinists agree in using that definition.  That agreement by determinists isn’t merely being an assumption temporarily to undermine and argument using proof by contradition either.   They really believe that definition is the correct definition and proceed to make additional mistakes using it (like arguing that someone who is poor is not as “free” as someone who is rich.   Or you can see an example in the comments here .       Poor understanding of what determinism means from the point of view of fallible human knowledge.  

      • subgestion

        I  believe that no one can’t choose where to born and when or where to die naturally. I know it for fact,that life has never been 100% percent perfect, in  every purpose is a mixture. that’s why free will exist in a circumstance way of life and sometime we have no choice than to choose the  outcome that was the best at the moment we make that choice. in other way there are free will and  there are no free will.
        the chance is the free will.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    For me, it is fun to see how people will use this conclusion (no free will) to support their religion, atheism, politics or sex views.  We adapt any view to match our preferences.
    Wait, wasn’t that part of Sam’s point?

    • Anonymous

      Huh?   I believe there is free will and that Sam Harris doesn’t understand what it is.

      • Greg Peterson

        You need to read the book.  You come off as intelligent but ignorant in this area.

        • Anonymous

          Greg, I’ve read several books on the subject, and I have read Sam Harris’s various discussions on his blog, and his videos.  I know his position, and he makes numerous mistakes.   Sam is attacking a conception of free will that I don’t hold.   He makes silly arguments like thinking that becaus some particular cell may fire before we are aware of a decision that it means that we didn’t originate the choice.    Which is ridiculous.    We are not single cells and we includes the cell that fired in the first place.  He is using the same failed arguments that were used to argue that the senses are illusions.    I will pick up the book but I already know that he has failed in several of his arguments.   One of which is in Hemants article.

        • Anonymous

          I’ve now read the book and it does not contain any argument I haven’t heard before. So much for my ignorance. Harris is confused about great many things and paints himself into corners just as I expected.

  • Anonymous

    I bet he only addresses contra-causal free will. There are flavors of free will completely compatible with determinism and stochasticism. It’s a shame because this is some of Dennett’s finest work, and I bet Harris will have people who will parrot him and then accuse me of sophistry for being a compatibilist.

    • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

       Would it be better if I accuse all compatibilists of sophistry?

      I see the situation as analogous to answering “Is the moon made of cheese?” with a ‘yes’ — not because the moon is made of cheese in the original sense, but because our society is so insistent that the moon IS made of cheese that _whatever_ it’s made of, we rename that substance ‘cheese.’ And then philosophers can avoid the pitchforks from a public who is fooled by the use of language.

      • Anonymous

        Free will compatibilism preserves moral reasoning and intuitions which mostly work for lay persons by replacing contra-causal free will nonsense with something that’s functionally identical. This is essential, because not only is contra-causal obviously nonexistent, but it doesn’t even do the philosophical work required of it. If choices are not caused, how could I hope to persuade someone by argument? If we are all unmoved movers, that makes every man a god of some type creating chaos. The same problem occurs by grounding free will in quantum mechanics. When we reason about choices, we’re not talking about something that violates some type of Newtonian determinism (which is also a false in the absolute sense, but true enough at most scales that humans operate in). We’re talking about the way actors with internal state that’s impractical to determine operate. It’s completely compatible with the notion that the causes will result in only 1 outcome because we do not know all the causes.

        • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

          Then say we don’t need free will to preserve our “moral reasoning and intuitions.”

          • Reuben Kellen

             Except that we need some term to describe the adaptive/reactive system for evaluation and action that sapient organisms have that differentiates it from a simple and static mechanical reaction. Why not call the former “free will”?

          • Anonymous

            In addition to what Reuben said we need to use it to follow the causal chain backwards to determine responsiblity.   The way the philosophical determinists have it (rejecting free will) the moral reasoning and intuitions don’t matter.    In their world view you can always trace backwards from a consequence of an action past the actor his past, and his environment in a way that always resolves him of responsibility.  Just as in the first Sam Harris quote.

            Let me critique that from a compatibilist point of view so you can see some of his errors.   First off you cannot replace atom for atom because no two humans are identical in the number of atoms.   So his mapping is not one to one.   So I could map him to any object in the same manner.  Let me map him to a weed in my tomato garden that is shading my tomatoes and taking up nutrients.     So sam is a pokeweed.

            Now it is quite clear in a determinist way that this pokeweed is responsible for reducing my harvest of tomatoes.   It is responsible for the undesireable situation.   So I find Sam responsible an pull him out by the roots and discard him.  

            Why didn’t I punish him?   Well, because punishment would not have changed his pokeweedish behavior.

            I can still find him responsible for something.   It doesn’t matter that his parents were pokeweeds, or how the wind blew him into my garden, etc.

            If anything certain types of actions we take against criminals should be more severe for those that cannot be reformed.    Whereas we would only lock someone up who goes around poking people to protect others until we think he is reformed, a person with the trainability of a pokeweed should be lock up indefinitely as a preventative measure.

            Free will is intimately intwined with notions of finding the origin(s) of responsibility and correcting as best that one can.   One cannot go back in time and correct someones long dead grandparents so they brought the parents up better and then the criminal.   One has to deal with what one has.    In the case where bad behavior is genetically based (and with current technology impossible to fix) then a preventative measure might include locking the person up indefinately so that they cannot spread their genes to future generations.

            We don’t have to even decide what proportion of bad behavior is environmental vs. genetic.   We can punish in proportion to the crime and odds of catching the criminal.  That alone would provide selective pressures that would eliminate both replicable genes and memes from continuing on.

            Acting beings do in fact act as a feedback locus that tends to enhance the ability of organisms to effect their environment and be effected by it.    It also tends to organize us as individuals with self interested goals.   This locus is quite real and no figment of the imagination and quite different than the undifferentiated and unlocalized cause and effect of the determinist.    People are causal agents.

      • Anonymous

        No the correct analogy would be if society believed there were whales but thought they were fish.   Harris would be arguing that fish could not get as big as whales are purported to be (because of gills or some such) and then be arguing that whales don’t exist.   Compatibilists are arguing that whales aren’t fish.   So indeed these giant fish don’t exist, and we had argued that whales were not fish long before Sam Harris using the exact argument that he borrowed from us.  We argued they were not fish because of the problem of gills and transportation of oxygen (or whatever works. I actually don’t know how big a fish could get.)   We however think that whales actually exist but the nature of the whale is misunderstood by everyone.   

        The thing that is astounding about Harris’s arguments is that we are using whale blubber all the time he is arguing they don’t exist.  

        The self and free will are not illusions.

        • Mike Laing

           I would say that Harris is a whale arguing that he is a fish, because fish live in water.

          I always ask the hard determinists, ‘if you don’t have free-will, why do you act like you do?’ Sort of like, ‘if you are a fish, why do you surface to breathe?’

    • Greg Peterson

      I like Dennett, for Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and for Breaking the Spell, but no book is more responsible for my rejection of free will than Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves,” which so utterly failed to make its case that it drove me to become a strict determinist.

      • Anonymous

        That’s funny.  I read it and it had the opposite effect for me.   I had never believed in Christian free will because it was just a silly concept involving dualism, ghosts and such.   

        Determinism is compatible with any state of affairs anyway.   There is no way to actually tell from inside a system if it is deterministic or not.  Unfortunately you are inside the system.    

        Determinism vs. indeterminism as far as I is unfalsifiable conjecture.    The determinist cannot prove that what happens had to follow a certain path and the indeterminist can’t prove the opposite, and the theory either way is so encompassing that you really do need to prove it either way.

        BTW, you should read a book on quantum physics.   It doesn’t work along deterministic lines.   It seems to work on indeterministic probablity.    No one has been able to come up with a deterministic set of subcomponents that can explain the probablistic behavior.

        That doesn’t however prove things either way.

        • Greg Peterson

          You’re responding–reasonably–to my use of the word “determinism,” which I can see is not specific enough.  I have read several books on quantum mechanics, but nothing about the indetermance that exists at the quantum level could have any influence on will (it is orders of magnitude too small), and to the extent it could have any influence, it would be a random influence that does nothing to rescue the notion of free will.  So good call on my misuse of determinism as shorthand for “no free will,” but my intended point stands: there is no way that we can have anything like libertarian free will, and compatabalism is–as Harris demonstrates–more of a word game than a hypothesis about free will worth having.

          • Anonymous

            You still don’t understand free will doesn’t require indeterminism. In fact it requires the opposite, a predictable universe. Compatiblism is not a word game. If Harris believes it is then he is mistaken.

          • Anonymous

            Try reading Asonge’s comment above, and also Reuben’s.    Compatibilism is not about word games.  The compatibilists came up with many of the arguments that Harris is using.   The determinists were originally doing the opposite of what Harris is in part attempting, and found themselves in ridiculous philosophical positions arguing things that no one believes.     Many philosophers paint themselves into a corner this way.   The original skeptics, for instance, were ridiculous and would argue that reality isn’t real,  no one uses the term skeptic that way today.

    • Anonymous

      Compatiblism is the correct position and philosophical libertarians and determinists are mistaken in their shared assumptions.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve read the book.  It’s super thin at only 70 pages and he does address causual free will and Dennett.   However he does so poorly.    He argues that because we don’t have conscious control over every firing of a neuron that we are being “push around” by events out of our control.   He mentions that Dennett would object that those neurons are part of the self, so it is silly to act as if they are separate things pushing us around.     Harris’s retort to this is that when other cells behave in ways out of our control we don’t assume responsibility.    This is on or around page 22 where he is addressing Dennett’s retort that a brain cell firing is part of “you”.

      I’d quote the entire section of the book and show exactly where he get things wrong but I don’t think anyone is reading these comments anymore, and only you’d get notified via email.

      There are simple counterarguments to his claims here.    He points out that we don’t actually “feel” responsible for things like our body creating blood cells.    Of course not.   The brain is modeling what you can consciously control and you can’t change the way your body makes blood cells via learing or reflection. So in this sense the “free will” our minds makes us believe we have is in perfect harmony with reality.     Yet, even though we don’t feel responsible in this way we still take responsibility in other ways.   We say things like “I have a disease of the bone marrow I’m not making blood the way I should be.”   Which is perfectly accurate.  It is no someone else who is doing this, it isn’t society, it isn’t your parents, it is you if it is congenital.    Now if you had a bacteria or virus that was doing this to you then you would blame in on the disease organism.  

      What is clear from Sam’s book is that he doesn’t view the brain as a engineer would.    Our sense of “I” is no delusion.   It is a model of reality and a pretty good one considering it was developed without any intent to do so by a process of natural selection.    The fact that the model is running on hardware and is not aware of every micro-transaction within it is a ridiculous objection.   We don’t complain when our word processing software doesn’t give a complete report on how it draws individual characters (including all the transistor flipping that goes on).      The purpose of modeling the self is not to model the model.  

      What Sam Harris is actually saying is that he is not going to be satisfied with a model of the world until it is perfect.   He’s not happy unless and until the part of the brain that generates this model of self is omnescent.   It not only has to do a reasonable job of modeling the self at the first level, but he judges it an illusion if it doesn’t model itself, and furthermore the low level hardware like neurons.    He wants the brain as a whole to model and predict when individual brain cells are going to fire.     How can it do that when it operates via brain cells firing?   It has to fire at least on brain cell before it can even start to make predictions.

      This is what I had predicted he would do before even picking up the book.  He is making the same mistake that classical philsophical Greek skeptics made in questioning the senses.   They pointed out that the senses cannot be trusted at all because of things like optical illusions.  They assumed that senses must be perfectly transparent and infallible in representing the world as it “really is” in order for them to be “trusted”.    

      Sorry, requiring perfection before accepting something as “non-illusion” is an unreasonable criteria.      We know of NO area of knowledge that is perfect.   Humans are not infallible.     Requiring prefection in the senses (as for example requiring that the eyes present a “true” representation of the world, is as ridiculous as requiring that they allow us to hear, and our ears to allow us to see.

      Most of his mistakes are philosophical errors like this and his most common one throughout the book is equivocation between various meanings of the words responsibililty, self, I, punishment, etc.   He throws away all the distinctions that the compatibilists make in order to come to their conclusions, so of course he can’t support them.   This is not at all surprising in such a thin volume.

    • http://ChristophDollis.com/3AF Christoph Dollis

      Would it better if you read the book before deciding he doesn’t address compatabilism and Dennett … by name even?

  • Mike Laing

    “There is simply no intellectually respectable position from which to deny this.”
    Well, of course not, but if Sam was Komisarjevsky, then he wouldn’t be Sam. This has nothing to do with free will, it is the same meaningless argument about ‘could I have acted differently than I did?’ How about asking, ‘Could I have acted the same in different circumstances’ for a change? The answer is yes, sometimes we choose the same course of action, and sometimes we don’t, in any number of extremely similar circumstances. This is an stupid argument from the outset. No one says that they had any choice in their birth, that would be ridiculous, but from the time you develop a sense of self, you could have done any number of things differently than you did that then resulted in different circumstances from what you did choose.Also, the lives of identical twins show that a nearly identical individual can have drastically different outcomes – they are never identical, at least. The whole discussion about free-will is meaningless, anyways. It changes nothing about how anyone approaches their own lives, and it is impossible not to act as if we do have free will.I’ve never seen or heard of anyone that has changed the slightest bit after coming to the belief that no one has free will, not a single solitary behavior or choice.One would expect the sort of dramatic and fundamental effect of a life changing experience as when someone faces dying and lives, for instance, but NOTHING IS ANY DIFFERENT FOR THESE PEOPLE. That is one reason I stopped believing I had no free will, because I couldn’t tell any difference from the feeling and conclusion that I have free will, no matter what I tried to incorporate into my world view.It is a useless argument, it results in nothing.

    • Reuben Kellen

       I’ve changed the way I approach my life based on my understanding that people have no control over the elements that constitute their personality. I am less likely to take great pride in my accomplishments, feel jealous of others, or disdain those who have not had the benefit of the same good fortunes.

      • Mike Laing

         Thanks, Reuben. I am finding it easier to understand and forgive people, myself. I constantly remind people that they have done nothing exclusively of their own accord to earn themselves much, if any, credit for success.
        However, the last thing I will ever do is claim I am a victim of circumstances.  That’s what it amounts to, isn’t it? If things are the way you say you believe, then we are all victims and deserve absolutely zero credit for anything.
        That you still take pride in your accomplishments, and have pride in your loved ones’, that is what I mean by not changing very greatly.

        It is a great stretch to go from even a little bit of control, or even possibility of such, to zero control. I’ve only read one or two people ever that expressed understanding what this would mean for their lives, and they were all compatibilitists.

        Think about what gives your life meaning, then tell me you understand what not having any volition in life feels like.

        • Anonymous

          “I constantly remind people that they have done nothing exclusively of their own accord to earn themselves much, if any, credit for success.”

          One doesn’t need it to be exclusively to take credit.   We make different kinds of decisions on on how to weigh credit.

          Talent isn’t just something that can be transferred from one individual to another.   Talent is part of who the person is.   Taking credit for some result is saying that you are the cause of it.     Your talent is part of the cause, and somoene less talented would not have gotten the same effect.

          We don’t upon hearing a woman born with a beautiful voice attribute the sound coming out of her mouth to the guy sitting next to her.

          So we can credit people for their talents.

          We also credit people for their efforts.   However that too may be something that is due to a) Inborn personality.  b) Inhereited culture.

          So on and so forth.

          Sure you can admire the short guy who outplays the tall guy at basketball, and give him more “credit” but it may be that the tall guy was born with a clumsy brain while the short guy inhererited a much more quick thinking one, or inhereted training at the feet of a better coach.

          It might also be that the guy originated some new mutation as a sperm, or new technique in training, and thus not inherited it.   That would seem to merit greater credit using the notion that inheriting stuff means you don’t get credit.   But should it?   I don’t think so.  What difference does it make if your gene was originated in your germ cell or the germ cell of ten generations ago.  It is still YOU.    

          Same goes for memes you originate vs. get from others.  What does it matter if I originated the idea of not murdering others, or I learned it from someone else. Shouldn’t I get credit for refraining from murder either way.

          • Anonymous

            Funny but we give credit in the exact opposite way with beauty. Caking on lots of makeup to make oneself beautiful is seen as fake, depute the fact it takes a lot more effort than being born beautiful.

        • Thomasm994

          But you still have to take into consideration that you forgiving that person might also lead to that person acting more distrustful. Which is the exact thing Sam Harris is talking about. 

  • Mike Laing

     You’ve been through this before, too, I see. Sigh….

  • JoeBuddha

    If you have no free will but your future actions can’t be predicted with 100% certainty, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I guess I’m fated to act like I have choices about how I live my life.

    • Anonymous

      Not only that but according to Harris you were fated to be born with brain that tricks you into think you made the choices you did, and even tricks you into thinking you are you.

      My questions for Sam would be.   If I didn’t make my choices than who did?    If I didn’t originate those choices then who did?     It’s one thing to believe that the world is deterministic and that all things are cause and effect, and quite another to think that individuals have not arisen that can make choices in their self interest.     Althought the singularity at the beginning of universe will eventutally result in the existence of self interested beings that doesn’t mean the choices made by those beings exist at the time of the singularity.   They are created later, and originate in those beings.   

      The sharpness of a knife in my kitchen drawer didn’t exist in the past when everything was in a gaseous state.   It didn’t exist in the raw iron ore.   It originated with that knife when it was cast and sharpened.   That sharpness can also disappear.   This is because it is the relationship between the atoms that creates the attributes, not their mere existence.   So mere rearrangement can cause the origination of properties.    Properties are emergent in this way.

      Sam Harris fails to consider all this.    It is quite possible for free will (the abilitly to make choices, learn, etc.) to originate in the individual, each and every time an individual is born.    As the genetic program unfolds it rearranges atoms into a new form that never existed before, and has properties that never existed before.    People are unique.

      So the issue is, with a proper understanding of free will, do the decisions made to take alternate choices originate with the individual.    The answer is yes, and this is completely compatible with cause and effect.      Showing that individual nerve cells fire before we are aware (have modeled our own actions with additional cells) is in no way going to prove that we don’t originate our actions.

      The Christian mistake is only to think that this origination takes the form of a ghost operating the machine.   No there is something called a brain.

      • guest

        You’re misunderstanding the more sophisticated justification for the non-existence of “free will.” The problem is that, if the universe is immanent – which is to say, if it is the only thing which exists, in and of itself – then the substance of the universe must be the determiner of everything that occurs. While this does not require a linear notion of causality, it does imply that everything holds one cause, namely, the universe. This in turn demands that every occurrence within the universe will occur regardless of any individual’s existence. It’s not that the “sharpness of the knife” was present in some previous form of which the atoms that constitute the knife made up a certain portion. Rather, the knife’s sharpness itself is a function of past movements and complex interactions that brought it to its current sharpness. This was predetermined by the very nature of the universe – if everything is within itself, then the only “cause”, so to speak, is the universe, meaning everything proceeding from it must be determined.

        • brianmacker

          No kidding. That’s the definition of determinism, and it is a fairly easy concept to grasp despite the fact you think otherwise. In this thought experiment sharpness of the knife is completely compatible with a deterministic universe and originates at a particular time in a particular thing even though it did not exist prior or after, and is NOT a property of the universe as a whole.

          It is exactly the opposite of the way you think. A more ordered and predictable universe is more conducive to the emergence of free will because consequences are more predictable in such a universe.

          Your problem is that you think free will is predicated on a dualist world view, one where ghosts inhabit the machines, but it isn’t. One can have choice making machines that are completely deterministic yet act in their own self interest. They arise via a process of natural selection and run in apparent contradiction to the second law of thermodinamics. That apparent contradiction is a illusion. The choices and actions take are real and in harmony with the 2nd law. If they are not real then the word choice has no true meaning.

      • Sin1

        “brain that tricks you into think you made the choices you did”… If I’m not my brain, who AM I?…

    • Alexander J Vera

      Hey what’s your contact email? email me, Alexander.j.vera@gmail:disqus .com

      I found this comment exceptionally powerful and I’ve been using it, in quotations of course. But I’d like to know more about whom I am quoting!

      It summarizes everything I wanted to say about free-will, morality, and determinism in two sentences.

  • Trickster Goddess

    If there is no free will, then I had no choice but to post this comment.

    • Kalafarski

      Doesn’t understand the arguments.

      Feels intelligent enough to mock them.

      *eye roll*

      Essentially, hard determinism (or the lack of free will) comes from a causal explanation of events (as opposed to events happening spontaneously, for no reason). If everything has a cause, ultimately everything you choose is determined (hence, determinism) by events occurring in the past, by your current environment, by your genes and memory, and by the interplay of chemicals in your brain. Feel free to believe you have some mystical ability to reach beyond the physical realm into the aether of the soul and choose based in part on nothing as there must be in part no cause to your choice in a universe of free will, but any rational individual would find such an idea preposterous.

      (Note: I have heard that by quantum theory, where causality is sometimes in question, strict determinism is not necessarily true. Nevertheless, whether or not subatomic particles behave in deterministic fashion does not affect your ability to make choices  regardless of cause.)

      • Darwin’s Dagger

        Doesn’t get the joke.

        Subjects readers to pointless post about determinism.

        • Sam

          Hey, go easy on the guy; he was determined to write that response.

      • Anonymous

        See my other post where I show that Harris has accepted the notion of a “mystical ability to reach beyond the physical realm” with his notion that you can do atom to atom, with time and place substitution to transform yourself into another person.    Just imagine I have the the power to do that right now and I flip Sam with a mass murderer.   If there is no soul than this operation is a complete NOOP (no operation).

        In fact this power and you cannot prove otherwise.   POOF, I just switched you with Trickster Goddess.   POOF, now you are me.

        Sam has defined an operation on the world that has no effect but somehow thinks that he has switched two bodies.   

        He makes the same mistakes that guys like John Rawls makes in his philosophy.    These operations are meaningless.    Mass murderers are mass murders and do need to be treated differently than others and random chance didn’t make them that way.    The charge that creationists make that evolutionists think “it is all chance” seems to stick rather well to guys like Harris.   Well it isn’t chance.   Natural selection does not operate by “chance”, and people are not who they are by “chance”.

        Oh, and Trickester Goddess can have her cake and eat it too by having cause and effect but believing she is an originator of cause.   Then you would have to show why that is not possible.    That her actions are predicated on past events isn’t a problem either.   Of course her decision needs to be predicated on past events.    She has to see what happened first, be effected by that, in order to originate her decision, which acts as a new cause.   If matter can pop into and out of existence with quantum physics than why can causes?

        Of course that is not my position, and I have arguments against it.   It is just that you provided no argument against it.

  • Dglas

    I no longer define morality in terms of absolute decrees. I no longer define meaning in terms of divine purpose. And I no longer define free will in terms of acausality.

  • Nude0007

    If he really believed we have no free will, then he wouldn’t publish books about it that we would have to CHOOSE to buy to learn we didn’t really have a choice except to buy the book.
    I agree with others here. The best arguments stating we have no free will have to get so esoteric that the difference between free will and no free will is meaningless. Certainly there are factors that influence us heavily, consciously and subconsciously, but the only one I have seen that is almost impossible to contradict is self-preservation. We have to totally believe all our options are gone to kill oneself, or that killing oneself affects the greater good so much you can’t avoid it. 

    • Greg Peterson

      You’re simply mistaken, and flying your ignorance like a flag.  And the argument against free will is not esoteric, but simple, straightforward, intuitive, and forceful: everything we think or do is either because of something that’s gone before, or it is random.  That’s it.  Things are either caused, or random.  There is no other option.  Actually READ the book and then come up with an argument against it if you can.  I’d be very surprised.

      • Anonymous

        The compatibilist position is that free will is subject to cause and effect.

    • Anonymous

      No, he actually believes it.  He’s just working with a bad definition of free will.    You probably share his definition.  Most people are “incompatibilists” and believe that the world is either physically deterministic or indeterministic, and that determinism is incompatible with free will.    Historically people who thing the world is deterministic and reject free are called determinists and people who think that we have free will are indeterminists.

      There are compatibilists like me, who think free will properly understood is compatible with determinism.    Actually, I would further argue that a certain amount of determinism is required for the existence of free will.   You could have free will that is robust to some indeterminism but if things are too random free will could never arise or make choices.   That is because in a fully indeterministic system effect does not follow cause.   In such a world ones actions could not predictably result in the desired effects.   

      So incompatiblists are not only mistaken, they are horribly mistaken.   Things are reverse from what they think.

  • Ronlawhouston

    No free will throws the whole concept of criminal intent as a basis for punishment on its head.  It’s an interesting discussion but somehow I don’t think society is ready to abandon the concept of free will.

    • Jason

      Sam has said before that we would still lockup earthquakes and hurricanes if we could even though they do not have free will

      • Anonymous

        Why?  According to his reasoning with humans, he could do an atom by atom replacement of the hurricane with an area of calm sunny skies and it would behave completely differently.   It’s only “chance” that the hurricane is so violent.     Why lock up the hurricane?

    • Heidi

      A major point of punishment is to give the criminal experiences that will affect his/her future decisions. I don’t see how that contradicts Sam.

      • Anonymous

        It doesn’t contradict the compatibilists either.   In fact in that first paragraph above it was the compatibilist who came up with those claims.    Up and until he screwed up and said, “The role of luck, therefore, appears decisive.”     Which is nonsense.   He just through cause and effect out the window by introducing “luck”.    The only way he can reintroduce “luck’ is to assume that identity can flip places in exactly the way he just denied.    He denied that people can swap places in the first part of his argument, then claimed it was “luck” that we don’t.     Nonsense, smuggled in with a single sentence.

        The only way this could be about “luck” is if we could switch places is if there was dualism or some other mystic nonsense.   Then it would just be a matter of luck that Sam ended up in his body and not the mass murderers.  

        That is total garbage.   There are reasons why the mass murderer is a mass murderer.   Those causes are either internal (like his genes, or physical damage to his brain) or external.   We expect people to be robust to external influences.    Just because I’m poor is no excuse to go on a killing spree.   Lots of people are poor, the vast majority, and do not steal, murder, etc.    So even where these mass murderers might not have done what they did in a different environment (like if they spent their entire lives in a prison cell where they had no way to rape and murder) there is still an understanding that there is something withing them that is wrong.    It’s possible that it is something that can be modified by positive or negative reinforcement but that is also cause and effect.

        Most everyone when put in a situation where they are literally starving will behave badly, but towards the goal of getting food.   These mass murderers are a) Not starving.  b) Pursue goals like getting entertainment from watching their victims suffer.

        Sorry it’s not about luck.  Most especially in the case he chose.    Luck might be involved in a plane crash where you have to eat your fellow victims.   It isn’t in his example.

    • Greg

      No it doesn’t. We don’t have the free will ourselves to choose not to lock them up…

      More seriously, in order to make this argument, you’re implicitly assuming that the people who are locked up don’t have free will, whilst the people doing the locking up do. 

      Whatever argument you use to absolve them for doing wrong, works equally well to absolve us for locking them up.

  • Lamocla

    Seriously Sam get a life! You’re going to end up in a nut house with all that crazy thinking.

  • Oz Tilson

    if my choices are formed because of my past then…..
    if I want” future me” to make certain choices then “current me” (which will be the “past me” of “future me” )needs to make choices to ensure that “future me” does what “current me” wants.

    I think I have an awful lot of control and responsibility for my decisions, actions and outcomes.

    • Mrs. B.

      Yes, you do, but unless you start just making irrationally random choices (which may in itself be a choice based on who you are) everything in your life to this point will determine every decision, action and outcome. The fact that you are obviously intelligent enough to formulate an argument, your life experiences, your beliefs, your education, every memory, your body chemistry, every single thing unique to you will be brought to bear in your decision and action. And you will make every choice in your life based on all of that, plus everything that happens to you between now and then.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    .

  • Ron Krumpos

    Sam Harris does feel that free will is mostly an illusion. I believe we can make choices, but seldom freely. In my (free) ebook, “the greatest achievement in life,” is a chapter called “Outside the box.” Here are three paragraphs from it:

        What if you had to make all your decisions about living while detained in a jail cell? The cells may be open for brief periods each day, but the prisoners are still surrounded by walls. There are also walls around cells of everyday life. We are restricted by our ability to control our emotions, mind and body. Even with full command of our “self,” we must live within the restraints of Nature and society. Freedom is relative.    “Free will” is really quite limited, despite belief that we control ourselves and our lives. We think we have endless choices…until we try to make them. Each decision must not only be based on what we “want to do,” but also on our own capabilities and what is expected of us. Nature and society imprison us, whether we like it or not. The key to release is mystical realization. All in One and One in All, the divine unity, opens the gate between a universal consciousness and most people’s constrained awareness.    Outer walls are the boxes of Nature and of society. Inclement weather, lack of sunlight, gravity, and/or other natural phenomena may restrain our movements. Our own natural aptitudes, practiced talents and learned skills are always lacking in some areas. Human nature is controlled mostly by society. What we believe that other people expect of us greatly influences how we feel, think and act. Considering the reactions of our family, friends, business associates, community, and/or nation determines much of what we do. Those “laws” of Nature and society govern our lives, usually more so than we wish. Mystical awareness can allow us to obey divine law here and now. Sam Harris said ““I see nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.”

  • Ron Krumpos

    Sam Harris does feel that free will is mostly an illusion. I believe we can make choices, but seldom freely. In my (free) ebook, “the greatest achievement in life,” is a chapter called “Outside the box.” Here are three paragraphs from it:

        What if you had to make all your decisions about living while detained in a jail cell? The cells may be open for brief periods each day, but the prisoners are still surrounded by walls. There are also walls around cells of everyday life. We are restricted by our ability to control our emotions, mind and body. Even with full command of our “self,” we must live within the restraints of Nature and society. Freedom is relative.
        “Free will” is really quite limited, despite belief that we control ourselves and our lives. We think we have endless choices…until we try to make them. Each decision must not only be based on what we “want to do,” but also on our own capabilities and what is expected of us. Nature and society imprison us, whether we like it or not. The key to release is mystical realization. All in One and One in All, the divine unity, opens the gate between a universal consciousness and most people’s constrained awareness.    Outer walls are the boxes of Nature and of society. Inclement weather, lack of sunlight, gravity, and/or other natural phenomena may restrain our movements. Our own natural aptitudes, practiced talents and learned skills are always lacking in some areas. Human nature is controlled mostly by society. What we believe that other people expect of us greatly influences how we feel, think and act. Considering the reactions of our family, friends, business associates, community, and/or nation determines much of what we do. Those “laws” of Nature and society govern our lives, usually more so than we wish. Mystical awareness can allow us to obey divine law here and now. Sam Harris said ““I see nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.”http://www.peacenext.org/profile/RonKrumpos

    • Anonymous

      The concept of free you are importing into “free will” isn’t there in the first place. I know of no person who uses it to mean we can flap our arms to fly.

      • Ron Krumpos

        Your last line is asinine  You might be interested in “Rational Mysticism” by Sam Harris atr http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?page=harris_25_6&section=library 

        • Anonymous

          You just claimed that choice is restricted, and used the example of being imprisoned.  You also state, ” Nature and society imprison us, whether we like it or not.”    Not being able to flap our arms to fly is a restriction of nature.    No one just decide to flap his arms to fly.   You are using the phrase “freely” to mean unrestricted by physical reality.     So you are in fact arguing that your opponents think “free will” is the ability to freely choose to flap your arms and fly (work outside the bounds of nature).   

          Your opponents aren’t so stupid.   

          My understanding is that Sam Harris believes free will to be an illusion (not mostly an illusion as you state but a full blown illusion).   He also believes the self to be an illusion.   Good luck with that.   He’s getting confused because the brain is trying to model reality and he thinks that if he can cause the brain to malfunction and show that this model is manufactured that he has shown it isn’t real.    Well no kidding.   The question isn’t whether the model is real or not.  The question is whether and to what extent it is a good model of reality.    

           So when my brain tells me there is an “I” is that a better or worse model of reality than one that would not work on the assumption that “I” operate independently of other people in the world.  Of is the better model that we are all one with the world and undifferentiated from it.   Well it seems that the brain is onto something.   Natural selection has given us a modeling system that is prewired with a pretty accurate model.

          The problem with this “illusion” talk is that the word means something.  The minute you say the self is an illusion you have eliminated the modeler (and actor) which is to be deceived.   If self is an illusion there are no actors (that have models) and nothing to deceive. 

          Now if he said that our brains model the world and part of that model is to consider each person as an independent self interested individual, and that model isn’t perfect, then I wouldn’t have a problem with him.    No model is perfect and can’t be perfect.   If it were perfect it would “be” the thing it was modeling, or a superset.    So criticizing a model for not being perfect is ridiculous, and indefensible.

          This is what I meant when I said he was making the same mistake some philosophers make about the senses.  Some assume that for a model to be right that it must be perfect.   Therefore since the senses are not perfect in their representations of reality they provide us with an “illusion” of the world.    They don’t restrict themselves to actual provable errors of the model.   They claim the whole apparatus of the senses is flawed, even where it works.  There were and are literally skeptics who claim that the only thing that is real is the consciousness and that reality is manufactured from consciousness.    They get everything backwards because of some quite silly misunderstandings, or poor word choices.

          Harris has made a poor word choice in saying that these things are “illusions’.   They aren’t.     The things he strives for, meditating or starving or taking drugs until you disrupt your brains ability to properly model,   are what cause illusions ( literal hallucinations).

          The world is a screwed up place and if you are literally happy all the time via some mystic religion then perhaps your brain isn’t modeling the world correctly.   

          • Ron Krumpos

            My apology. When you wrote “I know of no person who uses it to mean we can flap our arms to fly.” I thought that you making a comment on  mysticism…which I found insulting. 

            We do have free will, but there are both physical and psychological restrictions to it. Happiness is not an objective of mystics and many of them (including me) are not religious. 

            This life and this world are not illusions, but most people have many illusions and delusions about it. Everything is not always what it appears  to be.

            • Anonymous

              Ok, if you read carefully I don’t know how you thought I was referring to mysticism since I never mentioned it.

              I understand that their are different types of mystics. Keep in mind that the Dali Lama is a mystic and has a book titled “The art of happiness” and that Harris is an admirer of mystics of this flavor. Despite what you claim their are mystics the emphasize happiness as a goal. They also deny reality in various ways, and even have mental exercises and lessons meant to dissociate the brain from reality. I’m not familiar enough with all mystic religions to make any universal claims that would encompass them all.

              I’ve got no issues with people using religion or mysticism to solve their problems. I just don’t like it when they think I have a problem that requires their solution. I can see how your ideas might help certain individuals unshackle themselves from social barriers. Those barriers have never been a problem for me. They don’t even act as speed bumps. I have a hard time even comprehending why people are getting stuck up on these pebbles in the road.

              I don’t think that realizing the world isn’t an open book requires mysticism, so saying the world is not as it seems, as a generality, doesn’t impress me.

              • http://www.suprarational.org/g.a.i.l.11.pdf Ron Krumpos

                Brian, you are a hard case. Mysticism is not right for everyone and will not solve all of life’s problems. 

                You replied Those barriers have never been a problem for me. They don’t even act as speed bumps.

                Good for you. Unfortunately they are a hangup for many people.

                Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we are opponents. No two people agree on everything.

                • Anonymous

                  Opposing individual universal statements you make doesn’t make me an “opponent”.    I don’t really care about claims you make for yourself.    You can say “X makes me Y, and it may make other people like me Y”   Just don’t assume that X works for all people and that they even need Y.

                  That is my opinios on the subject and I never expressed that opinion so I don’t know  how you got the idea that I was your opponent.

                  My first comment was directed at one specific claim you make about “free”.   I’m not even actually disagreeing with you at base.   I actually agree that “free” in free will doesn’t mean freedom to do anything.    Your mistake is in assuming that the vast majority of people who believe in free will think they can do anything. 

                  I don’t even view myself as a general opponent of Harris.   I am a opponent of specific claims he is making.   

                  Note that even if something comforts you, or helps you it can still be based on a falsehood.   Someone else can oppose the falsehood without actually opposing your use of the falsehood to comfort yourself.    Carrying a blanket around (or wearing magic pajamas)  isn’t going to actually protect you, but it may make you able to actually function in the world.   I understand the function.    I’m not going to stop you from using the blanket unless I see you doing something incredibly stupid like getting into a bar fight because you think you will defeat the other side because the blankie makes you invulerable.

                  I’m not sure what you mean by “hard case”.   I don’t view myself that way, nor would anyone who knows me refer to me that way.  Down to earth, yes.  Hard case, no?

  • Greg

    Am I the only one utterly uninterested by the subject of freewill? Whether I believe in freewill or not, makes not a jot of difference to the way I act, or my philosophical ideals. (And I say that with confidence, having explored my thoughts on the question for some time.)

    As Hitch said with self aware irony when asked if he believed in freewill – “I have no choice but to.”*

    And, yes, I am aware of the irony of posting on a subject to say I find it uninteresting. Consider it as me expressing my bewilderment that it matters so much to some people.

    *That may be a paraphrase, as it’s from memory.

    • Mrs. B.

      :) No, my husband just looks at me like I’ve lost my mind when I start babbling about free will or lack thereof.

      I figure that knowing how you feel about this issue, whatever your opinion is regarding it, is one of those things that help you understand your own perception of yourself and others in the world. That can only be a good thing.

      • Mike Laing

         Well, you either have a sense of fulfillment or failure, of purpose, or there is no possible meaning to life, or anyone elses, for that matter.

        • Anonymous

          That sounds like a false tricodomy. I can understand my life has no external purpose and have different feeling about my success or failure, and any meaning to my life. My life has internal meaning to me, and I am successful at some things and a failure at others. That doesn’t require that I have a purpose like a hammer does, where the purpose is external and in a human being.

      • Greg

        Good – I’m not the only one then! :)

        I guess that’s the thing though, I’ve tried to look at both sides of the issue, and my perception of myself or others, or what I do, wouldn’t change one iota whatever side I come down on.

        Let’s say there is no freewill. What difference does that make? I am still me. My mother is still my mother, and someone who has murdered someone has still murdered that person. A ‘determined’ person still has a personality, still has philosophies that govern what they do, still has likes and dislikes, foibles, individuality, and everything else that matters. Perhaps I have been determined to love that person; if so, I still love that person. The feeling is as real as ever, whether or not I had any choice in the matter. 

        Why are people who are afraid of having no freewill, not also afraid of the idea of ‘falling in love’?

        What has changed? Their belief of having freewill is now believed to be untrue. They aren’t in control of their actions any more? Well, that depends what you define as being ‘them’. A computer has no freewill, and yet it still makes sense to say that the computer has done something rather than the person who coded the program it is running.

        It seems to me a problem for someone who wants to believe in dualism, and especially for someone who believe our choices might send us to a heaven or a hell, but as I don’t, I have no problem whatsoever whichever turns out to be true. Even if I believe I am making the choice a few seconds after the ‘choice’ has already been made – I am still the one making that choice.

    • Anonymous

      How do you justify holding people responsible for their actions?    What notions to you use for classifying rocks, animals, and humans to various degrees?   Etc.

      • Greg

        That’s rather a non-sequitur. 

        Why should having/not having freewill mean I can’t justify holding people responsible for their actions? Why would there be any difficulty whatsoever in classifying rocks, animals, and humans etc.Whether or not we have choice in the matter doesn’t change what we do, or what we are capable of doing (or feeling).

        • Anonymous

          We don’t hold people responsible when they make a choice that is not of their own volition. The law takes into account ones intentions and ones freedom from influence by outside actors. If you reject using concepts in this area you might over or under do the act of holding people responsible.

          I didn’t say you’d have difficulty classifying. I asked how you would classify. Free will is a higher level abstraction. You’d have to be using all the lower level abstractions and I’d like to know how you do it. I didn’t just mean the list where you decide what has free will but also to what degree someone used there free will. High level concepts all shorthand speech and I wanted to see you do these things in long hand.

          Your last sentence contains an equivocation. You flipped between two different meanings for the word choice and didn’t realize it. Even in a completely deterministic world there can be choice and even with at thing that has no free will. That renders your last sentence false. It also seems kinda silly. It’s like saying whether or not we know whales are mammals or not doesn’t effect their behavior. No, but it effects the person who has the belief. Don’t you see that people in this thread are behaving differently based on their beliefs in this matter. I’ve run into people who believe that there is no free will so we should stop punishing criminals altogether. You are acting like you believe that in a deterministic world cause and effect are suspended in this one area of belief. You don’t seem to understand that free will is an iterative concept. Next time it will effect your behavior.

          • Greg

            Actually, we do hold people responsible for actions that are not of their own volition. That is why people with mental illnesses are not simply released back onto the streets with nothing done if they commit crimes as a result. So you are just factually wrong.

            But it’s rather irrelevant anyway – whatever argument you use for claiming that a criminal had no freewill in committing the crime he did works equally well for the people who are locking said criminal up. If everyone has no freewill, then EVERYONE has no freewill. You’re behaving as if you have freewill but the criminals don’t.

            You classify things with freewill the exact same way as without. No classification I have ever seen has relied upon freewill in any form whatsoever. Again, it’s utterly irrelevant.

            My last sentence contained no equivocation whatsoever. It couldn’t have, as the word choice was used only once (both as a word and implied) and therefore in only one way. It was, in fact, saying the same thing I did in the previous paragraph in this post.

            My point, which you seem to have utterly missed, is that reality is not changed whether or not I believe something. Other people’s beliefs may be, I have not contested that. All I have said is that MINE are not altered one bit whether I believe in free will or not.

            Please try reading what I say next time. It might help.

            • Anonymous

              You used equivocation to claim I was wrong. We distinguish between moral responsibility, and plain old, “they did it” responsibility. From the context it was clear in each case which I was referring to. In fact in some cases the person who did an action, like killing a person, doesn’t get either punitive, or preventative incarceration, and is sometimes considered a hero.

              I am not acting like criminals have no free will and that I do. That is a ridiculous claim. The insane lack a component required for free will.

              There are plenty of concepts we can do without but then it becomes hard to discuss things because you loose the simplified reference. We can do away with higher level abstractions always but your sentences will get very wordy.

              Of course we use free will to classify. we classify actions for example. So what would you a say instead of ” He is not guilty because he didn’t take the action of his own free will.”

              Note that the kind of incarceration and terms for release are different between the different kinds of responsibility even when we do lock them up.

              No one is claiming that reality is altered by belief in this dispute. We (those using the term) are arguing about who’s model of reality is better. Belief effects behavior not reality. If you believe a falsehood then you will take the wrong action. There aren’t merely two models either. There are many.

              • Greg

                Until you learn to read and comprehend what you’ve read, I’m not going to waste my time with you.

                You don’t seem to have the faintest idea about what I’m saying, believe me to say things which I explicitly say I am *not* saying, and to be honest, I really can’t be bothered.

                You seem to think you are a lot more intelligent than you come across.

                • Anonymous

                  Go reread your first comment and see if you think it makes any sense whatsoever for you to be posting it. Now you blame me for not understanding you? It is your responsibility to communicate your ideas clearly. If you were not aware of it you are in the vast minority and thus have a very unfamiliar position to explain. If you can’t explain your idiosyncratic ideas that isn’t my problem. being intelligent doesn’t include mind reading.

            • Anonymous

              A sentence can contain a single use of a word and be an equivocation, because it uses a different meaning of the word than the one used in the claim you are disputing. You are equivocating, and as I said do not realize it. I see why you equivocate if you think it only encompasses the meaning you inject into a word, and not the intent of the original argument.

              If I use one meaning and you assume the wrong meaning and argue using the wrong meaning that is an equivocation. It doesn’t have to be intentional, it doesn’t mean I’m smarter, in fact it may just be that I wasn’t specific enough for my audience, or am just a crappy writer.

              How can you honestly make the claim that whether or not we have choice in a matter doesn’t effect what we do? What possible definition of choice do you have in mind that would make that sentence true standing by itself?

              We can have choice in the sense of having options. Well if we have options then our brains are capable of recognizing those options and taking one of them. Presumably the brain will take the option it evaluates as being the “best”. It is obvious if only presented with option A then A will be taken, if only B then B will be taken. We already have the options presented making a difference and we haven’t even had to use another definition of choice meaning to choose. Using this second definition of choice your sentence still makes no sense. How can making a choice between different options not make a difference in what we do or are capable of doing?

              You are the one who came in saying that the concept of free will is uninteresting. Your first post implied that you believed in it because the quote from Hitch says you have no choice but to believe in it. Yet you claim it uninteresting (even though you also claimed to have thought about it slot, and as you admit post a comment on it).

              A lot of what you are saying is self-contradictory and unintelligible from my perspective. I’m only trying to pin you down to some specific claim. So don’t get mad with me about it.

              If your claim is that you no longer find free will and interesting subject, and that you just let it hang out there and do your thing, then why should we care and why would you post such a comment? I thought you might have something substantial to say. People get along fine being ignorant on all sorts of subjects and working on intuition. No surprise there. I get along just fine not knowing how to dance. I wouldn’t however go to a dance competition and tell dancers how uninteresting I find dance. I certainly wouldn’t then dance to show how uninteresting it is.

              There are many areas of other people’s lives that require them to take a position on this subject and be interested in it. The law being one area. Philosophy being another. Religion being another. You are likely to be the victim of a crime someday and your beliefs in the area of free will will effect your judgements, wether you recognize that fact or not.

              So I’ll leave this conversation perhaps in the most muddled state of mind about someone else’s position and motivation that I have ever been.

  • Ron Krumpos

    Sorry about the duplicate post. Please delete one.

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    you know, i’m a mile and a half late to this post, but i can’t resist.

    I’m in no place to argue for or against his thesis

    do you really believe that? i don’t mean to be a scold, but, really? angels, demons, little green men… are we going there now?

    • Anonymous

      What do angels, Desmond, and little green men have to do with this topic. Free will (like hate) is a concept about the real world when done properly.

  • Anonymous

    “There is simply no intellectually respectable position from which to deny this. The role of luck, therefore, appears decisive.”

    This is typical of Sam Harris, and many other philosophers.   The latter does not follow from the former.     He has snuck in dualism, and the assumption of the impossible.    You can’t replace atom for atom, because there would be a mismatch.   Furthermore any atom for atom duplicate of Komisarjevsky that was put in the exact environment, position, and time as him, would in fact BE Komisarjevsky.    It wouldn’t be Sam Harris.    Only if you believe in inmaterial souls and somehow made everything the same material except put in Sams soul would it be Sam.  But that is nonsense.

    So actually Sam is the one who has the intellectual position that does not deserve respect.

    Komisarjevsky is not some blank soul that sits at a place and time, in some body.   Komisarjevsky is a collection of genes and the phenotype that those genes programmed for,  he is also a product of his culture and thus a collection of memes that have reproduced.     This is no accident.     There was zero likelyhood that Komisarjevsky’s parents would have produced Sam Harris as a child, and zero likelihood that the memes that make up Sam would have been generated from Komisarjevsky culture, and environment.    Komisarjevsky inhereted memes from his parents also, which Sam doesn’t have.

    Also deciding to execute Komisarjevsky isn’t some random decision.  It specifically destroys the individual locus of the replicators that were found responsible for his acts.   Sure there were some “innocent” genes for blue eyes, and five fingers that got eliminated at the same time but there are other copies of those elsewhere.    Presumably there were either genes or memes that he had that caused his behavior.   Executing him prevents further replication (of course permanent guarenteed detention with no access to women does the same).

  • Anonymous

    So how many of you were pro-Sam and after having read all my comments here begun to suspect that he’s drawing some false conclusions.   A thumbs up if I convinced you that this atom for atom switch thought experiment should be considered silly from a determinist point of view?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Donnellon/614276226 Kevin Donnellon

    e-book? it  isn’t on Kindle                               

  • Ram Singh Sachan

    There is nothing like  “Absolute Human Free Will”.What we experience as our “free will” is, in fact, just an “Apparent” or “Virtual” free will.It is similar to the  application of Newtonian physics in our daily lives.But when the “reference frame” is changed, the things look differently.With the velocities close to light, the consequences of “relativity”, “time dilation”,”Uncertainty Principle” and the “quantum mechanics” can’t be ignored.IN THE SAME WAY, CONSIDERING THE BROADER FRAME WORK, WE DON’T FIND “FREE WILL” ANY MORE.Some theists and believers may prefer to put it that there is only God’s Will and nothing like human free will!

    • Mike Laing

       Oh yes, I get it now. The closer to c we travel, our free will attains infinite mass and zero length. Until you smash into that black hole – sure didn’t look like anything was there!

      Thanks, Ram, I didn’t understand what the word illusory meant until you brought special relativity and particle physics into it. Congratulations on the worst analogy of all time. I haven’t seen any of you attempt the house of mirrors dilemma, or the card up your sleeve paradox, though. That might convince a few kindergartners.

  • WilliamOfWare

    We do have free-will in a libertarian sense. The common straw-man to reject free-will is to say that an action either:

    1-Has a *cause* and we’re determined.
    2-Has no *cause* and we’re acting randomly.
    Thus:
    3-Wether we act in a determined or random manner; we lack free-will in a libertarian sense.

    This is a strawman that trades on the ambiguity of “cause.” We do have something else that separates us from other things; reason. And we do reason and deliberate all the time on wether to pursue an action or not. Replace “There’s a *cause* for doing x,” with reason and great chunks of literature dedicated to the free-will “problem” evaporate.

  • Murat Kayi

    The question is not “Do we have free will?”, but “Can we have free will?”  There is no mechanism within the human body (apart from the mythical “soul”, that is) that even comes close to suggesting that we (or any living being, for that matter) are more than the sum of our constituent parts (atoms), i.e. a machine which follows its programmed instructions (genes).

  • Wonder Jam

    ‘Free will’ – depends on whose intellectual capacity it brims from. An individual has complete control to shed his/her past, personality and attributes infused within them by culture, environment, just as one can wipe away everything from a computer and install a new o/s. If this is a hard concept to follow, free will, will be non existent, even in the heads of supposedly self congratulatory great thinkers.

  • Hunter Edwards

    I believe that we have free will. We may ave our physical limitations, but our decisions aren’t controlled by anyone other than ourselves. We have the ability to think freely, and decide our own fates… I don’t know, that just makes sense to me. We aren’t living according to a script.

  • Elie

    every human has free will, and have choices, the choices that you can suck but YOU are the one who dicides what choice. even for small things you have a choice.


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