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?