Sam Harris’s new book

March 3, 2012 • 11:22 am

Sam Harris’s new book, Free Will, will be out in three days. You can order a paperback here, a Kindle version ($3.99) here, read a short excerpt here, and a longer excerpt at the Amazon site. At 90 pages, it’s only $6.99.

I like it a lot (I’ve blurbed it), and if you know my own views on free will, you’ll like it too.  Sam and I have pretty much the same take on the issue, but of course Sam is deeper and writes better! I also like Oliver Sacks’ blurb: “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.” ‘Tis true!

110 thoughts on “Sam Harris’s new book

  1. So do I have a choice to buy this book or not?

    If I don’t have a choice and buy the book, will the book tell me that I actually did and therefore I didn’t have to do what I thought I had no choice in doing?

    If the book tells that I didn’t have a choice, then why are you recommending the book? Recommendation or no, I must buy the book, right?

    My head always hurts when I think about this. I think I’ll choose to have a drink instead. It’s happy hour somewhere!

    1. You do have a choice, in the sense of two possible courses of action: either you’l buy he book or you won’t.

      I you are interested in the problem of free will, if you think Harris could be saying something interesting in his book, and if you have the money, you will buy it. Otherwise, you won’t.

      Whatever your choice, it will not be free. You won’t say “I bought the book just because”, or “I didn’t buy the book just because”.

      Even if you want to buy the book and have the money, you might still choose not to buy it, in order to make a point about free will. But that’s self defeating: it merely means that your desire to make a point was stronger than your desire to buy the book. You are still a slave of your desires.

      1. This is a great example of why I think compatibilism makes the most sense.

        What freedom beyond what you described above is needed for it to be described as “free will”?

        It always confuses me. What exactly would “free will” look like that is different from what we actually have? Wouldn’t having free will equally mean that you are a slave to your desires?

        Furthermore, in what way does the supposed lack of free will affect anything about how we run our lives or our societies?

    2. Jerry’s recommendation may be the very input that initiates the cascade of cause-and-effect resulting in your decision to buy the book.

      You’re less likely to buy the book without that recommendation. Cause-and-effect can’t exist in a vacuum. No one’s suggesting you would’ve been determined to buy the book if there were absolutely no pressures to do so exerted upon you.

  2. Most books are way too long and continue past the point where authors really have anything to say. This is probably an artifact of the publishing industry where books need to be of a certain length to make them seem worth the needed cover price to print the book. Perhaps the e-book industry, with its close to zero publishing costs, will lead to more carefully written books of the length needed to get the job done.

    1. So true. Who remembers the four hour speech by that other guy, whats his name, the worlds greatest orator, who spoke the same day as Lincoln at Gettysburg.

      1. Edward Everett.

        Widely considered the best public speaker of his day, whatever the hell that’s worth in an era where nothing could be recorded and all was based on newspaper/publishing hype, Everett was actually the featured speaker the day the cemetery was dedicated.

    2. You are sooooo right. If I had a dollar for every explanation of how evolution works I’ve had to read in a book about anything at all to do with evolution I’d be able to afford a damn good dinner!! I don’t like to skip them because they often say something interesting on the actual topic in hand, but I do skim. I really do feel that many books are expanded well beyond what’s necessary or desirable to make them long enough to publish.It’s very frustrating.

      1. Tho not WEIT, of course!


        (Srsly, not the least of its attractions is its satisfying size…)

    1. You seem to decide first that a pronouncement of indecision is the most appropriate first act!

      I just received Michael Gazzaniga’s “Who’s in Charge”, and I find it really good. This will propel me to buy Harris’ book eventually….could go either way!!

    2. You’ve already decided.

      Your subconscious self just hasn’t bothered to inform your conscious self yet.

  3. I’m buying it for sure. I knew very few writers who can get their point across with the clarity and wit of Harris. And I’m buying a physical copy!

  4. Temporarily deluded by the illusion that I have freewill, I ordered Harris’ book from Titles, my local independent bookstore. I have been assured that I can pick it up on Tuesday March 5.

    PS: I am in the process of reading Pinker’s _The Better Angels of Our Nature_; it’s taking me a long time, but I’m learning so much.

  5. I feel compelled to buy it, although I’m still looking for some post hoc reason to justify my behaviour. You, of course, are free to buy it or not – your reasons, unclear to you, are totally opaque to me. I think you have free will.

  6. As I commented in a previous thread, the concept of “free will” – as commonly understood – seems to me a lot like the concept of God. After all “free will” is basically thought to be an “unmoved mover” or an “uncaused cause”. It has the power to cause physical actions, but is not itself a part of the causal chain (“causal web” is probably a better metaphor). Let’s call this “strong” version of free will “free will (1)”.

    What really annoys me are people (often other atheists who don’t believe in the ghost in the machine) who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let’s call it “free will (2)”] – thereby changing the subject – and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists (AS IF we were still talking about the same thing). This is very similar to theologians who equate “God” with “Life, the Universe and Everything” [“God (2)”] and then go on to accuse atheists of attacking “caricatures” for arguing against God (1) (a supernatural creator of the universe) rather than God (2).
    When people insist that you could have chosen differently than you did, they typically cheat by adding a hidden premise: “you could have chosen differently IF YOU WANTED TO”. However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical? If the answer is yes, did you choose to want differently? And wouldn’t such a choice by definition require a will? The regress never ends…

    Most of the criticisms against skeptics of free will (1) such as Jerry and Sam seems to fall into two categories:

    1. Using arguments for free wlll (2) to refute arguments against free will (1) (i.e. changing the subject)
    2. Accusing the skeptics of arguing against free will (2) when they are really just arguing against free will (1) (i.e. attacking a strawman).

    Incidentally I have just been involved in a debate regarding this very topic at
    I am sure Jerry will be fascinated to hear that according to one compatibilist:

    “hard determinists like Coyne/Harris are saying a Choice is only “Free” if it can be utterly irrational and not reflect what we actually want”

    Me: “I believe I have read just about everything Coyne and Harris have ever written on the subject. Can you give a reference to where either of them claims that free will means choosing “contrary to your desires and rational deliberation” or “unconnected to my own thoughts and desires”?”

    Compatibilist: “The point is that type of incoherence is what is necessarily entailed by their description of free will. […] If you analyze what their statements actually entail, it turns out that the only acts they would accept as “real free willed choice” are incoherent: “choices” that are independent of your own desires and deliberations. A type of “choice” that no one actually wants or cares about.”

    Me: “Again, I must ask you to provide a reference. I don’t see how this follows from anything that either Jerry or Sam has said. What they seem to be saying (which I agree with) is that even our voluntary choices, even the ones that really do reflect our desires and deliberations, even the ones that require us to overcome strong social, cultural or biological pressures are not “free” in the specific sense that people commonly assume (i.e. contra-causal). Even if you decide to shoot yourself just to prove you are free to do so, it still comes down to neurons blindly following the laws of physics (with some degree of randomness due to quantum indeterminacy).”

    I am still waiting for a response, but it sure would be interesting to hear whether or not Jerry thinks his views are being accurately portrayed by his critics in this instance…

    1. “What really annoys me are people … who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let’s call it “free will (2)”] … and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists …”

      If you think that then you are misinterpreting what compatibilists are saying. Compatibilists fully accept that “free will (1)” doesn’t exist. Indeed that’s part of the definition of “compatibilism”.

      This whole conversation would be much, much more straightforward if people managed to accept that compatibilists really, really do reject “strong free will”. They are then wanting to have the next stage of the conversation; but that requires that non-compatibilists accept that compatibilism is indeed a rejection of strong free will. Is that so hard?

      1. The problem it that so many compatibilitst still insist that anyone who argues against “free will” (like Jerry or Sam) is WRONG even if they make it absolutely 100% crystal clear that by “free will” they ONLY mean free will (1).

        1. The Jerrys and Sams make it 100% crystal clear that they are arguing against “free will (1)”. The compatibilists then make it 100% crystal clear that they AGREE ENTIRELY in rejecting “free will (1)”. (Yes, they really do!)

          The compatibilists THEN offer an alternative conception “free will (2)” that they think works and is compatible with determinism and anyhow makes much more sense than “free will (1)”.

          Then people such as yourself howl with outrage, thinking that “free will (1)” is being defended or clung to.

          1. Well, since your infallible telepathic abilities obviously put you in a position to tell exactly what every single one of “THE compatibilists” are REALLY saying (despite their actual utterances on the matter), and exactly what petty thoughts those of us who disagree are REALLY thinking, there doesn’t seem to be much room for a dialogue. The rules of conduct don’t allow me to say what I feel like saying, but I am sure you can read my mind in this as well.

            1. “obviously put you in a position to tell exactly what every single one of “THE compatibilists” are REALLY saying …”

              Well yes, the whole meaning of the term “compatibilist” is a conception of will/choice that is compatible with determinism. If they’re not saying what I said last post (if they really are clinging to “free will 1”) then by definition they are not compatibilists.

              1. coelsblog has nailed it.

                Bjarte Foshaug, you write:

                “What really annoys me are people (often other atheists who don’t believe in the ghost in the machine) who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let’s call it “free will (2)”] – thereby changing the subject – and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists (AS IF we were still talking about the same thing).”

                Show us ONE compatibilist here (or elsewhere) mixing up Free Will(1) with Free Will(2). I haven’t seen any compatibilist make the mistake you are accusing us of, so it’s up to you to back up that claim. Otherwise, it appears you are criticizing phantoms.

                It’s exactly as coelsblog said: The compatibilists are CLEAR about joining Jerry and other incompatibilists in dismissing Free Will (1) – contra-causal/liberatarian free will.

                When we offer an ALTERNATIVE account of free will, we are not trying to defend the SAME concept of free will(1) that we’ve agreed does not work. We are very clear on that. Insofar as you ever feel compelled to accuse the compatibilist of arguing for Free Will(1) as if it were Free Will(2), it can only be YOU who is mixing up the two, not us.

                Again, you can easily show this to be wrong by showing any compatibilist here who is mistaking contra-causal free will with compatibilist free will. (That would be so bizarre, since to be a compatibilist IS to reject contra-causal free will).


        2. “The problem it that so many compatibilitst still insist that anyone who argues against “free will” (like Jerry or Sam) is WRONG even if they make it absolutely 100% crystal clear that by “free will” they ONLY mean free will (1).”

          Free Will(1) is contra-causal/libertarian free will.

          Are you going to provide any references, any examples, of a compatibilist insisting it is wrong for Sam/Jerry to argue against contra-causal free will?

          I for one think they are right to argue against it, because it IS wrong. But, again, apparently there are these other compatibilists out there making these odd mistakes…


    2. begs the question

      The epidemic of misuse of this term is driving me crazy and I have no choice but to protest and post a link to Wikipedia which describes its correct usage. It is not simply an alternative for ‘asks the question’. It is a logical fallacy wherein the answer to the question is already assumed in the asking of it. Those of us who wish to be thought educated need to get this right!

      1. Drives me crazy, too, but I rather fear the battle has already been lost…i.e., that it’s we who will ultimately have to change our definition. Next will be “disinterested.”


      2. Yes, I know the original meaning of “begging the question” is “circular argument”.

        To my defence, just about everthing that is considered “correct usage” today originally started out as errors. Shakespear would be appalled to know that not a single person alive today speaks english correctly.

        1. Shakespeare[1] would have baulked at “appalled”, as he would have likely preferred the word middle English word ‘appallen’d’.
          [1] He never once signed his name with this most common spelling either. An appalling speller.

          1. Without even reading your name, I knew it was you. Also, I am shocked to see you posting here; hasn’t the campaign to have you banned from the internets worked yet?!

    3. Hi Bjarte Foshaug. It’s me “RH,” but here I’m “Vaal.” (Now I wish I kept the same moniker, but I’ve always wanted to use the ironic Vaal name).

      I have replied to you on the Dawkins site.

      Two issues:

      1. When you ask whether Jerry’s views are being accurately portrayed, you seem in danger of mixing up two separate issues:

      A. Whether I have accurately portrayed what Jerry has SAID about free will and:

      B. Whether my analysis of what Jerry’s view seems to IMPLY. In other words, if we accept Jerry’s description of “free will,” what does that imply about the nature of what a “free willed choice” would, given such a description?

      As to “A,” I don’t see how I could be accused of misrepresenting the view of free will Jerry talks about. I even pasted Jerry’s exact words from his USA article, showing I had correctly characterized the version of “free will” Jerry argues against.
      (How can you argue Jerry’s own quotes don’t represent the type of free will he is talking about?)

      So, really, the crux is whether my analysis makes sense: What would it MEAN, what would it say about the nature of a “choice” if that choice were other than the one that represents your desire of the time, and other than the one that followed from your chain of rational deliberation?

      You tell me. (?) I’m curious how your analysis will differ from mine.

      But the weird thing is, this seemed to be water under the bridge, as I thought that in previous threads virtually everyone here, Jerry included, agreed that this contra-causal free will was ultimately incoherent when you really examined it. (And if that’s not the case, again, feel free to show my analysis of it’s strangeness to be wrong).


    4. I have answered RH/Vaal here:

      I repeat my first paragraph for everyone to read:

      “Whether or not the people who use arguments for free will (2) to refute arguments against free will (1) qualify as true “compatibilists” really isn’t the point (To my defence I didn’t use the word “compatibilists” in my initial post). If I have miscaracterized someone’s views, I am not too proud to apologize (no desert for me tonight!). However, it would be wrong to say that NOBODY has argued in this way (whether they count as true “compatibilists” OR NOT). If you doubt this, check out Sam’s Facebook-page whenever he posts on the issue. I have also personally encountered this very style of argument to the point of nausea: “Free will (2) exists, therefore ‘free will’ exists, therefore YOU ARE WRONG”.”

  7. In the interests of amicable relations with my girlfriend I will have to avoid this book. She is a philosopher and finds Sam Harris’ forays into philosophy to be annoyingly shallow. As her doctoral adviser was one of the big wigs in the philosophy of free will I think this book will definitely be dangerous ground for me to tread on.

      1. Nicely put!

        Though, to be fair, she really wouldn’t mind me reading it as long as I don’t give her the book as a present like I did with Harris’ last philosophical foray. That’s where I wandered into mine field territory.

    1. One nice thing about ebooks is that you can read them on your phone without having to defend your choice of reading matter to anyone.

      1. This is a convenient and sad truth. I’ve often kept myself occupied by reading Pinker, Dawkins, Harris, etc., on my Kindle, while surrounded with conservative, theist family and acquaintances.

        If they only knew what I was reading…

        1. Me too. Then I started talking about those authors and their books, including Hitchens. It’s been more fun than I imagined. You might want to give it a try.

        2. You have my guarded sympathy.
          That is a foreign world to me as an Australian in a staunchly atheist family.
          Living in a brutal Fascist Theocracy is something that I cannot even imagine. An I mean that seriously.
          Is there anything that Australians or Europeans can do to help eliminate this bizarre bind that religion(s) hold over the US mindset?

          1. Come visit, & observe that, for the vast majority, it’s something they give lip service to much more than something they live by…

            OTOH, the stuff they do spend their time on–shopping, Facebook, “reality TV”–almost makes one prefer fundies…

            Almost. Almost…

            1. I also respect ‘fundies’ far more than the rag-tag hoi-polloi, and especially those fraudulent accommodationist bastards. Yeah, you know who you are, I know you read this website.
              At least fundies are attempting to be as honest as they are able. I consider that to be a virtue, even if it is monstrously misguided.
              They are not setting out to be dishonest, unlike the salad-bar theists, the condescending accommodationist liars and frauds for science.

              1. I agree that at least fundamentalists (appear to) believe in a moral code worthy of action; trouble is, they tend to believe it to such a degree that they feel the end justifies any means…such means including, but not limited to, lying, duplicity, extortion, intimidation…

                Amazing what you can countenance when you think you’re saving people from eternal damnation. Which is why I’m not sure but what the “rag-tag hoi polloi” (love it!) are not just possibly preferable, despite their apalling philistinism/yahooism…

              2. ‘Respect’ does not equate with ‘admire’, nor especially ‘concur’.
                Know thine enemy and all that.
                I can respect their internal honesty, without even remotely agreeing with them on anything else whatsoever.
                At least one knows where one stands with fundies.

                The ever-shifting zeitgeist that is feebly exhibited by the chattering masses at the local mall morphs more evanescently than the bubbles jostling in their diet sodas.

                Philistine/Yahooism is giving them undue credit, in my non-humble opinion.

              3. Oh, and I’m sure that you have did not forget that the lazy theists, the accomodationists, the bend-over-backward cowards in the media, the non-believing politicians who pretend to be devout, etc: provide cover for the religious maniacs with bombs; the infibulators, the murders of homosexuals, the buggerers of children, the enslavers of the vulnerable, the prostitutors of trafficed human carcases.
                These accomodationists actually FUND these crimes against humanity, directly or indirectly. Directly by church tithes, or indirectly by allowing automatic tax deduction for churches.
                In doing so, even accomodationists are indirectly culpable for permitting theistic genocide in Africa, racketeering, brutalization of infants, slavery, ferocious and monstrous chronic subjection and abuse of females, torture, rape, HIV, tyranny, terrorism, etc.
                The list of crimes is as long as the total number of crimes invented.
                The average ‘church-going’ theist is entirely responsible for aiding, abetting, funding, and tacitly encouraging these crimes against humanity, if only by virtue of not actively combatting them in some way. Even ‘speaking out’ against them. But no. Oh no. They sit silent.
                They are as guilty as those who brutally raped kiddies bodies as well as minds, those who murdered, those who beat the crap out of women, those who still proffer a wall of respectability to crimes against humanity.

                As you may be able to tell, I have less than little time for such accommodationist scum…

              4. Your penultimate paragraph is positively poetic!

                And given your defintion of “respect,” I couldn’t agree more.

              5. ^^^…which was in reply to your “‘respect does not equate with ‘admire’ post…

              6. There is a mechanical clue to this apparent poetry, and it is literally trivial, in more ways than one.
                The ‘trivia’ or ‘three paths’ denote the three basics of rhetoric that every educated ancient citizen of the Greco-Roman world was expected to know inside-out, much as Westerners are expected to be able to read, to write, and perform basic arithmetic.

                It was taught as a sub-element of the so-called “Trivium” (singular; trivia: plural).
                But rather than readin, ritin’, ‘rithmatic, the subjects that everyone was assumed to know were:
                Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

                I employed the rhetorical device known as “Anaphora”
                (Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines.)

                It turns turgid prose into pompous poetry! Magic. Martin Luther King employed it. JFK had it up his sleeve, and even let it out of his sleeve for his ‘Man to the Moon’ speech.
                It was coyned over 2500 years ago, yet it still impresses.
                Learn rhetoric today. Money back guarantee if not satisfied!**
                ** Terms and conditions apply.
                Offer expires XIVCCL

              7. “Typographical slips” are the least of my slips…

                I’m glad you found anything I typed ‘crystal clear.’ I always feel out of my league, here, but, annoyingly, it’s the league I’d really like to be in.


              8. RE: “There is a mechanical clue…”

                Thanks for the tutorial!

                (But really, don’t you think it was JFK’s speechwriters?)

                (Oh, and your Roman numeral…isn’t…)


              9. Fear not for your rank.
                I judge you to be the possessor of a worthy intellect.
                As I outlined above, fine words are but a result of judicious training.
                But a worthy intellect such as yours is a rare gem indeed.

                Don’t be awed by flowery phraseology. It is by that very method that the learned Brothers of the Church lorded it over the plebeans, whom they deliberately kept ignorant.

                Learn rhetoric, or learn that most speechwriters are wankers.

                Oh, and I know that my ‘Roman Numerals’ were not. The offer expired before it began.

            2. The problem, however, is that their “lip service” often includes the leaders they vote for and the policies they enact.

              Would the religious majority be willing to rely completely on god to heal their illness? Not in their personal lives, no, but they seem perfectly willing to elect leaders and support legislation that toes a similar line.


              1. “They are as guilty as those who brutally raped kiddies bodies as well as minds, those who murdered, those who beat the crap out of women, those who still proffer a wall of respectability to crimes against humanity.”

                I agree.

                But, for me, full rational acceptance of the truth of determinism acts to delete (or at least greatly attenuate) the RAGE and HATRED I once felt against those perpertrating these crimes, and the “sponsors” of these crimes.

                “Guilty” can only be meaningful if “guilt” is meaningful – And it isnt, or certainly not in the same way as it is if one believes in free will.

                If (as I fully believe) EVERYTHING is ENTIRELY the result of causitive mechanisms and forces, then things are the way they are, and PEOPLE are the way they are ENTIRELY due to what “the Universe” has made them.

                And there is therefore no rational reason for rage and hatred … sure – if you are ragefull and hatefull because this is what the universe has made you, then this is what you will be … But such is every bit as irrational as the behaviours of those you are deriding.

                Please, I am not trying to be offensive here – I fully understand rage, frustration and hatred on matters like this.. I am a naturally angry person who identifies with and shares all you say here.

      1. and ‘concise.’ Academic philosophy abhors comprehensible concision, much like its sister theology.

      2. Hands down the best response to such an offering. Particularly given that Sam Harris has explicitly invited these ‘sophisticated’ philosophers who think he’s just blown it philosophically to please, please, please track him down. He’ll even extend the time of the public readings, lectures, whatever to respond.

    2. If the reaction to his The Moral Landscape is any indication, his latest release will almost certainly come in for a merciless drubbing by the broader academic philosophical community. Which leads me to wonder whether Sam has something of a masochistic streak in him. If so, that would, of course, not be of his choosing.

      1. Most professional philosophers, (much in the same manner as theologians, or anyone who’s privileged position is challenged by reality), guard their academic patch with astounding ferocity.
        For that is all that most of them actually have in their quiver.
        No facts. No solid findings. As has been observed: mostly all that philosophers do is to nay-say scientists. Always negative.
        There are some very rare exceptions, of course.

        1. … I can I only think of one outstanding example: Dan Dennett.
          But, as I have, along with numerous others, observed that when Dan makes sense, (which is near enough to ‘all the time’), he does so not as a philosopher, but as a true scientist.
          For he is both a philosopher and a scientist.

          And yes, for those who might chance to be more pedantic than I(!), I do understand that many scientists have acquired the academic award of a ‘Doctorate in Philosophy’.
          Need I inform you pedants that such is an historical hang-over?
          Much as many of us refer to medical pharmacists by the medieval term “Chymists”, or its modern-day equivalent spelling.

  8. I give up. It took me 10 minutes to decide to write this comment. What does it say about me, a bit of a contrarian?

  9. I am buying this book – simple really, the forces of the universe “contrived” and I really have no “choice” !

    My only “grey” area on this whole issue is the question of WHEN the causality of the universe began – was everything determined within the first picosecond following the big bang, or during the first million years? It is that “starting point” and trying to comprehend its sudden “appearance” which is my only area of ‘problem’.

  10. I’m a huge fan of Sam Harris. Usually I learn from him and agree with him, and I generally agreed with his Moral Landscape (though I thought it had some deficiencies, ones even he tended to acknowledge to some degree).

    I can’t think of another person who writes as clearly and succinctly as Sam. Though I’m most likely to continue to disagree with his stance on Free Will, I’m open to his argument and if anyone might convince me to give up a compatibilist notion of Free Will, it’s likely Sam Harris.


    1. Vaal, you seemed to accuse me of attacking a strawman (Maybe I was, and anyway no hard feeling) for saying that some compatibilists, who themselves reject the concept of contra-causal free will, nevertheless argue that “incompatibilists” who criticize that very same concept are wrong.

      Saying that you disagree with Sam seems to me to imply that you DO in fact think he is wrong. If not, then what am I missing? If, however, you DO think he is wrong (about objective reality, not just the meanings of words), then what is he wrong about?

      As I have already said, you seem like a very thoughtful person, and I am not out to “get” you. I am just trying to clarify what – if anything – we disagree about.

    2. P.S. Why should anything Sam might have to say “convince [you] to give up a compatibilist notion of Free Will” if you already reject everything that he rejects?

      1. Hi,

        I love most of Sam’s reasoning, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that even a sympathetic reader eventually finds areas in which we would disagree.

        For instance, I don’t agree with the type of inferences Sam has derived from the consciousness experiments that purport to show “unconscious” decisions occurring before being made conscious of them. As I remember, Sam draws the conclusion that such experiments show that “I” am not really making the choice in a way that make “me” responsible.

        I find this thinking to be a rash inference from such tests, and an instance of “making myself small so as to externalize ‘me.'”
        (In other words, it tends to rely on saying that “I” would only be the moments I’m conscious of a choice, and not the preceding
        collection of conscious input combined with whatever computing our brain does in between).

        Sam wants to argue there is no free will, so presumably this will be a hard determinist/incompatibilist argument. I’ve yet to see a good one, but I’m open.

        In particular I want to see how consistent Sam is, and how he proposes to deal with what he purports to be the implications of having no “free will.” The crux is contained in the last sentence of his book preview:

        “How can we make sense of our lives, and hold people accountable for their choices, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds?”

        I’m open to his answer.



        1. It can’t be black or white. It can’t can’t be free will against no free will.
          The only reason it could be one or its opposite would be caused by the belief that language can translate literally reality.
          Unconsciously or not, we believe that a lot. It doesn’t come to our mind that free will against no free will is just a semantic game that has no reality outside the boundaries of our intellect. And it is not a coincidence if the boundaries of our mind are shaped by opposites…

            1. No I can’t because earth-speak is a dual mode of communication based on opposition. Because language shapes our mind, because we think in words, it becomes very hard to realize the influence language has on how we conceive and perceive our self and the world.

              1. That may help:

                “We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.”

                -Richard Rorty

              2. Nope.
                Didn’t help one iota.
                In fact it made things more cloudy.
                Are you not able to distill your message into less verbiage?
                Such is the mark of true understanding, and the lack a measure of floundering flapdoodlery engendered by pseudo-intellectual stud-posing.

  11. I wonder how “free will” relates to memory when someone is not capable of remembering past actions or events and the consequences of those actions.

  12. After wasting 1.99 on harris’ idiotic ruminations on lying, I won’t be rushing out to buy this one.

    Dude is overrated.

    1. “idiotic”?
      Are you able, or willing, to proffer concrete examples?
      Preferably annotated with your observations, please.
      With references would be marvelous!

      Sam. Idiotic?
      These two concepts raise major dissonance in my psyche.
      One of us must be mistaken.

  13. As Hitch retorted when asked if he believed in free will: “I have no choice..”

    It is a curious an ironic thing that the people who do believe in free will seems compulsed to do so. They simply cannot handle the fact that they dont have free will, so in other words they are unable to make a proper decision based on the available evidence. Their will isnt even free enough to admit that they dont have free will!

    1. “I have no choice” is a great answer!

      It reminds me Bohr when he said that:

      “There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”

  14. Does Free Will constitute much more than Harris has already written in TML and his blog about the subject? Because if not, I’m not sure I’m interested. Lying was a disappointment – Harris didn’t even address the Anne Frank lie that he used practically as an advertisement for the book.

    Another question: how many times in Free Will does Harris use the word “clearly” or “obviously” instead of making an actual argument?

  15. I have ordered the book, but am not really hopeful that it will be a worthwhile read.. Some things already put me off…

    1.) The cover, IMO, conveys entirely the wrong message – There is NO analogy between being a “puppet” and accepting the determinism which shows our concepts of “free will” to be illusory. A puppet implies a puppet master – there is no such master – if there was, then “free will” would be back on the table, as we could be this “master”.. A better image perhaps would be a pinball table, balls being subject to forces applied to them – but this does not convey the huge complexity of the “ball” – the fact that the “ball” is controlled by a “meat computer” (I hate this term!) and is able to utalize the forces applied to it in a manner determined by its programming..

    Whatever – the image of puppet strings immediately taps into the worst interpretation possible for these ideas – and is IMO likely to subcontiously bias any reader away from the truth of these ideas.

    2.) The extracts I was able to read detail a horrific crime, and then endevours to place this within a deterministic framework.. IMO, this is a BIG mistake – we have been here before – the whole nurture / nature debate.. For every instance where an abused child grows up and commits some autrocity, there are abused who grow up to become caring functional individuals.. Looking at the “facts” in the way Sam Harris does, taking only these “facts” into account, simply does not cut it – It misses the huge complexity of the forces acting on each entity in the universe, and defocusses from the fact that we can NEVER compute the effect of these forces – Rather than trying to explain the effect using observable (but utterly incomplete) causes, we must accept that, for the effect to have occurred, the causitive forces / mechanisms MUST have been present, even if these are entirely unobservable.

    1. The cover, and even the title of a tome is not (generally) within the choice of the author, at least in the USA.
      Sub-editors guard their jobs with a determined ferocity, it seems.
      Dawkins is known for vocally objecting to such practices, yet seems unable to exert any influence.

      Puppets on covers, book titles, etc — one must expect them to bear little to zero correspondence with the meaning of the contents.

      Borrow it from your library, if it peeves you to donate to Sam.

      1. “Borrow it from your library, if it peeves you to donate to Sam”

        LOL 😉

        No, I have already ordered it and paid for it.. And it seems from what you and Bjarte say, that it might be a worthwhile read..

        Apart from which – I started writing a book some months ago, whos title will probably be “Positive Determinism for effective living” – this was inspired folowing a ‘crazy’ episode in my life where I embraced Dr Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of highly effective people” – I soon realized that the underlying principles central to Dr Coveys work were incompatable with my scientific paradigm – I tried to integrate these, but this led me to question the whole basis for my perceptions of reality, and ended up with me realizing that free will (and freedom in general) was/is an illusion.

        My book will deal with the science, then the implications of determinism in terms of getting on with life – I had, on first discovery of “the truth”, quite a difficult time emotionally – Everything which gave “meaning” and sense of “pride” or “self esteem” seemed to be stripped away..

        I now believe it is possible to embrace determinism without becoming fatalistic or purposeless – that, in fact, when one realizes the effect of ones actions on the future, and the enormity of what one can do, “Positive determinism” can be truly empowering.

        Add to the above the liberating realization that one is not “guilty” for ones past actions and mistakes, and the realization that no one else is “guilty” for their past actions, and one has everything one needs to liberate oneself from the shackles of the past.

        Add to the above some of the “Habits” Dr Covey has collected, and take these out of his illusory quasi-religious framework, and I believe there is a potent recipeit for “effective living”.

    2. fredjackm, don’t judge the book by its cover in this case. Having just read it, I can assure you that there is no hint of a puppet master in its pages. Neither is there any attempt to draw a simplistic, linear relationship between specific childhood experiences and specific outcomes later in life (in my experience this kind of theme is usually only brougth up by critics attacking what they BELIEVE to be the position of free will skeptics). I think Sam makes it perfectly clear that these are only a few of infintely many influences, most of whom are totally unknown to us.

      1. I have just read the book – and I agree with all you say about it.. Thankfully my fears were entirely unjustified!

        This book is (IMO) an extremely lightweight read, but touches on all the ‘truly’ relevant issues in a way which, I think, is well suited to the average ‘Joe Public’ reader.

        For me, there was nothing new in it, and I still feel there is a place for a much more in-depth book on this subject – The science alone could take up far more than the volume of the Sam Harris book, if one went into it fully (explored the ideas of Laplace, the effect of Hiezenburg on the deterministic prediction ideas of Laplace, evaluate whether the inability to predict the ‘script’ due to the uncertainty principle actually means that there is no ‘script’ and a greater coverage of chaos theory etc).

        But, the advantage of Sam Harris book is that I was able to read it fully and carefully in about an hour, and, had I not already been convinced of determinism it would certainly have caused me to examine the subject in more depth.

  16. I just finished reading Sam’s book (As with his last publication “Lying”, “essay” is probably a better word). If you have read “The Moral Landscape” and Sam’s blog posts on the subject, you have read most of it before, but this summarises his argument beautyfully and concisely, and there ARE some entirely new parts as well. My guess is that the semantical disagreement between compatibilists (who DON’T believe in contracausal free will. I KNOW!) and “incompatibilists” such as myself will go on pretty much as it has done till the end of time 😉

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