Robert Sapolsky’s new book on determinism

September 25, 2023 • 1:20 pm

Robert Sapolsky, a biological polymath who’s written several best-selling books, pointed out in earlier ones (like Behave) that he was a hard determinist, a view he reinforced on a Sci. Am. podcast—one of their rare positive contributions. Now, as I mentioned in February, his new book, totally about determinism, is about to come out—on October 17. You can order it by clicking on the screenshot below. It ain’t cheap at $31.50 for the hardcover, but I may have to dig down deep to get it–or order it from the library.

Here’s the Amazon summary, which implies that Sapolsky isn’t buying any of the compatibilism bullpucky:

Robert Sapolsky’s Behave, his now classic account of why humans do good and why they do bad, pointed toward an unsettling conclusion: We may not grasp the precise marriage of nature and nurture that creates the physics and chemistry at the base of human behavior, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Now, in Determined, Sapolsky takes his argument all the way, mounting a brilliant (and in his inimitable way, delightful) full-frontal assault on the pleasant fantasy that there is some separate self telling our biology what to do.

Determined offers a marvelous synthesis of what we know about how consciousness works—the tight weave between reason and emotion and between stimulus and response in the moment and over a life. One by one, Sapolsky tackles all the major arguments for free will and takes them out, cutting a path through the thickets of chaos and complexity science and quantum physics, as well as touching ground on some of the wilder shores of philosophy. He shows us that the history of medicine is in no small part the history of learning that fewer and fewer things are somebody’s “fault”; for example, for centuries we thought seizures were a sign of demonic possession. Yet, as he acknowledges, it’s very hard, and at times impossible, to uncouple from our zeal to judge others and to judge ourselves. Sapolsky applies the new understanding of life beyond free will to some of our most essential questions around punishment, morality, and living well together.By the end, Sapolsky argues that while living our daily lives recognizing that we have no free will is going to be monumentally difficult, doing so is not going to result in anarchy, pointlessness, and existential malaise. Instead, it will make for a much more humane world.

As I wrote in February based on this summary:

It’s clear from the summary that the “free will” Sapolsky’s attacking is dualistic or libertarian free will (“some separate self telling our biology what to do”). And although some readers think that kind of free will is passé, that everyone already rejects it, that’s wrong. I suspect those who say such things are compatibilists who don’t get out much.  According to surveys in four countries, most people accept libertarian free will, i.e., if you repeated an episode with everything exactly the same, a person could have decided or behaved differently. They also think that a naturalistic universe (or “deterministic” one, if you will) robs people of their moral responsibility. As I’ve long argued, yes, the concept of “moral” responsibility loses meaning in a naturalistic universe, but the concept of responsibility  (i.e., X did action Y) still makes a lot of sense, and that alone gives us justification for punishment—although non-retributive punishment.

If you doubt the pervasiveness of belief in dualistic free will, just look at religion: the Abrahamic religions and many other faiths are absolutely grounded in free will. They are, after all, predicated on you choosing the right religion and/or savior. This means that you do have a free choice, and woe be unto you if you choose wrong. (Calvinists or any religion that believes in “the elect” are exceptions.)

. . . So it goes. Back to Sapolksky. He espoused his determinism in Behave, but this is a full-length treatment, and a book I would like to have written. My main fear about the book was that Sapolsky would take the Dennett-ian stand towards free will, saying that we really have the only kind worth wanting, and downplaying the naturalism that, Dan believes (with other compatibilists), leaves us only one course of thought and action open at any one time. As I’ve argued, while hard determinism leads immediately to a discussion of the consequences for our world, how we judge others, and the justice system, compatibilism seems to me the “cheap way out,” reassuring us that we have free will and not going far beyond that—certainly not into the consequences of naturalism, which are many. It is the hard determinists, not the compatibilists, who follow the naturalistic conclusion to its philosophical conclusions.

The good news is that now when someone wants to understand determinism, I can just shut up and say, “Read Sapolsky’s book,” for I see no divergence between his views and mine (I’d also add Free Will by Sam Harris.) In the end—and I’ll get in trouble for this—I think compatibilists are semantic grifters. They’re really all determinists who want to find some way to convince people that they have a form of free will, even though they couldn’t have behaved other than how they did. This is the “little people’s” argument, not for religion but for philosophy. But in the end it’s the same: “People need religion/the notion of free will because without it, society could not flourish.” That, of course, is bogus. As long as we feel we make choices, even if intellectually we know we couldn’t have chosen otherwise, society will go on.  After all, I’m a hard determinist and yet I’m still alive, getting out of bed each morning. I don’t know what I’ll pick when I go to a restaurant, even though I know it’s determined right before I look at the menu.

Reader Tom Clark wrote a positive review of Sapolsky’s book on the Naturalism site. Click below to read it.

I’ll give just two of Clark’s quotes:

If free will is widely conceived as being opposed to determinism[1], it isn’t surprising that the latter is seen as a threat to responsibility, meaning, creativity, rationality, and other desiderata tied to our core notion of agency. If we’re fully caused to be who we are and do what we do, then it seems we’re merely biological robots, acting out a pre-ordained script; we don’t make real choices for which we might be praised or blamed.

Could you have done otherwise?

This is why Robert Sapolsky’s book Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will(link is external), is likely to ruffle more than a few feathers (although it will do so very entertainingly, see below). Following up on his earlier work Behave(link is external), Sapolsky, a behavioral biologist, is intent on making it clear to anyone who will listen that there is no escaping determinism if we’re serious about understanding ourselves: understanding how we got to be the exact persons we are and why our intentions and choices arise as they do. Moreover, as he takes pains to point out, indeterminism or randomness doesn’t help the cause of agency. After all, as deciders we want to determine our choices, not have them be subject to factors we don’t control. Strangely enough, therefore, determinism, construed commonsensically as the existence of reliable causal, and more broadly, explanatory connections between our desires, decisions, actions, and their effects on the world, seems a necessary condition of genuine agenthood. We really make choices, just not undetermined or arbitrary ones.

Well, the last sentence is a bit grifty given that “make choices” means, to most people, “we could have made other choices.” But I won’t quibble too much. The best part is that, according to Clark, Sapolsky has no truck with compatibilism:

The fight with compatibilists isn’t about determinism; compatibilists agree that we and our choices are in principle explicable by various determinants, not the causa sui. It’s rather about the relative importance assigned to determinism and its implications for moral responsibility and other beliefs, attitudes, and social practices informed by our conception of agency. Sapolsky argues that compatibilists tend to ignore the causal story behind an individual in order to fix our attention on agents and their capacities for rationality and reasons-responsiveness, capacities that compatibilists argue justify holding each other morally responsible.[8] Most of us are capable in these respects to varying degrees, but by downplaying determinism and the causal story, what Sapolsky calls taking the ahistorical stance, compatibilists in effect block access to the psychological and practical benefits of putting determinism front and center: increased compassion and more attention paid to the conditions that thwart human flourishing. Due to factors beyond our control too many of us end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to health, education, social skills, and employability. Sapolsky is especially critical of compatibilist Daniel Dennett, who has claimed that “luck averages out in the long run”. He responds in characteristically plain-spoken style:

No it doesn’t. Suppose you’re born a crack baby. In order to counterbalance this bad luck, does society rush in to ensure that you’ll be raised in relative affluence and with various therapies to overcome your neurodevelopmental problems? No, you are overwhelmingly likely to be born into poverty and stay there. Well then, says society, at least let’s make sure your mother is loving, is stable, has lots of free time to nurture you with books and museum visits. Yeah, right; as we know your mother is likely to be drowning in the pathological consequences of her own miserable luck in life, with a good chance of leaving you neglected, abused, shuttled through foster homes. Well, does society at least mobilize then to counterbalance that additional bad luck, ensuring you live in a safe neighborhood with excellent schools? Nope, your neighborhood is likely to be gang-riddled and your school underfunded.

In arguing against compatibilists, Sapolsky engages with the philosophical literature, citing skeptics about free will and moral responsibility such as Neil Levy, Gregg Caruso, Derk Pereboom, and Sam Harris (see references below). Such backup suggests he is not completely crazy to think that a robust appreciation of determinism, and therefore the sheer contingency of our formative circumstances, should force reconsideration of our conceptions of credit, blame, reward, and punishment.

Clark’s final sentence:

[Sapolsky’s] persistence in seeing Determined to completion – a prodigious undertaking – is much to be congratulated, although he would disavow deserving any such praise. Even if he’s right about that, we’re still lucky to have him.

YES!  But read the rest for yourself. This is a book we can all benefit from (even those miscreants who accept libertarian free will or compatibilism), and I’m glad I can point to a respected polymath who makes an argument I agree with, but written much better than I’d be able to.

What I’d love to see: a debate about compatibilism between Dennett and Sapolsky.

40 thoughts on “Robert Sapolsky’s new book on determinism

  1. There is another book that is also being released in October that apparently makes the case for free will. It would seem that it would be good to read both books together. Does anyone on this thread know anything about the book “Free Agents” by Keven Mitchell.

    While I couldn’t find a review, I found the following abstract that looks like it may be from the publisher.

    An evolutionary case for the existence of free will. Scientists are learning more and more about how brain activity controls behavior and how neural circuits weigh alternatives and initiate actions. As we probe ever deeper into the mechanics of decision making, many conclude that agency-or free will-is an illusion. In Free Agents, leading neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell presents a wealth of evidence to the contrary, arguing that we are not mere machines responding to physical forces but agents acting with purpose. Traversing billions of years of evolution, Mitchell tells the remarkable story of how living beings capable of choice emerged from lifeless matter. He explains how the emergence of nervous systems provided a means to learn about the world, granting sentient animals the capacity to model, predict, and simulate. Mitchell reveals how these faculties reached their peak in humans with our abilities to imagine and to introspect, to reason in the moment, and to shape our possible futures through the exercise of our individual agency. Mitchell’s argument has important implications-for how we understand decision making, for how our individual agency can be enhanced or infringed, for how we think about collective agency in the face of global crises, and for how we consider the limitations and future of artificial intelligence.An astonishing journey of discovery, Free Agents offers a new framework for understanding how, across a billion years of Earth history, life evolved the power to choose and why this matters.” see

    1. If the book touts libertarian free will, I would approach it with caution. Even compatibilists reject libertarian free will, and Sean Carroll has written extensively about why we know enough about the laws of physics to reject the idea of some “will” that is nonphysical. And free will has to be nonphysical if it’s to be totally libertarian.

  2. The library is my preferred route for this sort of thing. I can’t bring myself to spend $35 on something I’m only going to read once.

    Anyway, so I went to my local library’s website and sure enough they had it. It was on order of course and it won’t show up for a couple of months, but it said there were 0 holds on 10 copies. Great! I clicked the Place Hold button and it came back to tell me I was number 8 in line.

    That must mean that 7 other people here in my city had just found out about the book at approximately the same instant! Probably all from this website too!

  3. “I don’t know what I’ll pick when I go to a restaurant, even though I know it’s determined right before I look at the menu.” At restaurants, I sometimes decide between two or more favored alternatives by either: (a) a random exercise, like flipping a coin; or (b) asking my companion, if there is one, to choose for me; or (c) asking the waiter to choose for me. I suppose there is a chain of physical events that determines the outcome in each
    case (even the coin flip), but isn’t it simply too long and complex to be computable?

    1. Just because something is not computable doesn’t mean it wasn’t deterministic, like a coin flip. Now if you used the quantum decider, as Sean Carroll does, THEN your “choice” would be unpredictable. But as for your coin flip, well, that’s still determined but, like so much of human and physical behavior, we don’t know enough to predict it. It’s a common error to think that determinism requires predictability. It requires only that physical laws hold throghout the universe.

      1. Physical laws don’t necessary imply determinism, unless we are considering the classical physics of 150 years ago. Physicists, working with much less complex systems, are comfortable with indeterminacy because this is what the experiments show. Biologists working with highly complex systems with variables still not determined, with multiple paths and redundancies, would seem to be on less sure ground to argue for determinism.

        1. As Jerry Coyne reiterated, randomness does not give one free will or free agency, nor does not being able to compute an outcome.

        2. When I say “determinism”, I mean “naturalism” because of the possibility of fundamental quantum unpredictability. Physical laws may not imply determinism, but they do imply NO LIBERTARIAN FREE WILL.

        3. If generally accepted and well tested fundamental physics is right than “the future is fixed with the exception of some occasional quantum events that no one can influence” in the words of S. Hossenfelder in her book “Existential Physics”.

          This does not mean that we can predict the future; even fully deterministic systems are often unpredictable or very difficult to predict. But it leaves no room for a rational belief in freewill.

          In practice we sometimes feel we have freewill (when good things happen we want to take credit) and sometimes we feel we are purely the victim of circumstances (when bad things happen we don’t want to be blamed). Ironically for other people humans believe they act out of freewill when they act badly and they can act only good because they live in a privileged environment. These feelings for other people are less strong if their actions don’t affect us directly.

          That’s the way Mother Nature has made us and she didn’t have any choice. Human traits are of course distributed in a spectrum so some are affected more, some are affected less.

  4. As a “semantic grifter” compatibilist (who has argued this many times here so I’ll try not to belabour it), the difference between us and “hard” determinists really is just how we connote concepts and thus the words we use.

    As long as we feel we make choices, even if intellectually we know we couldn’t have chosen otherwise, society will go on.

    Even if we wouldn’t have done otherwise in absolutely identical circumstances, there’s still a meaningful and important sense in which a woman might “choose” to wear a hijab versus feeling “forced” to do so. That distinction is all there is to compatibilism (and it’s not about doing otherwise in identical circumstances, it’s about social coercion).

    I don’t know what I’ll pick when I go to a restaurant, even though I know it’s determined right before I look at the menu.

    This is why accepting determinism will not lead to radical changes in society. Yes, our acts are the result of prior causes, but unless we have sufficient information to compute how someone will act ahead of time (which we don’t), knowing that makes little practical difference.

    For example, if we could compute that Tom will murder someone next month, then we could intervene ahead of time. But we can’t, so we have to resort to deterring murder with threats of punishment. Whether the act of murder results from non-computable prior causes or from a dualistic soul makes rather little difference to the need to deter it by threats of punishment or the need to isolate someone prone to murder from society.

    1. Can’t you just say, “I feel forced to do something against my will?” Why the “free” bit? You want to make a question of metaphysics into one of politics, law, and sociology.

      Is it because you are scared like Dennett, or is it something else?

      1. Why the “free” bit? Because it’s the usual word to use for absence of coercion. When a priest asks a bride something like “… have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?”, the question is establishing that it is her “will” to marry and that she does not feel coerced.

        And yes, compatibilism is indeed about social interactions. If a prisoner is “freed” that’s about social interactions, not metaphysics. As for the metaphysics bit, on that we agree with you, choices have prior causes.

        But no amount of pointing out that choices have prior causes negates the fact that “freedom” to act on our desires (will) is important to us.

    2. Deterrence is not the only reason for punishment, and, in fact, some people don’t think it’s even a valid reason for punishment. As far as the other reasons for punishment: fixing broken people and protecting society, your attitude towards them depends critically on whether you think they could have done otherwise.

      I’ve talked about the hijab issue before. How do you know that a woman “freely chose” to wear a hijab as opposed to being forced to when she lives in a society where everyone where’s a hijab? You don’t seem to realize the thin line between general coercion and coercion to conform with what everyone else is doing around you.

      1. I agree with you that choices always have prior causes, so there is always a prior-cause explanation for why a woman would desire to wear a hijab or not. But our desires are important to us, and whether we can reasonably act on them is important to us.

        Compatibilists are not your enemy here, we agree with you on how things actually are, we just connote some language differently. We don’t take words like “choice” to connote metaphysics when used in everyday life.

        Indeed, you do much the same, on the NdGT thread you wrote: “Maybe a lot of those women, having no choice, didn’t like it but couldn’t do anything about it”. That’s compatibilist, it’s using “choice” as being about social behaviour, not about metaphysics. That’s all there is to compatibilism.

  5. Compatibilists don’t need to debate the semantics of “free will”. We need to show that incompatibilism is based on bad philosophy posing as science. Intuitive ideas about free will do indeed clash with intuitive ideas about causality – but it’s the latter that are wrong. And not because of QM — thermodynamics and relativity are more relevant.

    Intuitively, causation is both antisymmetric (if A causes B, then B doesn’t cause A) and universal in the physical world (every physical event has a cause). But, as Sean Carroll points out, if causation is antisymmetric, then causality (like growing entropy) is an emergent phenomenon – it doesn’t go all the way down to fundamental particles. Causality doesn’t apply to physical states characterized down to microscopic details. (For those familiar with the entropy formula S = k log W, note that S = 0 whenever W = 1.) But, if one wants to trace the “causes” of your actions to events before your birth, one will need to go down to microscopic details. Contradiction.

    On the other hand, if you drop the antisymmetry requirement and just define a cause as an event that, in conjunction with physical laws, makes another event more likely, then you get the result that causality flows both toward the past and the future. Philosopher of science Douglas Kutach makes this clear in Causation and its Basis in Fundamental Physics. Rather than worrying about which decision past events have “forced” you to make, you can just make a decision, and rest assured that the past events will just have to go along with it.

    1. “Rather than worrying about which decision past events have ‘forced’ you to make, you can just make a decision, and rest assured that the past events will just have to go along with it.”

      Cool! But on on this time-symmetric view of causation, how do we explain decisions? Usually we cite past and concurrent circumstances in explaining them. Could I have decided otherwise in an actual situation, and if so, why didn’t I?

      1. Explanation of events and decisions generally goes only in the direction of increasing entropy (from past to future).

        Explanation is an epistemic and pragmatic enterprise – its goal is to summarize useful patterns in the world. The time-symmetric definition of causation is only concerned with what the underlying reality of the world is, pragmatics be damned. Not every cause, on such a definition, is useful or knowable. Apart from bizarre and artificially contrived cases, future causes are not useful for getting things done now.

        No single scientifically respectable notion can do all the things that people expect “causality” to do. If you demand that causation tie very closely to explanation, you need Sean Carroll’s emergent, large-system-level only, definition of causation.

        1. This all sounds very coherent and I think we can do with less focus on explanation und with a better definition of causation. There was a nice conversation on going down on microscopic details in Sean Carrell’s podcast with his guest Barry Lower.
          I am however still not sure about the doing otherwise question.

          1. When you say “we”, you’re implying that the comment is not of interest to most people You don’t know that. And you’ve misspelled “Sean Carroll.”

            As for the “doing otherwise question,” you clearly haven’t read much about free will.

      2. This sums it all up succinctly. Free Will’s definition is “under those circumstances, in my precise situation, at the moment I made a decision, consciously or subconsciously, I could have done otherwise.” Obviously I could not have, unless you are referring to a random event(s) somewhere in the brain. That would be in principle perhaps unpredictable if it were possible, but would certainly be no free will by me, an agent.

  6. “As I’ve long argued, yes, the concept of “moral” responsibility loses meaning in a naturalistic universe, but the concept of /responsibility/  (i.e., X did action Y) still makes a lot of sense, and that alone gives us justification for punishment—although non-retributive punishment.” – J. Coyne

    This seems incoherent to me. There is a distinction between causal responsibility and moral responsibility, and causality without culpability cannot justify any punishment. If moral terms such as “fault”, “blame”, “guilt” become meaningless in a deterministic universe, then punishment is always undeserved and thus unjustified in principle if causal determinism is true.

    1. If punishing morally non-responsible criminals means taking measures against them for the sake of crime prevention or crime protection, then I didn’t mean to say that such purely instrumental punishment is unjustifiable—although it is still undeserved due to the lack of moral responsibility.

  7. Is he using determinism as a shorthand for “our thoughts are the output of physical processes”, or is he talking about actual literal determinism of the kind that requires action at a distance to get around Bell’s inequality?

  8. The book is on the list, thanks for the reminder.

    Personally, I feel it unwise to forgo a Sapolsky tome. Afterall, he’s a Packers fan, and I like his green beard! 🙂

  9. I’m grateful to Tom for citing me in his review, but he gets me wrong in citing me as an ally of Sapolsky in one important respect. I am indeed a free will sceptic, but I am also a compatibilist: i.e., I think determinism is absolutely no threat to free will. We don’t have free will, but that’s because it’s ultimately incoherent, not because actions and cognition are determined.

  10. I have always thought that not being open to the possibility that there is an explanation for people’s behavior shuts down discussion. “That’s just the way they are.” Five hundred years ago people acting strange were obviously possessed,end of story. Instead trying to understand their behavior led to the discovery of dilantin,etc.

  11. Haven’t read Sapolsky’s book, but other arguments for determinism I have seen over the years boil down to something like this syllogism:

    Chemical reactions are deterministic; chemicals do not make choices.
    Humans are made of chemicals.
    Therefore, all of our responses are deterministic; choice is an illusion.

    The logic is tight. It does not make it true, though. One of the assumptions may be false. Here are some more tight syllogisms.

    Chemical reactions are deterministic.
    Deterministic processes cannot be self-replicating.
    Therefore, life is impossible.

    The conclusion follows from the premises, but is obviously wrong, because one of the premises is wrong. Here is another.

    Chemicals do not have consciousness.
    Living things are made of chemicals.
    Therefore, consciousness is impossible.

    Again, the conclusion follows from the premises, but is obviously wrong, because one of the premises is wrong.

    Chemical processes are deterministic.
    Chemicals cannot make choices.
    Therefore, free will is impossible among things constituted by chemicals.

    Whether this entire argument is true or false is (at least some of) what is (usually) at issue, so I won’t slyly import victory-by-assumption for free will by calling this one unjustified. But the fact that the logic is tight does not mean that it is justified. One of the assumptions may be false.

    Here is another one:

    Chemical processes have emergent properties that can produce life.
    Life has emergent properties that, for some species, includes consciousness (including the ability to make choices).
    Species with consciousness have (at least some degree of) free will.

    This is just as logically tight. Maybe there is a wrong assumption in there. But as far as I can tell, the idea that biochemical processes have produced consciousness and free will as (poorly understood) emergent properties has never been refuted.

    Now, one can implicitly import victory by declaring that consciousness merely creates the illusion of free will — except whether that is an illusion or actually true is precisely what is at issue and therefore cannot be resolved by implicitly importing victory.

    And if you don’t buy this, how about Philosopher Michael Huemer’s great blog:

    on which you will find this juicy tidbit:
    “Determinism … cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to cause us to respond in some way desired by them.”

    1. Thank you for that last tidbit, Lee. I am not well informed on this debate. I try to follow the various posts here, but the “arguments” always seem a bit off. And it is precisely because of those last sentences that you posted.

      If determinism is true, then I guess that some of us are simply lucky in that countless circumstances have combined to produce in us “true” beliefs, and we hold them whether we want to or not. How wonderful to be so favored by the universe and physics! It’s almost like being “chosen.” But by chance.

      From that point it can become for some a bit like politics: preach the liberating message to the choir, try to win over those who are interested but undecided, and never miss opportunity to bash those who through no fault of their own cannot see the light. Of course, the undecided won’t be responding to any truth in the arguments; it’s all about whether they are conditioned to find something persuasive. If they do find it persuasive, then they will deem it “true.” Whether it actually is will not matter.

      The whole debate seems as interminable as the political and the religious.

  12. A very interesting book:

    * Peter A. Alces. The Moral Conflict of Law and Neuroscience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

    “This book is, essentially, a thought experiment: What should law be in order to govern the affairs of human agents who do not have moral responsibility? It proceeds from the premise that human agents do not, in fact, have moral responsibility and that the mechanical nature of human agency is confirmed by neuroscientific insights that have revealed—albeit so far incompletely, perhaps even only vaguely—the chemical, electrical, and structural incidents of neural processes of the brain. And we are no more than our brains; we could not be. That conclusion entails hard determinism, the realization that we are the product of forces. Indeed, we cannot even say “the product of forces acting upon us” because we are the sum of the forces, not the object of their action. And that conclusion engages the contours of normative theory: even our understanding of our understanding.” (p. xiii)

  13. I have a little factual quibble. Does it undermine the premise? Won’t know till I read the book. Sapolsky is quoted as writing:
    Nope, your neighborhood is likely to be gang-riddled and your school underfunded. (“Nope” in professional writing usually activates my bull-shit detectors. It’s like saying “Shut up” to someone.)

    But schools in poor districts are not underfunded. The big Blue cities that are full of crack babies and mothers floating along on a sea of dysfunction get more money (from the state) per student than better-off neighbourhoods. And given the high rates of truancy in those school districts, the funding per student who actually shows up for class is positively luxurious. OK, maybe they should get even more money to compensate for their bad luck, but anyone can always ask for more money.

    So something is telling me that Sapolsky isn’t willing to give credit to all the social welfare spending that you already spend in dysfunctional neighbourhoods. Not just in school funding, where his factual error jumps out, but in the other links of the chain of causation from crack baby to gang-banger. That effort is at least ostensibly swimming against the tide of determinism, trying, in fact, to even out the luck as Dennett predicts but Sapolsky rejects. Maybe all the money is stolen and doesn’t reach the intended recipients, or maybe it’s a problem that can’t be fixed with money. Whatever. The larger society is still making an effort. Sure, you could always demand that the effort be larger, but it’s not true, as Sapolsky implies in his tirade about luck that we aren’t making the effort at all.

  14. Just received my copy of “Determined”. After reading Sapolsky’s “Behave”, I expect that his new book will pretty much agree with my ideas on determinism vs. free will. Coincidentally, Michael Shermer of the Skeptic organization has an online interview with Sapolsky. Very interesting.
    I’ve corresponded with Tom Clark for many years but seem to differ with what seems to be his current compatibilist position on free will. Perhaps Sapolsky will change his mind?

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