Free Will

  • by Sam Harris
  • Narrated by Sam Harris
  • 1 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A belief in free will touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion.
In this enlightening book, Sam Harris argues that this truth about the human mind does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of social and political freedom, but it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.

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What the Critics Say

"Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. In Free Will, Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris’s books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice." (Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, and author of Why Evolution Is True)
"In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings." (V. S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, and author of The Tell-Tale Brain)
"Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000." (Oliver Sacks)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Wrong Question

Do we have free will or are we merely complex stimulus response devices. Can we know? Does it matter?

I believe that I have some control over the outcome of my life. I make choices and those choices have consequences. My choices are strongly influenced by my heredity, the conditions under which my brain developed, and the accumulated experiences of my life. Nonetheless, I believe that I exercise some measure of free will in my conscious decision making.

Sam Harris asserts that this is an illusion. His argument rests on the assumption of a material universe wholly governed by natural laws dictating the interactions of the matter in that universe. That assumption is unaltered by the existence of energy as an alternative form of matter or by the possibility of multiverses. He tells us that we live in a clock-work universe where future states arise from present states. The randomness of quantum mechanics may create some uncertainty about those future states, but it does not provide freedom of choice to the collection of atoms of which we consist. It is an interesting argument, but it is irrelevant.

Free will is not a thing; it is a construct. We generally think of free will as the ability to act without certain constraints. By treating free will as the ability to act without any constraints, Harris easily defines it away.

The problem with using science to make a philosophical argument is that there is much that science cannot yet tell us. Indeed, there may be much that science will never be able to tell us. What makes science useful is that it identifies the “laws” that predict the behavior of matter and energy. Those predictions help us to harness matter an energy to do useful things. We need to remember that those laws are not in and of themselves an objective reality; they are simply models that help us navigate the universe in which we live. In the same sense, free will is a behavioral model that helps us understand the extent to which we can reasonably hold another creature.

The important question is not whether or not we have free will, but rather how free our will really is. Read in that light, Harris makes some very important points. We sometimes forget how much of our lives are determined by factors out of our control. By extension, we forget how much of other people’s lives are determined by factors out of their control. Both nature and nurture conspire to mold us into what we are. Perhaps we could take a little less credit for how well things have turned out for us and assign a little less blame to those who have not managed as well.

Perhaps the inflammatory argument that our cherished free will is an illusion should be read an argument for compassion.
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- Jennifer

LIFE/ WORLD Altering sophisticated thinking!

Where does Free Will rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is one of the top 3 audiobooks I have listened to so far (and I have LOTS of audiobooks). I will listent to it many times----and hopefully some guests in my car will also have the privilege to be titillated by his thoughts.


What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

Sam Harris is amazing! I love the subjects he choses to grapple with. I love the conclusions he draws. I love the potential impact on the way the world perceives punishment/guilt/free will. I love the fact that Sam is a neuroscientist --- clearly his opinions are based on lots of scientific knowledge--not just a philosophy.


What does Sam Harris bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I am a big fan of audiobooks. I have ADHD and the audiobook enables me to "read" books I would not otherwise be able to sit still and really comprehend fully. I have become accustomed to listening to audiobooks in my car and when the author reads the book to me--it is magical---of course he wrote it--so only he can put the passion in his words---it makes a HUGE difference---I do have other audiobooks read by someone else other then the author---it's such a privilege to hear him speak his ideas---not to mention he has a very calm clear voice.


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I DID have an extreme reaction to this book. It did make me cry----because the information he is giving to us in this book --if understood by the masses has the power to completely change the world---my tears were tears of joy---

And his idea is not just some romantic idea about the way our brain works--it's based on facts--scientific facts---

I don't care about the book with regards to how it "handles" the idea of free-will in religion, but I will admit that I am an atheist and have been interested in Sam's writings from the first book because of that, but I will say that the fact that we do not have free will sets the stage for a complete shift in the way we preceive the world---a HUGE SHIFT---

Maybe like one of those plateaus in evolution that really jumps a species to the next level---is it possible to jump to another level in evolution just by having a thought? I think maybe so!


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- Ellen

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-06-2012
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio