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.


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

It is a short book

What did you love best about Free Will?

Sam Harris is a favorite author so I will buy whatever he puts out- Knowing this Harris has decided to put out micro books that make tired old points that he can make slightly better than everyone else. This book is about free will- noting that the reasons we make decisions are biological, sociological and just plain logical. Religion really does not enter into the book but rather Harris reviews all the old favorite that come to mind when one talks of free will-- which takes about as long as an average newscast but costs the same as a real book. I recommend all of his work for major followers of the New Atheism moment but if you don't have regular talks of theology this may be brutally uninteresting for you. For those of us who go to special groups on atheism this is a useful tool to phrase old arguments a little more articulately

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

I love listening to Sam Harris both in book and debate because of his calm style that reminds us that the very gruesome stories he sometimes tells to make his points are not there to disgust but to make a point better. It is difficult to not dramatize stories of such profound violence but Harris can speak of those matters calmly better than anyone else

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Unfortunately, yes

Any additional comments?

I recommend everyone get his other book The Moral Landscape-- That is where his magic really is

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- Niall

Book Details

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