Sam Harris on Free Will

As my work puts forth the pronouncement that all human behavior is involuntary, i.e., automatic and choiceless, it overlaps with the age-old issue of free will discussed by philosophers, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists. I reference many of these in my second book, “The Myth of Doing.” Sam Harris, both a philosopher and a neuroscientist, wrote the incredible book “Free Will” in 2012 which I highly recommend reading (it is very short and accessible). I am in complete alignment with him on this particular topic and am grateful for his clarity in this video.

2 Comments

  1. Thinking may affect other thinking, but all thinking is involuntary from our perspective. There is no “you” that can ever drum up any thought. They just appear. My second book “The Myth of Doing” references Gazzaniga and many other philosophers and scientists.

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  2. We all use many words that we know are illusions so I do not have a problem having “free” and “self” in that lot. When watching a magic trick we enjoy the trick, even though we know underneath there is something else “really” going on making it happen. We enjoy getting attached to characters in a movie knowing well that the people are really actors. When we look at the moon and call it a crescent moon we aren’t completely tricked underneath it all; most of us realize, if asked, that the moon is always a whole even when it visibly appears to us as a half. We all still feel that Earth is flat when we look out at the horizon even though most of us believe it is round. There are many other words like this, so, no. I do not have a problem with words staying in my language, as long as I understand the reality under the surface, as much as I possibly can. People use the word heart all the time when they know what the human heart actually is. In terms of my use of the word involuntary, I recognize that there is still a difference between different types of movements that are ordinarly referred to as voluntary and involuntary. I use this word for my readers to grasp how it is that the “we” we identify with as ourselves is no more in control of our physical actions (we call choices) like eating an apple rather than a pear or going into the kitchen over the bedroom, than it is breathing, circulating, blinking or swallowing. The word automatic speaks more to my message and I use that in my writing as well. Finally, I actually find the compatibilist view to be harmful. Firstly, it still gives people the impression that they can choose their behavior which means they could have done otherwise. This is awful because it is not true, and makes people blame themselves for behavior they cannot control. People walk around depressed feeling like they are failures because they are not “able” to change their lot. Secondly, it contributes to the ongoing belief that there is a need for retributivism in our criminal justice system, when again, though people must be held responsible for their behavior, they are not morally responsible if they had no choice. I appreciate you trying to lure me out of my views but I dont see it happening :-). Thanks for trying!

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