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Free Will

Written by: Sam Harris
Narrated by: Sam Harris
Length: 1 hr and 14 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (113 ratings)

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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.

©2012 Sam Harris (P)2012 Simon & Schuster

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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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

disappointing

I'm just not so sure if I got Sam Harris's book. It seemed really hard to understand what he was talking about. I kept thinking that he was just using semantics to make his point. Sam Harris seems to separate neurology from free will. The way I see it is that whether it's brain neurology or my conscience making the decision what does that matter anyway. I am who I am my brain my conscience everything. It's all me and my decisions are my decisions taken with my brain and my conscience. in any event, I'm going to listen to it again to see if I can understand it better.

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Free will

I have read (listened) to this book several times. I re-listen when I feel frustrated when I do something stupid...lol. Sam makes a compelling argument for our complete lack of free will. It’s short and very thought provoking. I enjoy reading things that challenge my preconceived perceptions on what we are all about. #audilbe1

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Absolutely compelling

Harris takes his arguments about the freedom of will in Moral Landscape and discharges them with added discussion, once again with great erudition and crisp logical consistency. I have been totally convinced by this book, and therefore – and if Harris’ thesis is correct – I had no freedom to choose otherwise.

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To damn short! I want more!

Excellent and concise book! I want more... why isn’t there more?! However, Harris wasn’t free to wrote more than the amount he did.

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  • Ellen
  • 2012-04-23

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!

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Margaret
  • 2012-05-01

Fascinating debate!

What made the experience of listening to Free Will the most enjoyable?

Sam Harris presents both sides well and then argues his thesis. Refreshingly frank. Felt like I was eavesdropping on a lively debate.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 2018-06-29

materialistic truth

I enjoyed listening to this book mostly because I like how Harris speaks and because his arguments are so simplistic that even a wannabe philosopher like I can engage with him. Overall, I gave this three stars because the initial scientific evidence the whole book is based upon is a weak premise. Harris asumes a direct equivalence between brain images and the concept of free will, which is both reductionistic and materialistic. In other words, you must read this book because it is the kind of materialistic nonsense that the left will be talking about in the coming decades.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • DS
  • 2013-03-12

CLASSIC SAM HARRIS

Sam Harris can write anything and I'll enjoy it. Sometimes I'll heartily agree, sometimes I'll wonder where I stand on an issue but I always have a good time listening.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 2012-04-13

Nothing you couldn't get from Sam's blog

Any additional comments?

I loved Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape," and I read his blog and have enjoyed his posts on free will. The book didn't add anything to this very basic synopsis: Free will is an illusion, based on neuroscience, and we can do what we decide but we can't decide what we do. In short, regarding the idea that if you could go back in time, then you could choose differently — no you couldn't. Therefore any hate toward someone for, say, raping you is misplaced. They couldn't have done differently. If anything, you should feel compassion because how would you like to live inside the skin of someone who is a rapist and can't not be a rapist? (Sam is saying this, not me.) The book was fine, and Sam is always engaging but it lacked something special, to set it apart from a compilation of blog posts. I guess I would've wanted more real-world anecdotes and how a society could or should handle the consequences of these antisocial actions differently than it does now. The book didn't help me see how the lack of free will is meaningful in practice for my life or society as a whole. That said, the book is worthwhile if only because there's so little available on audio about this interesting subject. It's a solid brief introduction to determinism.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Niall
  • 2012-04-02

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

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Jennifer
  • 2014-11-15

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.

23 of 30 people found this review helpful

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  • Jesika
  • 2012-07-11

Excellent, interesting book.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this book to everyone. Important information that can change the way you view your fellow humans and boost your compassion for everyone.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • 2012-03-12

Consciousness-Raising Insight for Self & The Rest

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I definitely recommend Free Will not only because of my deep appreciation for Harris' thoughful and strongly argued dissections of this sort of subject, but because of the insight this work raised into my own behavior and that of others. The initial inclination to worry about the possibility of less implicit self-determinism is far outweighed by Harris' words opening channels of deeper understanding into why we are who we are and do what we do.
A short, but powerful, piece.

What other book might you compare Free Will to and why?

No comparable book comes to mind.

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

I find it adds value to hear the book in the words of the author. It feels more authentic.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

For me, the overall input from the book was powerful with many moving arguments.

Any additional comments?

After finishing this book, I immediately emailed family and friends encouraging them to read it.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • sonny
  • 2017-01-24

a better title would be "unsure"

Any additional comments?

my simple understanding is we can't know where thought comes from, so all that comes from thought cannot be known. free will being something i had assumed came from thought through consciousness. sam harris suggests we cannnot know that we have free will if we are unsure of the source for decisions or thoughts. how can we know what is next? how can we know that we made the choice or decision if we do not know from where it came?

so do we have free will? sam harris says we can't know.

i am not convinced. do we have less free will than most think, i would say yes. i think most people would think their life is solely because of their own 'free will' decisions in life. in this example 'most people' are wrong. it doesn't take into consideration the luck and uncontrollable circumstances everyone is put into which is part of the argument in the book that i do agree with.

if we have some free will, then it is still free will. if free will is an illusion, what is not an illusion?

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Client Amazon
  • 2019-02-06

Essential reading

Short essay totally very convincing on what is and mostly what is not free will.