For those unfamiliar with Harris or his work, he's a Stanford
philosophy grad and UCLA neuroscience Ph.D. who authored the amazing 2004 book,
The End of Faith, and who co-founded a foundation in 2007
devoted to promoting science and secular values called Project Reason. In "Free
Will," he lays out a cogent argument against the existence of free will in human
beings; or to be more precise, he describes in objective, scientific (and
subjective) terms why our apparent freedom of will is an illusion.
A common response to this argument is that if we have no free
will, why do anything? Or, if we have no free will, where does moral
responsibility and ethical behaviour come from? I really enjoyed the following
rejoinders to these kinds of arguments by Harris in Chapter 5, in which he
reflects on his personal experience with losing his own belief in free
Losing the sense of free will has only improved my ethicsby
increasing my feelings of compassion and forgiveness, and diminishing my sense
of entitlement to the fruits of my own good luck.
Losing a belief in free will
has not made me fatalisticin fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My
hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible. There is no telling
how much I might change in the future. Just as one wouldnt draw a lasting
conclusion about oneself on the basis of a brief experience of indigestion, one
neednt do so on the basis of how one has thought or behaved for vast stretches
of time in the past. A creative change of inputs to the systemlearning new
skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attentionmay
radically transform ones life.
Getting behind our conscious thoughts and
feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives
(while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered)."
Sam Harris's books are availabe at Amazon.com and are listed