Free Will

Book Notes

I picked up this book because I had read Lying, also by Sam Harris, and found it to be life changing. Who knows, this one could be life changing, too.

Yep. It was. It totally fucked me up. And not in a good way.

I used to talk with Ken Klein about free will. He argued that all of our actions are the result of chemical reaction in our brain. I disagreed, but really, how much philosophical sophistication is a 12 year old going to have? Answer: not much.

Fast forward to this year, couple the year with a looming birthday likely to kill me, and a book that asks, "Those thoughts you have, where do they come from?" and shit, I don't know.

Hence, fucked up as my brain went into an infinite loop on the question.

The book is worth reading if you're of a mind to pay attention and ponder the question of free will, it could change your life. If you're not in the mood for the thinking part, not worth the time to read.

Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. Nor can we account for why we are not like them.
Page 4

Even if you believe that every human being harbors an immortal soul, the problem of responsibility remains: I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of a psychopath.
Page 4

How can we make sense of our lives, and hold people accountable for their choices, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds?
Page 5

Willpower is itself a biological phenomenon. You can change your life, and yourself, through effort and discipline—but you have whatever capacity for effort and discipline you have in this moment, and not a scintilla more (or less). You are either lucky in this department or you aren’t—and you cannot make your own luck.
Page 38

Many people believe that human freedom consists in our ability to do what, upon reflection, we believe we should do—which often means overcoming our short-term desires and following our long-term goals or better judgment.
Page 38

You have not built your mind. And in moments in which you seem to build it—when you make an effort to change yourself, to acquire knowledge, or to perfect a skill—the only tools at your disposal are those that you have inherited from moments past.
Page 39

My choices matter—and there are paths toward making wiser ones—but I cannot choose what I choose.
Page 39

Rory Miller’s excellent book Meditations on Violence.
Page 43

You will do whatever it is you do, and it is meaningless to assert that you could have done otherwise.
Page 44

Our interests in life are not always served by viewing people and things as collections of atoms—but this doesn’t negate the truth or utility of physics.
Page 46

Why is the conscious decision to do another person harm particularly blameworthy? Because what we do subsequent to conscious planning tends to most fully reflect the global properties of our minds—our beliefs, desires, goals, prejudices, etc.
Page 52

No human being is responsible for his genes or his upbringing, yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character.
Page 54

it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.
Page 54

Clearly, vengeance answers to a powerful psychological need in many of us.
Page 57

We are deeply disposed to perceive people as the authors of their actions, to hold them responsible for the wrongs they do us, and to feel that these transgressions must be punished.
Page 57

it seems clear that a desire for retribution, arising from the idea that each person is the free author of his thoughts and actions, rests on a cognitive and emotional illusion—and perpetuates a moral one.
Page 58

Why did I order beer instead of wine? Because I prefer beer. Why do I prefer it? I don’t know, but I generally have no need to ask. Knowing that I like beer more than wine is all I need to know to function in a restaurant. Whatever the reason, I prefer one taste to the other. Is there freedom in this? None whatsoever. Would I magically reclaim my freedom if I decided to spite my preference and order wine instead? No, because the roots of this intention would be as obscure as the preference itself.
Page 60

Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works.
Page 61

Consider the biography of any “self-made” man, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make and of which he was merely the beneficiary.
Page 61

Even if you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you, you must still admit that your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition.
Page 62

And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society.
Page 62

Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us. The moment we pay attention, it is possible to see that free will is nowhere to be found, and our experience is perfectly compatible with this truth. Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind.
Page 64

Add new comment