David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – Free Will (Sam Harris)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

In just a few pages, Sam Harris makes a compelling argument for the lack of any kind of free will. The logic is sound and is backed by scientific studies, for example:

The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously used EEG to show that activity in the brain’s motor cortex can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move…More recently, direct recordings from the cortex showed that the activity of merely 256 neurons was sufficient to predict with 80 percent accuracy a person’s decision to move 700 milliseconds before he became aware of it.

The conclusion is quite simple – you become aware of your brain’s decision to perform a certain action, masked as the belief in having made the decision “yourself”. There is no more “free will” than there is the freedom to control your internal organs, heart-rate, digestion, etc.

Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision” and believe that you are in the process of making it.

Certainly an interesting thing to think about, but of no real practical importance…not that you have any choice!