Free Will (book)

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Free Will
Free Will, first edition.jpg
AuthorSam Harris
CountryUnited States
SubjectFree will
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Preceded byLying 
Followed byWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion 

Free Will is a 2012 book by the American neuroscientist Sam Harris, in which the author argues that the truth about the human mind (that free will is an illusion) does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of political and social freedom, and can as well as should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.[1][2][3][4]


Harris says the idea of free will "cannot be mapped on to any conceivable reality" and is incoherent.[5][6] According to Harris, science "reveals you to be a biochemical puppet."[7] People's thoughts and intentions, Harris says, "emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control." Every choice we make is made as a result of preceding causes. These choices we make are determined by those causes, and are therefore not really choices at all. Harris also draws a distinction between conscious and unconscious reactions to the world. Even without free will, consciousness has an important role to play in the choices we make. Harris argues that this realization 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.


The book has been the subject of criticism.[8][9][10][11][12]

The author uses the Libet argument, which has been challenged by Adrian G. Guggisberg and Annaïs Mottaz.[13] A study by Aaron Schurger and colleagues published in PNAS[14] challenged assumptions about the causal nature of the readiness potential itself (and the "pre-movement buildup" of neural activity in general), thus denying the conclusions drawn from studies such as Libet's[15] and Fried's.[16]

In response to this, Harris has noted in his numerous talks and on his podcast that his argument against free will does not rely on the findings from neuroscience, but is instead focused mainly on the logical incoherency of the possibility of free will. In one of his guest appearances on the Joe Rogan Podcast, Harris says, "Nothing hinges on [the recent experiments in neuroscience]. Even if..the decision of neural activity in the brain that gave you the decision and your subjective feeling of having decided...were coincident, even if there was no time still is coming out of nowhere in a sense for you subjectively. You're still not in control of it. It's still being caused by events that you didn't cause."[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Menaker, Daniel (2012-07-13). "'Free Will,' by Sam Harris". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  2. ^ "Book Review: Sam Harris' Free Will". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  3. ^ "Will This Post Make Sam Harris Change His Mind About Free Will?". Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  4. ^ "How free is the will? Sam Harris misses his mark". Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  5. ^ Pardi, Paul (May 15, 2012). "An Analysis of Sam Harris' Free Will". Philosophy News.
  6. ^ Harris, Sam. "Free Will and "Free Will"". SamHarris.Org. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  7. ^ Nahmias, Eddy (August 13, 2012). "Does Contemporary Neuroscience Support or Challenge the Reality of Free Will?" Big Questions Online.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Pardi, Paul (May 15, 2012). "An Analysis of Sam Harris' Free Will". Philosophy News.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Guggisberg, AG; Mottaz, A (2013). "Timing and awareness of movement decisions: does consciousness really come too late?". Front Hum Neurosci. 7: 385. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00385. PMC 3746176. PMID 23966921.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Libet, Benjamin; Gleason, Curtis A.; Wright, Elwood W.; Pearl, Dennis K. (1983). "Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity (Readiness-Potential)". Brain. 106 (3): 623–42. doi:10.1093/brain/106.3.623. PMID 6640273.
  16. ^ Fried, Itzhak; Mukamel, Roy; Kreiman, Gabriel (2011). "Internally Generated Preactivation of Single Neurons in Human Medial Frontal Cortex Predicts Volition". Neuron. 69 (3): 548–62. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.11.045. PMC 3052770. PMID 21315264.
  17. ^ David McGinn, Sam Harris on Free Will (Joe Rogan Experience #543), retrieved 2018-12-13