‘We are the masters of our own fate’, you surely have heard this quote but have you asked yourself, are you really?
The premise of this quote lies in the belief that you have free will. So the question is does free will exist? According to Sam Harris, free will is just an illusion and that’s the idea that he tries to convey through his book Free Will.
The book Free Will does a pretty good job of debunking the notion of free will. Reading this book was eye-opening for me and it was also a shock to my belief system as it made me realize that in reality none of us have free will.
And what we think of as free will is nothing more than we acting based on our wants or desires. If you think about it you’ll realize that your wants are not created by you. It somehow appeared in your consciousness but you’re not its creator.
The two main arguments that Sam Harris uses to debunk the notion of free will are:
- You’re not the author of your thoughts.
- Determinism: This philosophical idea advocates causality and according to it every thought that you’re having and every decision that you’ve ever made in your life is influenced by a series of prior causes.
As I was reading this book, a part of me was constantly trying to rebuttal every argument put forward by Sam Harris because like most people I also felt comfortable believing that I’m in control of my life, that I hold the steering wheels of my life.
And that’s when the realization struck me that even the attempt that I was making to disagree with Sam Harris’s statements was the result of a thought that was not authored by me. All I did here was to act in accordance with this thought.
So now it makes sense to me. We’re not as free as we think we are. In fact, we’re the prisoners of our own thoughts and desires.
Now, regarding the author of this book, Sam Harris is an American neuroscientist, a philosopher, and a New York Times best-selling author. His best-sellers include Making Sense, The Four Horsemen, Waking Up, The Moral Landscape, A Letter to A Christian Nation, and The End of Faith.
The book also talks about how coming in terms with the fact that free will is just an illusion will affect the individual, the political, and the justice system.
In order to punish an individual for the crimes that they’ve committed, it’s necessary to assume that they’re solely responsible for their decisions and actions. In other words, they had free will.
Now, if we take away the notion of free will, people cannot be held solely responsible for their actions because in a way they’re also victims of a poor upbringing, bad genes, unfortunate circumstances, and whatnot.
Looking at things in the absence of free will brings a radical shift in your thinking. You’ll be grateful for the fact that you’re not born with the mind of a mass murderer or a rapist. There’s zero credit you can take here, it was just sheer luck.
Understanding that we’re not the authors of our thoughts and desires allows us to perceive crimes in a different light. Rather than just isolating the fact that a person has committed a crime, it enables us to look into what were the circumstances under which this person made the decision to do the things that he did. And what are the steps that could be taken to prevent people from making similar decisions? This approach is more proactive rather than being reactive.
Free Will is a short read, it’s only around 100 pages long but it’s a very insightful book. If you’re a firm believer in free will, I’d recommend you read this book as it’ll give you a better understanding of what free will actually is and why Sam Harris calls it an illusion.