By Daniel DeMarco |Copy Editor|
Were you free not to read this review? Author Sam Harris would say “No.”
Surely, you’re not being forced to read my review of Harris’ book, “Free Will”; but even though you are reading this as a result of a conscious decision, you were not the author of the thoughts and intentions which preceded; thoughts emerge in the conscience as a result of neural events in the brain.
Maybe you’ll decide to stop reading now, just out of spite to prove a point that you are indeed free not to read my review. That decision though, would too be the result of thoughts and intentions arising in the conscious mind completely out of your control.
“Free will is an illusion”, states Harris in, perhaps, his most controversial book so far.
Harris is most known for his harsh criticisms of religion as a whole, both as a best-selling author and public figure. As polarizing as that topic is, Harris’ stance on free will divides even non-believers who tend to stand behind Harris on any other subject.
Harris has said that perhaps the only thing which brings more worry to people than the idea they have no free will, is the certainty of death and the uncertainty of what follows, if anything at all.
This is a high status to be attributed, and I don’t think it is unjustified. As people, we feel that we are in control of ourselves, we feel that we make decisions and choices to shape our lives; to consider the idea that we are not in control of who we are and what we do is alarming.
But, as Harris points out rather well, taking a few moments of strict self-examination, you’ll find you no more choose your next thought than you choose what I will write next.
Harris has an unusual way of approaching complex intellectual subjects and communicating them in a manner that can be widely understood—simple and to the point.
This is typical of Harris, who does this in all his writing, as well as in public speeches and debates.
A major part of the reason Harris accomplishes this is that he only requires common sense, reason, and scientific evidence at his disposal.
One might expect to hear plenty of philosophy and metaphysics considering the topic, but Harris actually ends up confronting some of these arguments rather than supporting them—persuasively, in my opinion.
“Free Will” may be Harris’ best testament to the simple, yet utterly effective, style I have ascribed to him, as he presents his entire argument in a mere 66 pages.
So yes, the subject is approached in a simplistic manner, the book is about as thick as a pencil; yet it is a remarkably effective means of presenting his case where most authors would take hundreds of pages and require a heavy vocabulary to make the exact same point.
Some of you will finish this fascinated and eager to read the book yourself, some will think it is a crock and dismiss the whole idea, some will fit somewhere in the middle.
Are you free to decide which category you fit in? No, the choice has been made for you just as it was for me when I was introduced to the book.
As Harris wrote: “Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me.”