Title: Free Will
Author: Sam Harris
Originally published in: 2012
This is a top shelf book.
Despite my reading material being predominantly fiction, I do enjoy non-fiction works from time to time. Many of them come recommended to me from someone who thinks that I would enjoy that particular book. Most of the time they are right and I am glad I decided to branch out. This was one of those instances.
Free Will by Sam Harris is more of an essay than a novel at just over sixty pages. It covers what it needs to cover – no more, no less. Harris delves into the scientific basis to the theory that humans do not possess free will as we have come to known it. That decision you just made? Yeah, that really wasn’t something you consciously decided on. Could you have made another choice if you had wanted to? No, probably not. Is your mind melting a little yet? Yup, mine was too.
Harris goes over evidence that shows how the brain has made a decision and fired its necessary instructions before you even become aware a decision has been made – sometimes seconds before. Free will as we see it – a conscious action in which we choose at that very moment what we choose to do – does not exist.
While it is not what I would call an easy read I also did not find the writing to be inaccessible. I would think it is nearly impossible to cover anything that has to do with neurological processes without using terminology that you wouldn’t say is commonplace but even with some very science-y moments, I still did not feel like I was back in grade twelve biology. I will admit to a love of science and math that may have assisted in my finding Free Will relatively quick to read but I still do not believe it would be difficult to grasp the concepts Harris is writing about.
This would be a great little afternoon read (as I found it) when you have nothing better to do than sit with a blanket, a cup of tea, and some interesting literature in your hands. Prepare yourself for moments of, “Wait I’m sorry you’re saying I’m actually not in control of what?” and for your thoughts to momentarily fail in getting your mind wrapped around them.
Free Will is a fantastic essay that covers not only what free will means to us but also the ramifications morally, politically, and emotionally of us not having the control over our brains that we thought we did. Well-researched, intriguing, and overall worth the read.