Sam Harris’s book on free will came out today and I read it during dinner (it’s a short read). Here’s what I had to say about the book back in December when he announced it:
I basically anticipate an extremely high-quality summary of my numerous articles, posts, and debate interactions on this topic.
Without arrogance or humility I can only say that I called it exactly as it fell. That aside, I’ve been having a long-running email debate on the topic with two friends, and I found it to have a number of areas where it advanced the discussion. For example, I found the fact that he precisely identified and referenced the nature of his disagreement with Dennett (the current compatibilist flag-bearer) to be highly significant. I also thought that he had a few n-liners that were particularly strong, such as:
Why didn’t I decide to drink a glass of juice (rather than water). The thought never occurred to me. Am I free to do that which does not occur to me to do? Of course not. And there is no way I can influence my desires–for what tools of influence would I use? Other desires? To say that I would have done otherwise had I wanted to is simply to say that I would have been in a different universe had I lived in a different universe.
Interestingly, there is also a remote chance that my influence on Harris actually affected the text, as the link I sent him (which he loved and tweeted out) was the two-lever argument you guys are so
tired of familiar with. Anyway, something strikingly similar/familiar made it into his text:
What I will do next, and why, remains, at bottom, a mystery–one that is fully determined by the prior state of the universe and the laws of nature (including the contributions of chance).
Sound familiar? It’s like I wrote it! — down to the addition of chance as one of the laws, which appeared in the version of the text I sent him.
I obviously don’t mean to say that he stole it; creators often confuse sources while contemplating a topic, and the argument is quite similar to others before it, but I do find it interesting that this is the same exact argument that I sent to both him and Galen Strawson (who also approved of it).
Anyway, enough of my celebration and delusions of significance. I will simply say that I was not surprised at all by his arguments (or how well presented they were). I actually find them to be so strong as to be obvious. I will fully admit, however, that this conviction is reaching the point of being vulnerable to confirmation bias, so I’m trying to keep that in check.
TL;DR: Bought it. Read it. Loved it. Exactly what I expected.