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Does free will exist? Response to Sam Harris

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The other day I had come across an interesting debate with my brother who is a huge Sam Harris fan.

He shared a lecture with me which essentially sums up the idea that free will doesn’t exist.

The unique combination of genes and life experiences in the past, predetermines at any given moment any decisions or actions that a person may take.

Thoughts arise from ‘nothing’, i.e: we can’t think about what we think before we think it.

They just appear from the dark.

Its a rather basic and rather convincing idea logically.

So, what does it imply?

According to Harris, one major implication of this is how we fundamentally view our legal system.

So for example, a murderer who had not free will cannot really be blamed for his crime, he simply got a losing lottery ticket that lead him to committing this crime.

We should not hate him, we should not ‘punish’ him, we as a society should simply focus on ‘curing’ him, or at worst preventing further crimes.

Harris believes that this view of the world will reduce the amount of hate in the world.

Here is the problem.

Sam implies that there is free will when it comes to the reaction to an action.

Taking the case of a murderer, he has no free will, he committed the murder. Ok.

But how can someone/anyone affect the reaction and instinctual desire to punish the murderer by simply rationalizing the lack of free will to himself.

That directly implies that the reactionary response carries free will, which contradicts the very fundamental thesis.

To summarize:

  • The murder has no choice, commits the murder
  • Members of society have no choice in their instinctual reaction to punish the murder
  • A judge is a member of the same society and also has no free will

Its a closed loop which cannot be broken.

And if it can be broken through reason/self rationalization as sam implies, then even the initial murder can be prevented.

And if it can, then we have free will.

Therefore From a practical sense, this idea has zero implication on mankind.

Even if hypothetically every next step is determined by all the previous ones to a 100% certainty, the person doing the walking cannot possibly model and understand himself sufficiently to actually understand what his next step will be.

Therefore, even if he will be forced along a certain path, he doesn’t know it and has to live his life as though free will exists.

On a personal note, I believe that much is left to chance and simply probabilities of occurrence.

I don’t believe that evolution would exist without it.

If we assume that at some point, we all involved from single cell organisms who simply had no variations, i.e: there was simply nothing to ‘will’, we can logically follow that probability or chance simply followed to cause the evolutionary process.

At every given step, we have choices and our past strongly affects the probability of making certain decisions, but I don’t believe that it does so to a 100%, in a 100% of the decisions.

To summarize:

  1. If free will doesn’t exist, and Sam is right 100%, it has no practical implications for humanity.
  2. I personally believe that this thesis is right but only to an extent, and that chance exists in nature.



Your sincerely.

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