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New Harris book on Free Will

Old 02-01-2013, 11:23 AM
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New Harris book on Free Will

Having experienced the demons of compulsive substance use, and then been told to believe I am powerless, I've often pondered the nature of the human will, how it arises, and just how free or bound it actually is.

New Sam Harris book, Free Will.
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Old 02-01-2013, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by nycguy83 View Post
Having experienced the demons of compulsive substance use, and then been told to believe I am powerless, I've often pondered the nature of the human will, how it arises, and just how free or bound it actually is.
So if free will is an illusion then we are indeed powerless? A personal inquiry into this would be interesting.

I guess that saying that free will is an illusion alludes to that we don't have choice over the thoughts we experience, that we are not the authors of thoughts.
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Old 02-01-2013, 02:39 PM
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Sam Harris on "Free Will" - YouTube

He sure has some divergent ideas. I saw this video quite a while ago.
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Old 02-02-2013, 06:17 AM
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Originally Posted by BoundlessState View Post
So if free will is an illusion then we are indeed powerless? A personal inquiry into this would be interesting.

I guess that saying that free will is an illusion alludes to that we don't have choice over the thoughts we experience, that we are not the authors of thoughts.
Well from what I've read, it's not quite that simple. My own intuition says it's a mix, clearly we have some control over some of our thinking and actions most of the time, but not 100% control 100% of the time.

Looking at it closer it becomes less clear. For instance, what is the "me" in the first place that seems to think and make decisions?

I don't know what Harris says yet, but I read another great new book on this last year, Who's in Charge? by the 'father' of cognitive neuroscience Michael Gazzaniga.

After decades of research, he concludes that awareness is an "emergent process" (sum greater than the whole of the parts) composed of hundreds of different independent, parallel processing modules in the brain, that often compete and conflict with each other. Sort of like a multi-core chip. So there's no one 'awareness-center' making decisions. But he says we are responsible for our decisions and they aren't 100% determined, bec the emergent mind (our awareness and will) in turn affects and constrains the physical processes of neurons that give rise to it on the first place. Like many cars create an emergent phenomenon called 'traffic,' but then the traffic in turn acts back upon the cars themselves, constraining their actions.

But back to humbling our notions of being in sole control of the decision game, in studies where subjects were told to spontaneously decide to press a button, their brains displayed priming activity several tenths of a second before they became consciously aware of initiating the decision to press the button. So the scientists could tell when the subjects were about to make the 'free-will' decision before even the subjects themselves became aware of doing so.

In split brain patients, where each hemisphere receives only partial information from the other, in certain experiments people made decisions based on information from one hemisphere, but were unaware why they made the decision and gave post-constructed reasons for why they made the decision. (ie drew a picture of a car bec their left eye saw a toy car, but were consciously unaware that they had seen the toy car, so they told researchers they decided to draw a car because they they saw someone wearing a blue shirt out of their right eye, and their car is blue).

So not only do we sometimes become aware that we made a decision after our brain made the decision, we sometimes aren't aware why we made the decision, and come up with made-to-fit reasons for doing so after the fact.

So either way it's more complicated than it seems....

But to sum up, are we powerless? Gazzaniga says no. He takes a look at legal decisions as well, including a federal court decision that 'alcoholics' are indeed responsible for their actions because sometimes they are able to decide not to drink, for instance the defendant appealing his public intoxication charge on the grounds that he was "powerless" not to drink still decided not to drink that morning in front of the judge!
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Old 02-02-2013, 06:35 AM
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So either way it's more complicated than it seems....
"A puppet is free so long as he loves his strings"
Fascinating...
I've always loved the debates on free will. It seems to me that whether or not it actually exists is less important than if one believes it exists or not.
This sh*t is super deep. I love it.
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Old 02-02-2013, 06:46 AM
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Originally Posted by soberlicious View Post
"A puppet is free so long as he loves his strings"
Fascinating...
I've always loved the debates on free will. It seems to me that whether or not it actually exists is less important than if one believes it exists or not.
This sh*t is super deep. I love it.
Yeah. Lovin' it, for sure, hahaha

Yeah, free will is a choice, says I. It's akin to faith ie you have it if you work it, otherwise, its not there for the taking.

Sustained belief is such a powerful human experience!
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Old 02-02-2013, 08:37 AM
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Originally Posted by nycguy83 View Post
But back to humbling our notions of being in sole control of the decision game, in studies where subjects were told to spontaneously decide to press a button, their brains displayed priming activity several tenths of a second before they became consciously aware of initiating the decision to press the button. So the scientists could tell when the subjects were about to make the 'free-will' decision before even the subjects themselves became aware of doing so.
Let me tell you about that button pushing test.

If someone told me to spontaneously push a button, I would push that sucker as fast as I could, over and over again until my finger fell off.

That's the rebel in me and that's all I have to say about that.
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Old 02-02-2013, 11:38 AM
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Originally Posted by received
I would push that sucker as fast as I could, over and over again until my finger fell off.
HAHAAA I know we've had this discussion...but we are so alike.
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Old 02-02-2013, 11:50 AM
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I've always been fascinated by these types of discussions because they really cut to the chase, that is to say what really is the true essence of consciousness, awareness, thought and all of that. I think I came across the Sam Harris video about a year ago. At that point in time I was already immersed in mindfulness and was well aware of the fact that the mind had the ability of self-reflection. That means we can become the watcher of our thoughts. Even if we can't control our flow of thoughts, we can view them as a non-judgemental outside observer and decide whether or not we choose to attach any importance to them. In my mind that means we have free will to one degree or another.

What Sam Harris is postulating is that even with the ability of self-reflection our choices are still a byproduct of the essence of who we are, much of which we had no control over ergo free will is merely an illusion. Think of your brain as a hard drive that stores away everything you've learned, experienced, come in contact with, all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. That's your data set, your basic program from which all of your thoughts, choices etc. etc. will flow. Add to that the biological components, genes, mental illness, etc. much of which you had absolutely no control over and it does make you wonder just how "Free" free will really is. I'm not drawing any real conclusions here just kicking the topic around. I can rock and roll with both sides of the debate.
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:35 PM
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The Matirx (1999) brings it all home for me. I choose the red pill, lol. Reality all the way, 24/7. The alternative, the blue pill, is just more structured blissful illusion for the faint of heart.

Free will is simply another choice, and nothing more or less then a choice to be made. And not making a choice is still a choice made either way.

"I think, therefore I am" -- Descartes 1637
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Old 02-02-2013, 01:03 PM
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Originally Posted by RobbyRobot View Post
The Matirx (1999) brings it all home for me. I choose the red pill, lol. Reality all the way, 24/7. The alternative, the blue pill, is just more structured blissful illusion for the faint of heart.

Free will is simply another choice, and nothing more or less then a choice to be made. And not making a choice is still a choice made either way.

"I think, therefore I am" -- Descartes 1637

I would tend to agree with you Robby. I can't totally ignore the basic question tho, if perception forms our reality then what happens if our perception is distorted because of any number of reasons? Two diferent people could be placed in the same garden of eden, one might see it as heaven on earth and the other as a living hell. Just different perceptions of the same reality.
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Old 02-02-2013, 01:12 PM
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Originally Posted by BackToSquareOne View Post
I would tend to agree with you Robby. I can't totally ignore the basic question tho, if perception forms our reality then what happens if our perception is distorted because of any number of reasons? Two diferent people could be placed in the same garden of eden, one might see it as heaven on earth and the other as a living hell. Just different perceptions of the same reality.
Yeah. My understanding though is that the so-called 'distortion' is all natural, inherent, and absolutely already a real essential part of working reality. Since we all have so-called distortion, without exceptions, we're all on the same page irregardless and notwithstanding whatever personal differences of experience as related to perspective.

Although we all experience space-time differently wholly depending on our place of observation, space-time laws are still absolutely the same for everybody inclusive.

Reality has room for personal differences and observations, is my understanding.
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Old 02-03-2013, 03:05 PM
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Yeh, as soberlicious remarked 'I love this deep sh**t too!'

And of course, one of the millions of reasons (the 'ten thousand things') to be sober, clear-minded, is so I can actually read and understand the heaps of books out there on such matters. Case in point: I have a library book at the mo, The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the the Myth of the Self, by Thomas Metzinger (2009).

Funnily enough .... do you think I could get through it whilst drinking in recent days? Pretty obvious answer to THAT one, eh?!
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Old 02-03-2013, 03:12 PM
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Oh, and another bit of deep sh*^t I thoroughly enjoy is 'time'. So, another current library book to get through (not started yet so can't tell you about it) is
Time Warp: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (by Claudia Hammond, 2012).

I love all the geeks on SR! Feel I'm in SUCH good company
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Old 02-03-2013, 03:55 PM
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Originally Posted by BackToSquareOne
Just different perceptions of the same reality.
Or is there just one reality? Does one's perception actually make it reality? If we are all observing the same thing differently...who is to ever say what is real?

As far as our choices already being predetermined (ie the button pushing experiment), I don't completely discount that. In my life I continue to choose similar partners. My therapist says...put 100 people in a room, and I will pick the most dysfunctional out with any information about them and very little interaction whatsoever. I will be drawn. Is this written into my programming? Can I choose differently? Does being "aware" of this have any impact? I would certainly like to think so, otherwise it's easy to adopt a victim mentality..."boo-f*cking-hoo... poor me... my picker is broken" all the while continuing to make choices that will cause me suffering.
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Old 02-03-2013, 04:11 PM
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Originally Posted by soberlicious View Post
As far as our choices already being predetermined (ie the button pushing experiment), I don't completely discount that. In my life I continue to choose similar partners. My therapist says...put 100 people in a room, and I will pick the most dysfunctional out with any information about them and very little interaction whatsoever. I will be drawn. Is this written into my programming? Can I choose differently? Does being "aware" of this have any impact? I would certainly like to think so, otherwise it's easy to adopt a victim mentality..."boo-f*cking-hoo... poor me... my picker is broken" all the while continuing to make choices that will cause me suffering.
:ghug3 Myyyyyyy twin.
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Old 02-03-2013, 05:01 PM
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Lmao
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Old 02-03-2013, 11:25 PM
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Originally Posted by soberlicious View Post
Or is there just one reality? Does one's perception actually make it reality? If we are all observing the same thing differently...who is to ever say what is real?.


That's kind of an ages old question, "Is reality objective or subjective". Is it outside your mind (objective), or do you create your own reality within your mind (subjective). If they cross over, one to the other, which one is more real?

Since perception is subjective does that make our own personal realities subjective? Try this thought experiment, lets say I'm a Doctor who studies spiders and snakes, I have a habitat room full of them where they slither and roam freely about, I think it's awesome. I invite you over (you don't share the love of spiders and snakes), you enter the habitat room and are in freak out mode.

In the above example we both experienced the same objective reality (the habitat room), but our subjective realities may have been miles apart. Our minds run on thoughts, feelings and emotions which form perceptions that give birth to our personal realities. When people say there's only one reality I often wonder which one it is they're talking about.
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Old 02-04-2013, 06:08 AM
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LOL...it's just like when I'm teaching my 2nd graders fact and opinion. If I say "spiders are gross" They're like, "FACT!" When I point out that others may think differently, they are all, "Uh...no, Ms. S...everyone thinks they're gross...DUH" Subjective reality for sure.

What of overriding the scripts? I have been in freak mode. Serious panics over spiders. Many years later I have worked on it and I can actually pick one up (if I can catch it). Seems I do have free will...seems I can override my lizard brain, or can I???
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Old 02-04-2013, 09:40 AM
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Cool

Originally Posted by soberlicious View Post
What of overriding the scripts? I have been in freak mode. Serious panics over spiders. Many years later I have worked on it and I can actually pick one up (if I can catch it).

Seems I do have free will...seems I can override my lizard brain, or can I???
Well... if you have to ask... hahaha

Did I say it was a choice? Choose Free Will? Yeah, its a choice... and if its not a choice, then what is the point of any reality? We may as well have stayed with the lizard brain hahaha.

Me, I choose free will into subjective existence!!
wtf!?

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