So then, Sam Harris has a new little book out, and for such a small book (66 pages), it promises to be a lot of fun. I say this because the book appears to be filled with epistemological obliviousness, cover to cover. The name of the book is Free Will, released by Free Press (heh) in 2012.
“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have” (p. 5).
Ooo! That was naughty. Shall we tell teacher? No, let’s see if we can handle this ourselves.
Regardless of how naughty it was, how much sense did it make? Harris is arguing the hard determinist position, saying that, given all the material antecedents of a particular choice between the 31 flavors in the ice cream shop, the resultant choice in that shop was inevitable. You weren’t choosing the flavor you wanted as a free decision. That is an illusion. Got that?
We are all just what Dilbert calls moist robots. We go as we have been programed. His whole argument depends on this materialistic reality.
“A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you no more decide the next thought you think than the next thought I write” (p. 6).
Self scrutiny? What’s that? Serious self-scrutiny? What’s that? Why, you rube, it is what these bundled chemicals that we are provisionally calling “Sam Harris” always do under these conditions and at this temperature. He’s not arguing any more than he is choosing. And you are not following his argument any more than you freely chose to pick the book up in the first place to buy it. If I cannot decide what I think, there is no such thing as “following an argument.” There is no such thing as “arguing.”
Alas, there are only chemicals steeping. And, since we modern deterministic rationalists know this to be true, we have no reason for believing our thoughts to be true . . . but this would have to include the true belief that our thoughts are chemicals steeping. Wait a minute. Playing chess alone, it is pretty hard to checkmate yourself, but I think they have managed it.
These high thinkers crack me up. They apply their worldview convictions to absolutely everything in the cosmos, with the one singular and miraculous exception of the mysterious processes that went into their statement of their thesis. That is being urged upon us because it is “true,” and some of the brighter sophomores in the back row are scratching their heads. The brightest of them have already dropped the class last week and have changed majors over to mechanical engineering.
Is Harris arguing against free will because he has chosen to conform his opinions to the external realities, or is he arguing against free will for the same reason the aroma of onions fills the house whenever the skillet gets to the right temperature? Now get this. He is assuming the former while he is arguing the latter. And he doesn’t even try to hide it. This kind of serenity is hard to come by.
If his book is just the smell of frying onions, then why did I buy it? If it is not just frying onions, then the thesis is entirely wrong-headed, and so why did I buy it? I’ll tell you why I bought it. I haven’t had any fun with deterministic atheism in a little while.
The book is dedicated to Christopher Hitchens — “For Hitch” — and after just one chapter I can already tell you that in terms of intellectual coherence, it will be a worthy monument.