More From Sam Harris On Free Will

Sam Harris has posted a follow-up to his free-will article, here. He expands on his reasons for believing that our commonsense intuitions about free will are false (no argument from me), but says nothing further about the moral-responsibility issues we discussed in our recent post.

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25 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    I guess you’re right about Harris’s Buddhism. From the beginning of the second article:

    The human brain must respond to information coming from several domains: from the external world, from internal states of the body, and, increasingly, from a sphere of meaning—which includes spoken and written language, social cues, cultural norms, rituals of interaction, assumptions about the rationality of others, judgments of taste and style, etc.

    Buddhists like to speak of “three karmas,” i.e., three ways in which karma is generated. These are, roughly, thought, word, and deed. Harris’s above trichotomy is a neat parallel: the “external world” corresponds to the external notion of the deed-karma; the “internal states” correspond to the thought-karma, since our knowledge/consciousness of those states is mediated through our brain; and the “sphere of meaning” corresponds to the word-karma, which is all about significance.

    At the end of Harris’s article:

    Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be ourselves in the world. The moment we do pay attention, we begin to see that free will is nowhere to be found, and our subjectivity is perfectly compatible with this truth. Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind. What else could they do? The truth about us is stranger than many suppose: the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.

    A very strong whiff of Nagarjuna’s emptiness of emptiness, a major component of Madhyamaka Buddhism, one of the tradition-streams that fed into the formation of Chan/Zen Buddhism.

    Wikipedia’s bio on Harris notes that he did spend time studying with Hindu and Buddhist teachers in Asia, so at the very least, he’s got Buddhist sympathies.

    I wasn’t completely clear, however, on his take on compatibilism. He seemed to respect Dennett’s view, but also seemed critical of compatibilists for not recognizing that most people’s notion of free will lies at a metaphysical level. Was this supposed to be a critique of compatibilism itself, or more of a scolding, i.e., that compatibilists, in making their arguments to the masses, may need to readjust their aim?

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  2. the one eyed man says

    I think all of this highfalutin’ cosmic debris about free will is a distraction from what your readership is really looking for: Anthony Wiener jokes.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    I wasn’t completely clear, however, on his take on compatibilism. He seemed to respect Dennett’s view, but also seemed critical of compatibilists for not recognizing that most people’s notion of free will lies at a metaphysical level. Was this supposed to be a critique of compatibilism itself, or more of a scolding, i.e., that compatibilists, in making their arguments to the masses, may need to readjust their aim?

    I had trouble with that too. Harris is perfectly clear about free will itself, but seems to have a lot more trouble saying anything definite about compatibilism & moral responsibility.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  4. “Anthony Wiener jokes”

    Peter: Did you mean:

    Anthony’s wiener [pronounced “weener”] jokes? Or,

    Anthony Weiner [pronounced “whiner”] jokes?

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    Weiner’s being a whiner about his wiener, and he’s acting more like a wino than a winner.

    I expect the Republicans to attack the wiener issue with relish.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Of course, it all depends on whether you think it’s better to be a wiener or a Boehner.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  7. I think a Boehner musters more relish among men than a whining Weiner’s wiener with relish.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  8. … and women, too.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    Depends which member of Congress has the bigger member.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Dick Gephardt (Gethard?) held that member’s record.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  11. the one eyed man says

    I thought Bella Abzug had that record.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  12. I thought her record was for the “best withdrawal” of a member?

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    You may recall the following joke:

    Q: what’s the difference between Bella Abzug and a bowling ball?
    A: if you really, really had to, you could probably eat a bowling ball.

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  14. I guess we have totally hijacked Mal’s post, Peter. Sorry, Mal.

    Yeah; definitely the bowling ball … :)

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Why do I bother?

    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  16. You had no choice, Malcolm, and neither The One-Eyed Man nor The Big Henry is to blame either.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted June 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    Good point, Jeffery.

    Takes a lot of the pressure off, I have to say.

    Posted June 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  18. The Devil made me do it.

    Posted June 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink
  19. the one eyed man says

    It’s true. As a teenager, I was reninded by our gracious host that the Devil.finds work for idle hands. However, the context was using a double album cover for seed and stem removal.

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  20. Peter, your obscure (to me) reference must be to some band that was popular at a time when I had little time for such devilry.

    I was in grad school, concentrating on getting out so I could begin to support my wife and kid in the manner to which they aspired.

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  21. the one eyed man says

    The album was Cream’s Wheels of Fire.

    While I applaud your industry at Columbia to become an upstanding citizen and right-thinking American, I had a louche and dissolute youth.

    Since this thread is filled with dick jokes, I hope I do not embarrass our host with the following story.

    It was the day to have your picture taken for the high school yearbook. When it was Malcolm’s turn, the photographer looked at him and said “say penis.” The resulting picture was about what you would expect.

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    That’s a true story.

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  23. Well, since I would not venture to touch (verbally) “about what you would expect”, not with a ten foot pole, so to speak, I will do the next best thing:

    I demand to see that picture!

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  24. the one eyed man says

    I think it’s the same picture that Anthony Wiener got punk’d with.

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  25. Malcolm says

    Well, I haven’t got it, Peter — I lost that yearbook decades ago. Maybe you do.

    Posted June 4, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink