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Life Without Free Will : Sam Harris

Life Without Free Will : Sam Harris | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape.

 

One of the most common objections to my position on free will is that accepting it could have terrible consequences, psychologically or socially. This is a strange rejoinder, analogous to what many religious people allege against atheism: Without a belief in God, human beings will cease to be good to one another. Both responses abandon any pretense of caring about what is true and merely change the subject. But that does not mean we should never worry about the practical effects of holding specific beliefs.


I can well imagine that some people might use the nonexistence of free will as a pretext for doing whatever they want, assuming that it’s pointless to resist temptation or that there’s no difference between good and evil. This is a misunderstanding of the situation, but, I admit, a possible one. There is also the question of how we should raise children in light of what science tells us about the nature of the human mind. It seems doubtful that a lecture on the illusoriness of free will should be part of an elementary school curriculum.


In my view, the reality of good and evil does not depend upon the existence of free will, because with or without free will, we can distinguish between suffering and happiness. With or without free will, a psychopath who enjoys killing children is different from a pediatric surgeon who enjoys saving them. Whatever the truth about free will, these distinctions are unmistakable and well worth caring about.


Might free will somehow be required for goodness to be manifest? How, for instance, does one become a pediatric surgeon? Well, you must first be born, with an intact nervous system, and then provided with a proper education. No freedom there, I’m afraid. You must also have the physical talent for the job and avoid smashing your hands at rugby. Needless to say, it won’t do to be someone who faints at the sight of blood. Chalk these achievements up to good luck as well. At some point you must decide to become a surgeon—a result, presumably, of first wanting to become one. Will you be the conscious source of this wanting? Will you be responsible for its prevailing over all the other things you want but that are incompatible with a career in medicine? No. If you succeed at becoming a surgeon, you will simply find yourself standing one day, scalpel in hand, at the confluence of all the genetic and environmental causes that led you to develop along this line. None of these events requires that you, the conscious subject, be the ultimate cause of your aspirations, abilities, and resulting behavior. And, needless to say, you can take no credit for the fact that you weren’t born a psychopath.


Of course, I’m not saying that you can become a surgeon by accident—you must do many things, deliberately and well, and in the appropriate sequence, year after year. Becoming a surgeon requires effort. But can you take credit for your disposition to make that effort? To turn the matter around, am I responsible for the fact that it has never once occurred to me that I might like to be a surgeon? Who gets the blame for my lack of inspiration? And what if the desire to become a surgeon suddenly arises tomorrow and becomes so intense that I jettison my other professional goals and enroll in medical school? Would I—that is, the part of me that is actually experiencing my life—be the true cause of these developments? Every moment of conscious effort—every thought, intention, and decision—will have been caused by events of which I am not conscious. Where is the freedom in this?


If we cannot assign blame to the workings of the universe, how can evil people be held responsible for their actions? In the deepest sense, it seems, they can’t be. But in a practical sense, they must be. I see no contradiction in this. In fact, I think that keeping the deep causes of human behavior in view would only improve our practical response to evil. The feeling that people are deeply responsible for who they are does nothing but produce moral illusions and psychological suffering.


Imagine that you are enjoying your last nap of the summer, perhaps outside in a hammock somewhere, and are awakened by an unfamiliar sound. You open your eyes to the sight of a large bear charging at you across the lawn. It should be easy enough to understand that you have a problem. If we swap this bear for a large man holding a butcher knife, the problem changes in a few interesting ways, but the sudden appearance of free will in the brain of your attacker is not among them.
Should you survive this ordeal, your subsequent experience is liable to depend—far too much, in my view—on the species of your attacker. Imagine the difference between seeing the man who almost killed you on the witness stand and seeing the bear romping at the zoo. If you are like many victims, you might be overcome in the first instance by feelings of rage and hatred so intense as to constitute a further trauma. You might spend years fantasizing about the man’s death. But it seems certain that your experience at the zoo would be altogether different. You might even bring friends and family just for the fun of it: “That’s the beast that almost killed me!” Which state of mind would you prefer—seething hatred or triumphant feelings of good luck and amazement? The conviction that a human assailant could have done otherwise, while a bear could not, would seem to account for much of the difference.


A person’s conscious thoughts, intentions, and efforts at every moment are preceded by causes of which he is unaware. What is more, they are preceded by deep causes—genes, childhood experience, etc.—for which no one, however evil, can be held responsible. Our ignorance of both sets of facts gives rise to moral illusions. And yet many people worry that it is necessary to believe in free will, especially in the process of raising children.
This strikes me as a legitimate concern, though I would point out that the question of which truths to tell children (or childlike adults) haunts every room in the mansion of our understanding. For instance, my wife and I recently took our three-year-old daughter on an airplane for the first time. She loves to fly! As it happens, her joy was made possible in part because we neglected to tell her that airplanes occasionally malfunction and fall out of the sky, killing everyone on board. I don’t believe I’m the first person to observe that certain truths are best left unspoken, especially in the presence of young children. And I would no more think of telling my daughter at this age that free will is an illusion than I would teach her to drive a car or load a pistol.
Which is to say that there is a time and a place for everything—unless, of course, there isn’t. We all find ourselves in the position of a child from time to time, when specific information, however valid or necessary it may be in other contexts, will only produce confusion, despondency, or terror in the context of our life. It can be perfectly rational to avoid certain facts. For instance, if you must undergo a medical procedure for which there is no reasonable alternative, I recommend that you not conduct an Internet search designed to uncover all its possible complications. Similarly, if you are prone to nightmares or otherwise destabilized by contemplating human evil, I recommend that you not read Machete Season. Some forms of knowledge are not for everyone.


Generally speaking, however, I don’t think that the illusoriness of free will is an ugly truth. Nor is it one that must remain a philosophical abstraction. In fact, as I write this, it is absolutely clear to me that I do not have free will. This knowledge doesn’t seem to prevent me from getting things done. Recognizing that my conscious mind is always downstream from the underlying causes of my thoughts, intentions, and actions does not change the fact that thoughts, intentions, and actions of all kinds are necessary for living a happy life—or an unhappy one, for that matter.


I haven’t been noticeably harmed, and I believe I have benefited, from knowing that the next thought that unfurls in my mind will arise and become effective (or not) due to conditions that I cannot know and did not bring into being. The negative effects that people worry about—a lack of motivation, a plunge into nihilism—are simply not evident in my life. And the positive effects have been obvious. Seeing through the illusion of free will has lessened my feelings of hatred for bad people. I’m still capable of feeling hatred, of course, but when I think about the actual causes of a person’s behavior, the feeling falls away. It is a relief to put down this burden, and I think nothing would be lost if we all put it down together. On the contrary, much would be gained. We could forget about retribution and concentrate entirely on mitigating harm. (And if punishing people proved important for either deterrence or rehabilitation, we could make prison as unpleasant as required.)


Understanding the true causes of human behavior does not leave any room for the traditional notion of free will. But this shouldn’t depress us, or tempt us to go off our diets. Diligence and wisdom still yield better results than sloth and stupidity. And, in psychologically healthy adults, understanding the illusoriness of free will should make divisive feelings such as pride and hatred a little less compelling. While it’s conceivable that someone, somewhere, might be made worse off by dispensing with the illusion of free will, I think that on balance, it could only produce a more compassionate, equitable, and sane society.

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Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species? | Video on TED.com

TED Talks Throughout human evolution, multiple versions of humans co-existed. Could we be mid-upgrade now?
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Sakis Koukouvis's comment, July 2, 2012 2:39 AM
Thanks. Great video
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Homepage

National Science Week is an annual celebration of science in Australia, an opportunity to join together to enjoy and explore the wonders and benefits of science.
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So much to see and do!

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‘Hyperbolic metamaterials’ closer to reality | KurzweilAI

‘Hyperbolic metamaterials’ closer to reality | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Hyperbolic metamaterials could bring optical advances including powerful microscopes, quantum computers and high-performance solar cells. The graphic at left
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Means so much - we will be able to "see" more.

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Researchers, Startups Hope One Drop of Blood Could Diagnose All Types of Cancer

Researchers, Startups Hope One Drop of Blood Could Diagnose All Types of Cancer | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it

As genetics reveals the incredible diversity among cancer cells, researchers have largely given up pursuing a silver bullet to cure all types of cancer. Instead, many have begun searching for the next-best thing: a silver bullet test to diagnose all cancers. The test would look for markers of cancer in the patient’s blood, where the process of tumor-making leaves a trail that can often be picked up before tumors are big enough to spot.

 

And early diagnosis makes a big difference in survival rates. When cancer is found in Stage 0, as it’s just getting started, or in Stage 1, it kills only 10 percent of patients, regardless of what type of cancer it is, for the most part. Many of the cancers we know as the deadliest are so known because they are rarely found in earlier stages.

 

 


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amazing research here

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6 Wild Quotes From Christopher Hitchens That Will Remind You Why You're An Atheist

6 Wild Quotes From Christopher Hitchens That Will Remind You Why You're An Atheist | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Hitch may have passed on, but his words still ring loud and clear.
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Tony Abbott incorrect on the history of marriage

Tony Abbott incorrect on the history of marriage | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says marriage has always been between a man and a woman, but that's not the case.

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add your insight...

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Infographic: Article Summary Writing Tips

How and Why to add an Article Summary to each Post.Have a look next time you do a search. In addition to seeing the heading, you can also see a few sentences about what is next.This is where you can expand on the heading by giving reasons why people should read on, by enticing readers with some juicy anticipation of what is to come.Can
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Parkwood Golf Club

Parkwood Golf Club - revampedMy husband started playing golf in 2003 when we were living in Fiji for 12 months.When we returned to Australia in October 2004, he joined the Parkwood International Golf Club, not far from where we lived.Over an area of 26 km Gold Coast coastline, there are more than 50 golf clubs of varying length, standard
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A ‘universal smart window’ for instant control of lighting and heat | KurzweilAI

A ‘universal smart window’ for instant control of lighting and heat | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Smart-window glass that can be switched to block heat or light (credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Researchers at the U.S. Department of
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Researchers track facial expressions to improve teaching software | KurzweilAI

Researchers track facial expressions to improve teaching software | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Student workstation with depth camera, skin conductance bracelet, and computer with webcam (credit: Joseph F. Grafsgaard et al.) Research from North
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Potential new target to thwart antibiotic resistance: Viruses in gut confer antibiotic resistance to bacteria

Potential new target to thwart antibiotic resistance: Viruses in gut confer antibiotic resistance to bacteria | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Bacteria in the gut that are under attack by antibiotics have allies no one had anticipated, scientists have found.
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Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy : Sam Harris

Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy : Sam Harris | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape.
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Man gets 3D-printed face

Man gets 3D-printed face | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
When restaurant manager Eric Moger surprised his girlfriend by proposing over Christmas dinner, he could have no idea that less than a year later his life and appearance would be changed beyond recognition.
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G20: Australians bury heads in sand to mock government climate stance - The Guardian

G20: Australians bury heads in sand to mock government climate stance - The Guardian | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Bondi Beach protest highlights Abbott administration’s perceived failure to put climate change on G20 summit agenda
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Those protesters wearing red swimmers are mocking our climate change denier PM Tony Abbott who often wears such 'budgie smugglers' when swimming or riding bikes in public.

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Who is Narendra Modi - India's New Prime Minister?

Who is Narendra Modi - India's New Prime Minister? | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Who is Narendra Modi?

India's election, which was won convincingly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), revolved around only one male: India's next head of sta
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An interesting man

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Replacing a defective gene with a correct sequence to treat genetic disorders | KurzweilAI

Replacing a defective gene with a correct sequence to treat genetic disorders | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
(Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT) Using a new gene-editing system based on bacterial proteins, MIT researchers have cured mice of a rare liver disorder
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Just amazing!

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Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative - Springer

Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative - Springer | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it

Postmenopausal women with invasive breast cancer using MVM (multi-vitamins with minerals) had lower breast cancer mortality than non-users. The results suggest a possible role for daily MVM use in attenuating breast cancer mortality in women with invasive breast cancer but the findings require confirmation.


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I love anything from Ray and Terry - they are in the forefront of anti aging research.

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Bees use 'biological autopilot' to land › News in Science (ABC Science)

Bees use 'biological autopilot' to land › News in Science (ABC Science) | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Bees get a perfect touchdown by detecting how fast their landing site 'zooms in' as they approach, new research has found.
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Rise and Shine: 5 Things Uber Successful People Do First Thing

Rise and Shine! Morning time simply became your new best buddy.Love it or despise it, making use of the morning hours prior to work may be the secret to a successful, and healthy, lifestyle. That's right, early rising is a typical quality discovered in numerous CEOs, government officials, and other influential individuals who have the rise and
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Content Marketing the New SEO – Infographic

Another great Content Marketing infographic from Berrie Pelser of Wordpress Hosting SEO.More and more today, business uses great content marketing to attract more readers, shares and likes.Makes sense really.Good content marketing works better in the long term, instead of unreliable black hat SEO which can often be affected by changes
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The Most Astounding Fact – Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Most Astounding Fact – Neil deGrasse Tyson | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it

Time magazine once asked astropysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson 10 questions.

One of those questions asked by a Time reader was “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?”

Neil’s response is very awe-inspiring, especially when brought to life in this video which is a compilation from various sources by Max Schlickenmeyer.

Our knowledge of the universe and where we come from is known more today than at any time in history.

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I get goosebumps whenever I watch this video!

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Any Day Now, Malaria, TB and AIDS will be Dodos.

Any Day Now, Malaria, TB and AIDS will be Dodos.
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Watch the inspiring video and then contact your local member to spread the word.

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BigBrain: an ultra-high-resolution 3D roadmap of the human brain | KurzweilAI

BigBrain: an ultra-high-resolution 3D roadmap of the human brain | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
BigBrain (credit: Montreal Neurological Institute and Forschungszentrum Jülich) A landmark three-dimensional (3-D) digital reconstruction of a complete
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Unfrozen mystery: Water reveals a new secret

Unfrozen mystery: Water reveals a new secret | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Using revolutionary new techniques, a team led by Carnegie's Malcolm Guthrie has made a striking discovery about how ice behaves under pressure, changing ideas that date back almost 50 years.
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Using Thorium for Energy

Using Thorium for Energy

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors LFTRs were invented 50 years ago by an American named Alvin Weinberg.

LFTRs are revolutionary liquid reactors that run not on uranium, but thorium. These work and have been built before.

The main reason this technology is not in widespread use today is our irrational fear of nuclear energy, despite the fact that more people have died from fossil fuels and even hydroelectric power than nuclear power.

That plus the multinational companies and governments invested in fossil fuel use such as oil, coal and gas.

How much Thorium for Energy do we Have?

Latest research says we have at least 2.6 million tonnes of it on earth, distributed over all the continents.

For every kilogram of thorium, LFTRs can produce 3.5 million Kwh of energy.

This is 70 times greater than uranium and 10,000 times greater than oil.

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Huge online attack exposes internet's vulnerability - tech - 29 March 2013 - New Scientist

Huge online attack exposes internet's vulnerability - tech - 29 March 2013 - New Scientist | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
The largest online attack ever reported – which may have slowed down the internet itself – is over, but the next battleground is already
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