Free Will? Book Summary: Free Will by Sam Harris

By James Razko

Most would consider free will to be a defining quality of humanness. Sam Harris, in his book Free Will, claims that this defining quality is an illusion, and I think I agree.

Book Summary:

Free Will, Sam Harris


Sam states that

free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present.

These two assumptions form the foundation of our morality. With it, We judge ourselves and others, believing we could have chosen right over wrong. Interestingly, we reserve this judgment for human beings; Most would not blame a dog for eating a gallon of ice cream, ripping our couch to pieces, or even biting someone. We may not like what animals do, but we don’t blame them, they are who they are, as the Nike slogan iterates, they “Just Do It.”

Besides defining how we look at others, the belief in free will shapes our perception of self. We believe in no small degree that our life is what we make it. Thinking we could have chosen another life often produces a great deal of suffering and pain. If free will is an illusion, all this suffering and judgment is unwarranted.

Groundbreaking science and philosophers like Sam Harris are unraveling our dearly held belief of free will. Sam points out that there have been several studies indicating that free will is an illusion. He writes,

The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously used EEG to show that activity in the brain’s motor cortex can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move.2 Another lab extended this work using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): Subjects were asked to press one of two buttons while watching a “clock” composed of a random sequence of letters appearing on a screen. They reported which letter was visible at the moment they decided to press one button or the other. The experimenters found two brain regions that contained information about which button subjects would press a full 7 to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously made.3 More recently, direct recordings from the cortex showed that the activity of merely 256 neurons was sufficient to predict with 80 percent accuracy a person’s decision to move 700 milliseconds before he became aware of it.

These studies are breathtaking and deliver great blows to the ego. As Sam puts it,

One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision” and believe that you are in the process of making it.

If the science does not convince you, the author asks you to,

Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime—by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?

And then,

Consider what it would take to actually have free will. You would need to be aware of all the factors that determine your thoughts and actions, and you would need to have complete control over those factors. But there is a paradox here that vitiates the very notion of freedom—for what would influence the influences? More influences? None of these adventitious mental states are the real you. You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.

If you are ready and (your subconscious is) willing, Harris’s book Free Will can be a great source of consciousness-raising and can reshape the lens in which you look at others and yourself. It’s a brief and indispensable read.


Compliment this Book Summary of Free Will with: Thinking About Thinking Rationally- How to Stop Irrational Thought Patterns

Tap Into Your Reticular Activating System to Accomplish More Goals

By James Razko

You are equipped with a system in your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). This network of neurons acts as a filter between your nonconscious mind and your conscious mind. What you feed you nonconscious self will dramatically affect your conscious life.

A typical example is: you want to buy a new car, let’s say a blue Subaru. Before you wanted this car, you never really noticed any blue Subarus on the road. Now that you want one, you see the car everywhere. This is your Reticular Activating System (RAS) in action.

When your nonconscious self deems that something is significant, it will devote more of your conscious attention to whatever that is. This same system lets you focus one conversation in a crowd of talking people.

This is powerful, as the things you pay attention to shape your reality, and this attention either helps you to achieve your desires or not.

How can you harness this power?

A simple way is to write down your intentions, also known as an implementation intention. This small act sends a signal to your nonconscious self that this is important to you.

Maybe this works so well because we have been trained by years of note-taking. After all, in school, you were taught to write down only the most important things. And given that most of us write much less, it may seem all the more critical when you do.

So write down the things that matter, and you will effortlessly begin devoting more attention to whatever it is. Doing so, Your chances of fulfilling that intention will increase.

You can make this more potent by creating a ritual around the note. Light a candle before you write it down and blow it out after you finished. Bury the note in your backyard. Try to make it meaningful, and your Reticular Activating System will hear you.


Compliment this by reading with:  Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Copy Your Way to Becoming a Master

Like everything in the universe, we are congealed stardust, and all of it is resting in the unknowable medium of space. In short, everything is interconnected.

With the previous statement in mind, apply this knowledge wholeheartedly to your work and life. Continually look for, consume and incorporating others’ ideas. And most importantly, let your mind shuffle that information around to create things you can call your own.

While collecting ideas, remember not to allow your ego and false beliefs of originality to muddle your mind. Instead, fill it with the enthusiasm of a child, until it erupts like a supernova.

Whatever work you choose to make, find your guiding stars and imitate; In the Renaissance, all great painters started in a workshop under a master. They learned to copy and eventually, moved on to start their own studio.

You may ask, what will separate you from your teachers and other students?

Do you remember your mother whispering in your ear- your special? She was right– it is your quirks (and quarks) that will make your work yours.

Be a disciple, to become a teacher.


Compliment this reading with: Reach Your Full Potential and Conquer Fear: Wipe the Mirror to a More Actualized Self

Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear

By James Razko

Habits are the unseen gears moving us through our conscious and nonconscious experience. From birth, we build upon and continuously update an inconceivably vast and interconnected habit library. Each Habit works like a hotkey, executing functions designed to conserve energy, free cognitive space and save time in critical moments. Habits, when considered can be unboundedly beautiful, nuanced and frightening. They are the building blocks of genius, addiction and everything in-between.

Atomic Habits offers brilliantly simple strategies to transform the reader’s life from the inside out with tools to methodically update our habit library. Like atomic energy, Atomic Habits has the potential to unleash great power.

In this Summary you will learn:

  • How habits form
  • Typical roadblocks
  • How to change habits
  • Why identity and environment  are important
  • Practical tips to make habit change easy

Continue reading Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear

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