Despite our attachment to the notion of free will, most of us know that disorders of the brain can trump the best intentions of the mind. This shift in uderstanding represents progress toward a deeper, more consistent, and more compassionate view of our common humanity — and we should note that this is progress away from religious metaphysics.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic — in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible. There is no telling how much I might change in the future. Just as one wouldn’t draw a lasting conclusion about oneself on teh basis of a brief experience of indigestion, one needn’t do so on the basis of how one has thought or behaved for vast stretches of time in the past. A creative change of inouts to the system — learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention — may radically transform one’s life.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
One of the most refreshing ideas to come out of existentialism (perhas the only one) is that we are free to interpret and reinterpret the meaning of our lives. You can consider your first marriage, which ended in divorce, to be a “failure”, or you can view it as a circumstance that caused you to grow in ways that were crucial to your future happiness. Does this freedom of interpretation require free will? No. It simply suggests that different ways of thinking have different consequences. Some thoughts are depressing and disempowering; others inspire us. We can pursue any line of thought we want — but our choice is the product of prior events that we did not bring into being.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
You are not in control of your mind — because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts. You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
As Dan Dennett and many others have pointed out, people generally confuse determinism with fatalism. This gives rise to questions like “If everything is determined, why should I do anything? Why not just sit back and see what happens?” This is pure confusion. To sit back and see what happens is itself a choice that will produce its own consequences. It is also extremely difficult to do: Just try staying in bed all day waiting for something to happen; you will find yourself assailed by the impulse to get up and do something, which will require incresingly heroinc efforts to resist.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
But few neuroscientists view the brain as a quantum computer. And even if it were, quantum indeterminacy does nothing to make the concept of free will scientifically intelligible. In the face of any real independence from prior events, every thought and action would seem to merit the statement “I don’t know what came over me.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
Imagine what your life would be like if all your actions, intentions, beliefs, and desires were randomly “self-generated” in this way. You would scarcely seem to have a mind at all. You would live as one blown about by an internal wind. Actions, intentions, beliefs, and desires can exist only in a system that is significantly constrained by patterns of behavior and the laws of stimulus-response.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
(…) some scientists and philosophers hope that chance or quantum uncertainty can make room for free will.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
For instance, the biologist Martin Heisenberg has observed that certain processes in the brain, such as the opening and closing of ion channels and the release of synaptic vesicles, occur at random, and cannot therefore be determined by environmental stimuli. Thus, much of our behavior can be considered truly “self-generated” — and therein, he imagines, lies a basis for human freedom. But how do events of this kind justify the feeling of free will? “Self-generated” in this sense means only that certain events originate in the brain.
How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware? We can’t. To say that “my brain” decided to think or act in a particular way, whether consciously or not, and that this is the basis for my freedom, is to ignore the very source of our belief in free will: the feeling of conscious agency. People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
There is no question that our attribution of agency can be gravely in error. I am arguing that it always is.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
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.Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.
The novelist John Gardner once said that there are basically two stories: someone comes to town; and someone leaves town. I would agree with that. I would also argue that there are basically only two twists: they are not who you think they are; and this is not where you think you are. Storytelling is an ancient art, and human beings have been exposed to it long enough by now to know most of the storyteller’s tricks. Good storytelling manages to convince you that you have forgotten the tricks, even — and perhaps especially — when you are perfectly aware what is coming.Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York: Pantheon books, 2010.
(…) it is rarely the what that affects me when I am playing a game. To me, what happens during the ending of a game is not that interesting. What is interesting is the manner in which the ending of a game is framed and the constellation of detail that accumulates around an ending. As a gamer, I am most affected by the how.Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York: Pantheon books, 2010.
Older gamers are able to remember when game cartridges were solitary portals into other, wholly self-contained worlds.Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York: Pantheon books, 2010.
Of course, every medium has its weaknesses. The great weakness of the novel, for instance, is the action sequence, which is why many great novelists — Graham Greene comes to mind — allow big, showy moments to occur offstage. Films frequently struggle with representing the inner world of their characters, which is why dream sequences often feel fraudulent and why the old device of having characters think aloud with a slight reverb was eventually abandoned as unworkable. It is becoming increasingly clear that the best video-game stories are those that are the most elliptical and have the fewest illusions about what it is games do well. For me, the most narratively meaningful moment in Fallout 3, say, was not watching my father die, or even saving the Wasteland, but entering a cave in which I discovered the long-dead body of Daring Dashwood’s ghoul sidekick, Argyle, whose radio plays I had enjoyed while stumbling across the annihilated countryside. Someone put that body there for me to find and allowed me to draw my own conclusions and resonance from it. this is the kind of storytelling games handle better than any medium.Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York: Pantheon books, 2010.