Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization by Stephen Cave

NO SUCH THING AS FREE WILL? But we’re better off believing in it anyway.

The author, Stephen Cave, is a philosopher and writer based in Berlin.
The following excerpts come from The Adantic, June 2016 and are also found at

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous.

Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of Western politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. [Not to overlook religion! Ed]

In recent decades, research on the inner workings of the brain has helped to resolve the nature-nurture debate—and has dealt a further blow to the idea of free will.

But there is also agreement in the scientific community that the firing of neurons determines not ju some, or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memorie: and dreams.

Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.

When people stop believing they are free agents, the stop seeing themselves as blameworthy for their actions

Nietzsche called free will “a theologians’ artifice” that permits us to “judge and punish.” And many thinkers have believed ... that institutions of judgment and punishment are necessary if we are to avoid a fall into barbarism

[Sam Harris in his book, Aree Wi/) wrote “Compare the response to Hurricane Katrina, with the response to the 9/11 act of terrorism.” For many Americans, the me who hyacked those planes are the embodiment of criminals who freely choose to do evil. But if we give uf our notion of free will, then their behavior must be viewed like any other natural phenomenon—and this, Harris believes, would make us much more rational in our response. “Hatred is toxic,” he told me, “and can destabilize individual lives and whole societies. Losing belief in free will undercuts the rationale for ever hating anyone.”

No one has caused /mse/f|or herself: No one chos his genes or the environment into which he was born.
Therefore no one bears ultimate responsibility for who is and what he does.

But Harris argues that we must accept that life outcomes are determined by disparities in nature and nurture, “so we can take practical measures to remedy misfortune and help evervone to fulfill their potential.” By Francis Crick

The Astonishing Hypothesis is that ‘You’, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing. (From his book “The Astonishing Hypothesis” p. 3)



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