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Robert Sapolsky is Wrong


A review of Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will by Robert Sapolsky, 528 pages, Penguin (October 2023)

In Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, Robert Sapolsky argues that free will does not exist, and explores how he thinks society should change in light of that conclusion. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, known for his studies of hormones and behavior in wild baboons. In this new book, he makes an effort to address several different ways in which others have proposed that free will could be real, despite the laws of nature acting on our physical brains. But in his efforts to cover the bases, Sapolsky fails to offer an original argument supporting his claim that free will is not real. Instead he serves up a partial and rewarmed version of the argument made by Bertrand Russell in the 1940s. Sapolsky ornaments the argument with findings from the biological sciences, which he admits do not prove his intended point.

In 1946, Bertrand Russell claimed that a scientific understanding of human physiology would reveal ordinary physical determinism at work in every human choice. To Russell, where there’s determinism, there can’t be any free will. And determinism seems to work the same way in human physiology as it does anywhere else, without…

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