Intellectual exterminator for hire: I will step on academic cockroaches like Sam Harris – if you make it worth my while.

Clueless much? Either human beings do not have free will OR they can be gulled into buying this dumbass’s dumbass book. Not both. Which does this charlatan REALLY believe? Doe he deploy his own free will to endorse the checks?Mind what goes into your mind. No one else can do it if you won’t.

Clueless much? Either human beings do not have free will OR they can be gulled into buying this dumbass’s dumbass book. Not both. Which does this charlatan REALLY believe? Does he deploy his own free will to endorse the checks?

Mind what goes into your mind. No one else can do it if you won’t.

A few people have mentioned Sam Harris to me, but, until lately, I haven’t paid him any mind. Harris is one of a half-dozen or so currently-publishing pop-sci writers who inflate absurd academic claims all out of proportion and then sell them as intellectual cotton-candy to thoughtless people — who in their turn like to affect to pretend to make-believe that not-actually-reading EZ-reading non-fiction books makes them intellectuals. This is not a new scam, but the plummeting profits in book publishing — along with the ease of promulgating scathing debunkings of this nonsense (about which more below) — promise to make it an obsolete con-game in very short order.

But I happened upon a link to an essay by Harris called The Fireplace Delusion at Billy Beck’s place, and I clicked through to see if there was any there there.

There is not.

Most of the article is devoted to endlessly masticating the obvious fact that wood smoke is toxic. If this is news to you, it could only be because you don’t read the news. But Harris treats it as a huge, world-shaking revelation that requires paragraph after paragraph of completely redundant defenses.

His actual point is to claim that, because the mindless people he dines with refuse to accept obvious facts of nature that don’t conform to their thoughtless prejudices — buttressed in many cases, I am sure, by completely useless graduate degrees — that this is in some way analogous to the reluctance of some religious people to conform their supernatural claims to the laws of nature.

Your first thought, on reading that summary, might be to argue that Harris is committing the fallacy of the specious analogy, since the two categories of error are so different. But I would go one further and say that the argument is not an analogy at all. Environmentalism is itself a religion, and, hence, Harris is wasting 1,400 words to make two equally meaningless parallel claims.

But I can quarrel with that conclusion, too: People who adhere to traditional religions hold a wide variety of beliefs, and professional atheists like Harris only engage with the most absurd of those ideas — generally speaking, the claims made by professional theists. But his dinner companions are at war with obvious facts with which each one of them will have had many first-hand experiences. If we are to judge religionists by the relative absurdity of their contrafactual claims, Harris voluntarily socializes with people who are much more irrational than the people he derides for a living.

Not that that matters. None of this matters. The entire article is a waste of time. It serves only to illustrate the quality of cockroaches infesting the intellectual marketplace since academic philosophy declared its bankruptcy.

I hear about Harris from people I know because he has written a “book” called Free Will — which makes the patently absurd claim that human will is an illusion. Harris himself does not believe this, of course, nor does anyone else:

If the human will is not free, I cannot will myself to persuade you of this claim — nor even simply to make it — and you cannot will yourself either to accept or reject it.

I can do much worse violence to Harris’ claims — and to others made by similarly self-deluded hacks — but I don’t wanna. Why? My first reason is that we learn very little of value by elaborating upon error. To discover an error is valuable, but only because you thereby conserve the time you might otherwise have wasted by pursuing that path. But to continue to explore that line of thought once you know it leads to error seems to me to be completely masturbatory. Certainly it cannot lead to new truth. And my second reason is simply this: There’s nothing in it for me. I will learn nothing. I will gain nothing. And I will have forevermore lost that time, which I might otherwise have put to a more productive purpose.

And that’s where you come in: You can make my time productive by paying me to demolish Harris’ “argument.” I can do it, I promise. I can do it right now, in three sentences, without having read his “book.” But I am willing to do a thorough-going, very-entertainingly-scathing debunking of his thesis, if you will dig deep and — wait for it…





I need money, and people clearly need intellectual defense. If you are willing to pay the exterminator’s fee, I am willing to rouse myself to take on a cockroach like Harris.

And if not? That’s fine with me. Harris himself is more than happy to refute his own “argument” on the PR page for his “book”:

Pay me or don’t, I think you should read Man Alive. The world is at war with your mind — as a means of making war on your sovereignty — and you need to learn how to defend yourself.

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  • Nota bene: I am willing to do this with any “argument” in moral philosophy, provided you are willing to cover the time it takes to unravel intentionally-tangled spurious arguments.

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  • Mike Arst

    You have no free will is a lot of fun. As you say, nobody believes it, but they can state it with certainty because…well, it proves itself simply by being stated aloud, with additional proof provided by the speaker’s confidence in his point of view (the more confident, the more true) — and because it’s vital that you come to believe it.

    How do you propose to prove it wrong? As with the contention that we are “actually” just software, living in a simulation: prove it wrong. You can’t. Free will is merely an illusion and you are in thrall to it. But it’s dumb to believe in illusions, right? Intelligent people don’t think that way. The opposite of the illusion must therefore be true. Reason requires us to think so (even though, of course, we have no choice about being either reasonable or unreasonable.)

    If I believe in free will today and change my mind about it tomorrow — well, no matter. Neither attitude is in my control.

    I’ve been hearing no-free-will insisted-upon for years by people who, no doubt, disbelieved sincerely that they say such things due to brain-generated (not Mind-generated) conditions that render them powerless to say otherwise. The no-free-will contention is now propped up, say its true-unbelievers, by the latest advances in neuroscience. And no doubt, the people doing this research do it because they too are compelled by impulses over which they have no control.

    When I cared enough to argue about it in newsgroups, I would occasionally ask: Ok, having realized that you have no free will, surely you must change your view of your life. How will you now conduct your life? What will you change? How will you feel? Nobody ever replied.

    No-free-will calls for some translation. There’s more to it than mere abstraction. I believe (under electrochemical compulsion, of course) that no-free-will is a pseudo-scientifically propped-up way of advancing an old “progressive” notion: human beings are simultaneously evil and infinitely perfectible. Clearly, they’re being controlled by bad impulses. But we know how to ensure they’re controlled by good impulses. It can be done in a way that both History and Science will approve and admire. (Emphasis on they and we.)

    • > How do you propose to prove it wrong?

      I didn’t say disprove, I said debunk.

      > When I cared enough to argue about it in newsgroups, I would occasionally ask: Ok, having realized that you have no free will, surely you must change your view of your life. How will you now conduct your life? What will you change? How will you feel? Nobody ever replied.

      Not surprised. Philosophy is about nothing but teleology: What should I do? Determinist arguments of all sorts are dead-end teleologies.

  • Mike Arst

    I know you’re saying debunk. I’m talking about countering the foregone-conclusion nature of the “you have no free will” contention — propped up by neuroscience, or perhaps by misuses of it.

    Whether or not their philosophies lead to dead ends, these are people who might well have some effect on _policy_ in a technocratic state. From where I sit, “free will is an illusion; you don’t have it” carries with it “you have no sovereignty, and your quaint notions about ‘individuality’ and ‘self’ and ‘rights’ are also illusions.”

    • > I’m talking about countering the foregone-conclusion nature of the “you have no free will” contention — propped up by neuroscience, or perhaps by misuses of it.

      So what? People have been spouting this crap for thousands of years. It meant nothing then and it means nothing now. “I am persuaded that I cannot be persuaded” is a meaningless sentence.

      > Whether or not their philosophies lead to dead ends, these are people who might well have some effect on _policy_ in a technocratic state. From where I sit, “free will is an illusion; you don’t have it” carries with it “you have no sovereignty, and your quaint notions about ‘individuality’ and ‘self’ and ‘rights’ are also illusions.”

      Do you have the idea that there is some shortage of bogus pretexts for crime? The solution to your quandary is in Man Alive!: Learn to defend your mind from every sort of attack.

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