The Myth of Freedom, by Yuval Noah Harari.

An article by the author of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century on Free Will, in which Harari explores the political consequences of the scientific consensus that free will is illusory. He argues that we would be better thinkers if we came to terms with the fact that we don’t have free will.

Harari holds that if we grip on to our belief in free will, it makes us too selfish. We are constantly focussed on ourselves. If, on the other hand, we accept that we are slaves to the stimuli around us, then we focus on those instead. “It is like when you have a conversation with someone. If you focus on what you want to say, you hardly really listen. You just wait for the opportunity to give the other person a piece of your mind. But when you put your own thoughts aside, you can suddenly hear other people.”

“Governments and corporations will soon know you better than you know yourself. Belief in the idea of free will has become dangerous.”

“How does liberal democracy function in an era when governments and corporations can hack humans? What’s left of the beliefs that ‘the voter knows best’ and ‘the customer is always right’? How do you live when you realise that you are a hackable animal, that your heart might be a government agent, that your amygdala might be working for Putin, and that the next thought that emerges in your mind might well be the result of some algorithm that knows you better than you know yourself?”

The Myth of Freedom, by Yuval Noah Harari.

The Guardian, Saturday 15th September 2018, Review p. 32-35


Into the Silent Land, by Paul Broks.


The “Silent Land” in question is the brain. Paul Broks is a neuropsychologist, who spends his days talking to and helping people with brains damaged by stroke, injury, or other trauma. They are altered – the same person, but permanently changed. Broks helps these people and their families come to terms with the injuries, and at the same time speculates on how the Silent Land can give rise to our humanity.
The book is a series of case studies: frank and humane discussions with brain damaged people, very readable, and not at all technical. By looking at how focussed damage to particular brain areas gives rise to specific cognitive deficits, Broks addresses the questions of localisation of function in the brain, and asks the larger question: how does this dark and tangled web of synapses and neurons in our skull conjure up a person?