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


Beyond Belief, by Graham Lawton.

Did you know that there is a strong correlation between political belief and a simple biological parameter of brain function?

What do you really know to be true? How do you know that it’s true? Do you really know it, or do you in fact just believe it? What separates knowledge from belief? How are beliefs formed, and how much influence do they have?

“The prime directive of the brain is to extract meaning. Everything else is a slave system.”

“Most religions feature a familiar cast of characters: supernatural agents, life after death, moral directives, and answers to existential questions. Why do so many people believe such things so effortlessly?”

New Scientist No. 3015, 4th April 2015, p. 28-33.

Right Hand, Left Hand, by Chris McManus

512yxI6NxbLThe left hemisphere of the brain is “logical”, and the right is “emotional”, yes? Left handed people are more creative? Right handed people more logical? These are the kind of pseudo-scientific factoids that give psychology a bad name with other scientists. Like many lazy oversimplifications, there is a grain of truth at the core of them. Proper psychological science is about using observation and experiment to get to the bottom of the matter, and this book reviews what we actually know about lateralisation of function in the human brain.

It is really readable. It ranges from psychology to anthropology, molecular biology to astronomy, and cultural studies to anecdote. It has won loads of prizes, is great fun to read, and frankly is absolutely fascinating.

If you’re just interested in the psychology then perhaps start with chapter 8, but in fact I would just start at the beginning because you’re probably going to end up reading the whole thing anyway!