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Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will

Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will


Book Overview: Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will

One of our great behavioral scientists, the bestselling author of Behave, plumbs the depths of the science and philosophy of decision-making to mount a devastating case against free will, an argument with profound consequences

Robert Sapolsky's Behave, his now classic account of why humans do good and why they do bad, pointed toward an unsettling conclusion: We may not grasp the precise marriage of nature and nurture that creates the physics and chemistry at the base of human behavior, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Now, in Determined, Sapolsky takes his argument all the way, mounting a brilliant (and in his inimitable way, delightful) full-frontal assault on the pleasant fantasy that there is some separate self telling our biology what to do.

Determined offers a marvelous synthesis of what we know about how consciousness works--the tight weave between reason and emotion and between stimulus and response in the moment and over a life. One by one, Sapolsky tackles all the major arguments for free will and takes them out, cutting a path through the thickets of chaos and complexity science and quantum physics, as well as touching ground on some of the wilder shores of philosophy. He shows us that the history of medicine is in no small part the history of learning that fewer and fewer things are somebody's "fault"; for example, for centuries we thought seizures were a sign of demonic possession. Yet, as he acknowledges, it's very hard, and at times impossible, to uncouple from our zeal to judge others and to judge ourselves. Sapolsky applies the new understanding of life beyond free will to some of our most essential questions around punishment, morality, and living well together. By the end, Sapolsky argues that while living our daily lives recognizing that we have no free will is going to be monumentally difficult, doing so is not going to result in anarchy, pointlessness, and existential malaise. Instead, it will make for a much more humane world.

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Robert M. Sapolsky is a renowned American neuroendocrinologist, neurobiologist, and author, celebrated for his dedicated contributions to stress-related health discussions. He was born in 1957 in Brooklyn, New York. A distinguished alumnus of Harvard and Rockefeller University, Sapolsky holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Anthropology and a Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology. He is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor at Stanford University, where his research focuses on issues of stress and neuron degradation, linking them to various health conditions and diseases. Dr. Sapolsky has become a prominent figure in his field both for his groundbreaking scientific research and his exceptional ability to convey complex scientific concepts to lay audiences. His unique blend of rigorous investigation and accessible explanation has earned him both a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and the status of a highly celebrated science communicator. Moreover, he is a regular contributor to publications including Discover and The New Yorker, sharing his keen insights with a broader audience. As an author, Sapolsky has penned numerous articles and books illuminating the intricacies of the human body and mind. His most well-known work, "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers," elucidates the impact of chronic stress on the human body. Other notable books include "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" and "The Trouble with Testosterone." His thought-provoking analyses and engaging writing style have earned him a wide readership and solidified his status as one of the most influential voices in neuroscience and behavioral biology.


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