One of the world's greatest scientists of human behaviour shows that free will does not exist – and challenges us to rethink the very notion of choice, identity, responsibility, justice, morality and how we live together.
Behind every thought, action and experience there lies a chain of biological and environmental causes, stretching back from the moment a neuron fires to the dawn of our species and beyond. Nowhere in this infinite sequence is there a place where free will could play a role.
Without free will, it makes no more sense to punish people for antisocial behaviour than it does to scold a car for breaking down. It is no one's fault they are poor or overweight or unsuccessful, nor do people deserve praise for their talent or hard work; 'grit' is a myth. This mechanistic view of human behaviour challenges our most powerful instincts, but history suggests that we have already made great strides toward it: where once we saw demonic possession or cowardice, for example, now we diagnose illness or trauma and offer help.
Determined confronts us with our true nature: who and what we are is biology and nothing more. Disturbing and liberating in equal measure, it explores the far-reaching implications for society of accepting this reality. Monumentally difficult as it may be, the reward will be a far more just and humane world.
Robert M. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant'. His previous books includes the international bestseller Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, The Trouble with Testosterone, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and A Primate's Memoir.
"Robert Sapolsky explains why the latest developments in neuroscience and psychology explode our conventional idea of Free Will. The book's chock-full of complex and often counter-intuitive ideas. It's also a joy to read. That's because Sapolsky is not only one of the world's most brilliant scientists, but also an immensely gifted writer who tells this important story with wit and compassion. It's impossible to recommend this book too highly. Reading it could change your life."
– Laurence Rees
"In his usual frank and amusing style, Robert Sapolsky argues that free will is an illusion. His stance is both hard to accept and hard to deny. An utterly fascinating topic with mind-boggling implications for human morality"
– Frans de Waal, author of Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist
"Fascinating, provocative and profound. This book tackles all sorts of big issues: how the human brain works, what makes us different, and what underlies everything we do. If Sapolsky is right, we might need to rethink justice and law, and for each of us personally, what it really takes to be happy and successful"
– Daniel M. Davis, author of The Secret Body
"Fascinating and challenging – though I'm not sure if I really had a say in the matter"
– New Scientist