Newsletter: Do We Have Free Will?

Free Will Open to Debate


Roy Baumeister
Social Psychologist


Robert Sapolsky
Neuroscientist; Author of “Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will”


Nayeema Raza
Journalist at New York
Magazine and Vox



Here is what we have in store this week:

  • We discuss whether we are the true authors of our actions – or guided by fate
  • A closer look at one way to visualize free will
  • Your Sunday reading list



Think back to a minute ago. You went onto your email, came across this newsletter, and, determining it seemed interesting, clicked on it. You didn’t have to, but you did so without anyone telling you you had to do it – and without knowing what would come next or if you’d like what you were going to read. That is free will: being the author of your action.

On the other side, some argue that you didn’t make the decision yourself. You were persuaded to look at your emails for work, communicating, or to find out whether you had to pay a bill. There were prior existing circumstances that influenced you to look at your email and, because of factors out of your control, open this newsletter.

This week, we continue the debate: Do We Have Free Will? It’s an age-old idea that has affected philosophy, psychology, science, and religion and which has been debated for thousands of years.

Arguing “yes” is social psychologist Roy Baumeister, who says free will is one of many traits that have helped humans share information, follow rules, work together, and understand each other’s mentalities. Arguing “no” is neuroscientist and biologist Robert Sapolsky, who argues that our actions are caused by neurobiology, hormones, childhood, and other life circumstances. Nayeema Raza, a journalist at New York Magazine and documentary producer, joins us again as our guest moderator.

Whether or not you believe you are choosing to listen to this debate, this episode is available as a podcast and on your local public radio station. As always, let us know what you think.







Do We Have Free Will?


YES: Roy Baumeister

“The human mind is superior at conceptualizing multiple possibilities, comparing them, imagining how they would play out, and even making contingency plans for different possible events. Conscious thought in humans is far evolved beyond what other animals have, and plenty of experiments show that conscious thought has a significant causal effect on behavior, which is good because there are no theories of unconscious free will.”

NO: Robert Sapolsky

“What you have here is this continuous arc from evolution up to one second ago of this biology interacting with the environment over which you had no control. When you look at that arc, there is not a crack anywhere in there in which you can shoehorn in what we think of, what we intuit, as being free will because it requires something that doesn’t fit with biology.”




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