Sam Harris has a great and extremely short book on Free Will. His opinion is that it does not exist. Personally, I think he screws up in his denial of free will by assuming he knows what it would mean if it were true.
Or rather, my problem is that he does not actually bother to define the word ‘I’. When you say “I have free will” what do you mean by “I”? I don’t think it’s the thing that at the very last second decides to press or not to press a button. That part of you, the ‘being aware of making the choice’ part, seems like such a tiny facet of consciousness. The semi-aware part that begins the act of choosing — the part that scientists register electrically before you are ‘conscious’ of having made the decision— that is also ‘I.’
And that part that registers making the decision a nano-second later? That is like consciousness’ rear view mirror. It is what the brain knits together on the fly to create a narrative that the brain needs to predict the future.
Awareness and consciousness are different concepts; if you say that someone does not have free will because his body makes a decision before he’s aware of making it, what you are denigrating is that secondary knitting together of a narrative, not free will. My personal view is that consciousness is the CEO of a corporation, making executive decisions while the majority of the functionality is handled by others.
No doubt, he would tell me that I am completely full of shit, because I didn’t understand his book. But then, what would you expect him to say? But if you want to call free will an illusion, then you have to define your terms. I don’t think he does so.
Here’s his book: