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Review: The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

The Science Of Fate book Cover

The Science of Fate book cover

I’m always wary of books that address the concept of free will. Many people assert that we don’t have free will due to the deterministic nature of the physical universe, or due to evidence from experiments that shows our subconscious brain makes ‘decisions’ before our conscious mind performs an action. Such as flicking a light switch. It’s still our brains making a choice though. Our subconscious is part of us. The deterministic universe arguments against free will just annoy me. There is plenty of space in the layers of reality above the quantum realm for emergent behaviour that includes our ability to act as agents that can choose. We have free will in that sense.

So I went into the audiobook edition of Hannah’s book with some trepidation. Would it be another book advocating that we don’t have free will? Thankfully my fears were unfounded. This is a book about how our biology shapes our behaviour via biochemistry, neurobiology, and psychology. It’s an excellent survey of how behaviours have been shaped and honed by natural selection and evolution. It’s undoubtedly a fact that there are many behaviours that humans (and other animals) exhibit that are predetermined by our biology and environment. The level of this predeterminism varies depending on what is being discussed. Most humans (without medical or psychological problems) can override the higher level impulses that our biology shapes. My take after reading this book is that humanity in the round does have free will with respect to the higher level activities such as “will I eat this apple or throw it over the fence into my neighbours garden.” Our free will emerges with the complexity in the underlying biology, which in turn arises from chemistry and physics.

On a technical note: the audiobook is excellently read by the author who is experienced in audio delivery from many science podcasts and other media activities.

I highly recommend this book. In whatever format you like the best.

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