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Dr. Robert Sapolsky

408: Is There Free Will? The Unsettling Science Behind Our Everyday Decisions

In a world where choices seem endless, could it be that our ‘free will’ is nothing more than an illusion? 

When it comes to things like choosing a morning run over an extra hour of sleep, opting for an apple instead of that enticing pint of ice cream, or quitting your job on a whim…

…What’s truly guiding these decisions? Is it willpower, biology, environment, or perhaps a unique strength of character we’ve built over time?

Or… could it be something else entirely, something beyond our control?

Here’s where our guest, Dr. Robert Sapolsky – a renowned Professor of Biology, Neurology and Neurosurgery at Stanford University – offers us a slightly unsettling, yet eye-opening, perspective.

He suggests that every decision we make – from the podcasts we tune into, to judges making a case verdict, to choosing our life partner  – isn’t shaped by any sort of conscious control or free will. Instead, he believes our actions are driven by factors beyond our grasp and influence.

Now, Sapolsky doesn’t just challenge our perceptions of free will — he presents a compelling theory that could very well dismantle widely accepted beliefs in this arena.

And in today’s thought-provoking episode, we dive deep into:

  • Why we’ve been misunderstanding the concept of “free will”
  • The underlying factors that drive us to make “good” or “bad” decisions
  • The science that has shaped Sapolsky’s view on “determinism”
  • How Sapolsky’s perspectives could reshape (or burn down) established institutions, from the justice system to Harvard admissions 
  • The moral dilemma he experienced while writing his latest book, “Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will”
  • The profound and humane benefits of a life experienced beyond the lens of free will

Dr. Sapolsky brings such a delightful levity to our conversation, even when threading the needle between heavy and complex ideas. As a self-proclaimed “flaming hypocrite,” he navigates through the thorny path of a philosophy that challenges the concept of free will, revealing veins of wisdom that pave the way towards a more compassionate, kind and ego-free world. 

So, whether you’re a leader interested in innovative ways to think about decision-making or someone craving deeply intellectual and exciting insights for your next dinner party, this conversation promises to radically reshape your perspective.

“I don’t think there’s a shred of free will out there. I think we are nothing more than the sum of biology that has brought us to this moment, over which we have no control, and its interaction with the environment, over which we have no control.”

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