Sapolsky is a hard determinist who likes to list all the biological causes for our actions, such as genes, germs, and culture. He is firmly convinced that we are robots with no ability to choose anything.
I believe he has a depressing view of life.
SciAm columnist John Horgan disagrees:
To be honest, I have a problem with all these treatments of free will, pro and con. They examine free will within the narrow, reductionistic framework of physics and mathematics, and they equate free will with randomness and unpredictability. My choices, at least important ones, are not random, and they are all too predictable, at least for those who know me.I agree with much of that, except where he says that his choices are predictable to those who know him, and not random.
For example, here I am arguing for free will once again. I do so not because physical processes in my brain compel me to do so. I defend free will because the idea of free will matters to me, and I want it to matter to others. I am committed to free will for philosophical, ethical and even political reasons. I believe, for example, that deterministic views of human nature make us more likely to accept sexism, racism and militarism. No physics model — not even the most complex, nonlocal cellular automaton -- can capture my rational and, yes, emotional motives for believing in free will, but that doesn’t mean these motives lack causal power.
Just as it cannot prove or disprove God’s existence, science will never decisively confirm or deny free will. In fact, ‘t Hooft might be right. I might be just a mortal, 3-D, analog version of the Speed Demonoid, plodding from square to square, my thoughts and actions dictated by hidden, superdeterministic rules far beyond my ken. But I can’t accept that grim worldview. Without free will, life lacks meaning, and hope. Especially in dark times, my faith in free will consoles me, and makes me feel less bullied by the deadly Game of Life.
To me, free will means that I can makes choices that surprise those who know me. If my friends can predict everything I do, then I am acting like a robot. Making choices that seem random to others is the essence of free will.
If I toss coins to make my decisions, then my choices are really the coin's choices. Then my free will hinges on the free will of the coin. That is being bullied by a coin, instead of being bullied by an automaton. No, free will is being able to make the choices myself.
Sapolsky may be right that genes and other unseen factors influence us more than we realize. I can accept that. But it is hard to understand how he can think that he never makes a decision.
It has become politically incorrect to be a genetic determinist, so Sapolsky denies being that. But he does say that a millennium of rice farming has turned Chinese people into collectivists. Another popular theory says that centuries of Christian feudalism turned Europeans into individualists. Whether these changes can be attributed to specific genes is unknown, but regardless, this appears to be preprogrammed behavior that could persist for centuries.
Carroll says he is a compatibilist. That is, he is a determinist who believes we have no free will, but we have an illusion of free will so we can act as if we do. He says no one should believe in true free will, which he calls libertarian free will.
It is hard to find any respected academic who believes in free will. It is like finding one who openly professes Christianity, or support for Donald Trump. They probably exist, but they keep a low profile.