On the last point, I think what Sam would say is there is no evidence that there is anything cosmic about humans (you know, cosmic…) and you shouldn’t believe things based on no evidence.
What I would say that Sams conclusion, because it is so broad and applies to any and all possibilities including ones we’re now totally ignorant of , is too doctrinaire to be right or even defensible and really sports a kind of failure of imagination OR perhaps more likely the necessity on the part of a public individual who has made very strong pronouncements to be seen as consistent lest he lose credibility and give his opponents a avenue through which to claim he’s a hypocrite, even though privately he believes something much more nuanced and subtle.
Look as far as ULTIMATE questions goes the REAL answer is no one knows or more precisely no one who does know has found a way to communicate the content of that knowledge it to people through means we think of as ordinary ad public , like explaining or diagramming or conducting experiments or documenting or what have you.
Look you can be a total atheist and have a completely clear atheist’s conscience about yourself if you think there’s more to the reality and how humans intersect with it than what we know from science as of today. You really CAN’T SAY what that something more is, (unless of course you’re a knower of the above type , in which case it appears that for some reason you STILL can’t say what it is, but that “can’t say” obviously has a significantly different meaning than the first “can’t say” ) but just because you don’t know, what conclusion can you draw from that? No conclusion.
If you look at the progress of science with respect to our knowledge of physics- arguably the most advanced science - you see a story in which previously just radically inconceivable things are proven to exist . Exactly the same thing may happen with respect to what we call our identities and selves and all that jazz.
For the second part of the question, I’l take on all comers who want to argue that it’s now proven once and for all that we are really and finally just the way we think of ourselves .. really, this is not very likely and much more likely is there’ is something much bigger that we’re a part of in some significant, conscious and deeply personal way . Sam can’t say that, but I can, atheist scientist that I am.
As far as the first part- why bother? look, point out to them that after they’ve thrown away all those false beliefs, they STILL care about their loved ones and they STILL care about how their lives go and they STILL care about how it goes even for strangers they’ve never met and never will meet and they STILL care about the earth and future generations. That’s because it’s false and always has been to believe that caring about all those things is the result of believing in some god or some fairy tale creation story or anything like that, the REAL source of all that caring is our evolutionary heritage, our brains and our genes .. it’s just the way we are.
That’s a good thing too, because if we had to personally recreate those things, or adopt some belief system to in order to generate them, we’d all be assholes all the time. Our genes and the brains and bodies they make have all that shit worked out and hard coded structurally into you and the end result of millions of years of evolution is you get going with it all in working condition. We care. Things matter. You don’t have to work to become a person that describes, it’s your very very fortunate birth right. If anything, false belief systems just distort all that in the name of some ism or ideology that warps its adherents.
Regarding free will, this is a complex question where you end up talking about what a self is and what consciousness is. Basically, it’s a 19th century insight that we don’t have free will and the reason Sam’s books are so compelling even now is because most people haven’t caught up to the 19th century yet.
I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve TONS of other books starting around age 15 on exactly this subject and I went to school for Cog Sci and familiar with experiments involving volition and the timing of events in the brain and I am pretty sure I get it.
Not having free will amounts to saying that because your brain is your self and physics rules your brain and physics is deterministic for all intents and purposes, then the activity of your brain must also be deterministic and any sense you get that you determine of your own free will what you think about, or like or say or do must be an illusion and in fact you were DESTINED to do and think and say those things from the start of the Big Bang. You are a Clockwork Orange- an organic mechanism, but still just a mechanism, with the same level of determinism as any clock.
That’s what that means.
I actually think it’s much more complicated in ways that materially effect the rightness of this conclusion. If you’re interested in hearing about it tell me and I’ll elaborate. I have talked a lot about it in past posts so maybe if you click on my name and stumble around in my posts you’ll find what I think there too. somewhere.